December 12-14, Three Days of Rock and Roll Heaven. With the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop to the stage, the Vallarta-Nayarit Classic Rock Festival was held in Nuevo Vallarta at the Sunset Garden adjacent to the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta in Nayarit.
All through this Classic Rock Festival, the All-Star House Band comprised of big-name musicians from several legendary rock groups performed. This all-star band included former Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan lead guitarist Jeffrey ‘Skunk’ Baxter, former Fleetwood Mac guitarist and rock-a-billy Hall of Famer Billy Burnette, The Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, bassists Kenny Lee Lewis of Steve Miller Band and Kenny Gradney of Little Feat, drummers Curly Smith (Boston) and Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty, John Mellencamp), and keyboardist Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis (many artists including Carole King, Guns ‘n Roses). This band played uncountable rock classic hits and backed up some of the individual artists.
Opening act was Micki Free formerly of Shalamar, a Native American guitarist and singer. Free won a Grammy Award for his contribution to the Beverly Hills Cop movie soundtrack and has won two Native American Music Awards in the categories of Male Artist in 2002 and Pop Rock artist in 2004. He rocked as the fans started to enter the beautiful Festival grounds.
The Spencer Davis Group followed. A mid-1960s British beat group from Birmingham, England, formed by Spencer Davis with Steve Winwood and his brother Muff Winwood. Their best known songs include “Somebody Help Me”, the UK number one “Keep on Running” , “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin'”, which peaked at #2 in the UK and #7 in the United States. Davis has since restarted a new group in 2006. His Blues style rock cannot be mistaken.
Rock-a-billy legends Lee Rocker joined by Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats and Billy Burnette of Fleetwood Mac. Lee Rocker’s is unique in his slap bass style. His bass did not stand a chance in his active and assertive style. Rocker and the Stray Cats sold nearly 10 million albums and garnered twenty three gold and platinum certified records worldwide.
BoDeans is a rock band formed in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1983. The BoDeans’ sound was largely influenced by roots rock and heartland rock; The band had several singles in the top 40 charts, i.e. “Closer to Free” and “Joe Dirt Car”. In October 3, 2014, it was announced that the band’s 12th studio album, titled I Can’t Stop is in the works. The album is nearly finished and is due to be released Spring of 2015. BoDean has a permanent installation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. Their vitality on stage revved up the audience.
Day 1 ended with legendary bluesman Sam Moore. Moore is an American Southern soul and R&B singer, musician, and songwriter, who was the tenor vocalist for the soul vocal duo Sam & Dave from 1961 to 1981. He was backed up by the Festival’s House Band. His record history includes “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin'” Sam is 79 and is enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Dave Mason of Traffic took the stage first. Dave is singer-songwriter and guitarist and is originally from Worcester, England. Mason has played and recorded with many of the era’s most notable pop and rock musicians, including Stevie Winwood, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Steve Winwood, Fleetwood Mac, Delaney Bramlett, and Cass Elliot. He performed legendary Traffic hits like, “Only You Know and I Know”, “We Just Disagree”, “Let It Go, Let It Flow”, “Mr. Fantasy”, “Feelin Alright”, among others. He was the spark that supplied the energy for the start of this concert day.
Next was Poco who was morphed from the popular group Buffalo Springfield. Throughout the years Poco has performed in various groupings. Rusty Young, the last original member of Poco. Joked on stage that “Two of their original members left and made a bad career choice” Randy Meisner was one of the founding members of the Eagles, and Jim Messina went on to Loggins and Messina. Their career choice turned out to be a very good one indeed. This is just an example of how all these groups are interrelated. Rusty Young is the only original member throughout the bands 45 years. They performed hits such “Crazy Love”, “Heart of the Night”, “Call It Love” and others. Although Poco has had many changes throughout the years, their sound remains remarkable and pure as they more than pleased the audience with their repertoire.
Following Poco was the group Firefall, a rock band that was formed in 1974. The band played there hits “You Are the Woman”, “Just Remember I Love You” , “Strange Way”, “Cinderella” and “Headed for a Fall” plus others. Firefall came alive with Jace Hill’s presence on stage. They all displayed great musical talent and energy.
Kansas is a rock band that became popular in the 1970s. They played several hit singles such as “Point of Know Return”, “ Carry On Wayward Son”, “Dust in the Wind”, and “Hold On”. The band has produced eight gold albums and three sextuple-platinum albums. Like many of these bands, Kansas has gone thru personnel changes. Recently, on July 14, 2014 Ronnie Platt had been selected as the band’s new lead vocalist and keyboard player. Ronnie was much more than a replacement. He was a Star. Their sound was truly Kansas and their dynamism was well demonstrated. Kansas ended the day of Rock greatness against a beautiful sunset in Vallarta-Nayarit. The audience demonstrated their appreciation by a lengthy ovation. What an impressive band to finish this second day. In this writer’s opinion, Kansas was one of the best acts at this Festival.
Craig Fuller songwriter/vocalist/guitarist formerly from the band Little Feat and Co-founder of Pure Prairie League, He was backed by the All-Star House Band and began the Festival’s 3rd day’s lineup. His first single for Little Feat, “Hate to Lose Your Lovin”, earned the band their first No. 1 hit. Their set was clean, well performed and included several other Little Feat numbers, including “Hate to Lose Your Lovin”, “”One Clear Moment”, and “Listen to Your Heart”.
“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees”. On stage next is George Michael “Micky” Dolenz, Jr. Micki is best known as the drummer and lead singer of the 1960s pop/rock music band the Monkees. According to fellow Monkee Mike Nesmith, it was “Dolenz’s voice that made the Monkees’ sound distinctive”. Micki was backed up by the House Band and sang many unforgettable Monkee hits such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday” “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, “ and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. Doleenz told the crowd that “The Monkees were so lucky to have great songwriters like Carol King and Neil Diamond”. The audience appeared to love him and the ability he had to bring back the memories of their youth.
Next on stage was Steve Augeri. He is best known as the lead vocalist for the rock group Journey. In 1998, Augeri was named the “official” lead vocalist since the departure of Journey’s Steve Perry. For the next eight years Augeri and the band toured almost constantly to reclaim their standing as one of America’s premier rock bands. Augeri recorded three albums during this celebratory eight-year tenure with Journey. Steve’s first words to the gathering were “Is anyone from Brooklyn?” Steve was born, and raised in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. Backed extraordinarily by the All-Star House Band, Steve exuded a charismatic persona while singing many Journey hits such as “Lovin’, Touchin”, “Any Way You Want It “, Don’t Stop Believin”. The fans literally seemed to hold this man in their arms as they swayed and sang the lyrics along with him.
Following Steve Augeri was Foghat. Foghat are a British rock band, formed in Manchester. Their style has been described as “blues-rock” or boogie-rock, dominated by electric guitar. The band has achieved 8 gold records, one platinum and one double platinum record. The rocked out, playing their hits, “Fool for the City “, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, “Slow Ride”, “Third Time Lucky”, “Drivin’ Wheel” “Take Me To The River”, and “Stone Blue”. As many of these Rock Classic groups, Foghat has changed over the years. Drummer, Roger Earl remains the only original member. Bryan Bassett, current lead guitar joined the group in 1999. Wow, Bassett was on fire. He played and the lead guitar like a man possessed. Bassett exhibited constant movement, yet never missed a lick. His stage presence and dynamism made Foghat one of the tightest and enjoyable acts at this Festival. The onlookers were dazed by guitarist Bryan Bassetts quick fingers, power and vitality. Off stage, after their set Roger Earl stated “It’s great to see all this old talent. It brings back so many memories, music and good times to me”. It has to all of us.
Enter the Pure Prairie League. This band has had a long run, since the 1970s. As of 2014, they are still doing at least 100 shows a year. They are an authentic American country rock band. Playing hits like “Let Me Love You Tonight”, “If The Shoe Fits”, ,“Amie”, “Still Right Here in My Heart”, and “Two Lane Highway”. There mellow country sound evened out the night and rested the crowd for was yet to come.
Jefferson Starship landed on the stage next. The Starship is a band initially formed in the early 1970s by several members of the former psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane. The band has undergone several major changes in personnel and genres through the years while retaining the same Jefferson Starship name. As of 2014, Jefferson Starship continues to tour with a lineup of Paul Kantner (vocals, guitar), David Freiberg (vocals, guitar), Donny Baldwin (drums), Cathy Richardson (vocals), and Chris Smith (keyboards), along with newest recruit guitarist Jude Gold, and they landed with a roar. Performing their many hits such as “We Built This City”, “Sara”, “White Rabbit”, “Ride the Tiger”, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Cathy Richardson had a difficult task in replacing original Starship vocalist Grace Slick, but she did just fine, singing her heart out and pounding away on a cowbell. The Starship left the crowd in frenzy and in awe, as though they had all taken a Starship time machine.
As we rock – out with Cheap Trick. Cheap Trick was formed in 1973. Current members are Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Daxx Nielsen. Their mesmerizing entrance onto the stage was theatrical and included a musical recorded female voice introducing them as “one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever” Guitarist Daxx Nielsen is well known for using an ever-increasing collection of rare and valuable guitars. He handled several of these during their set while losing his guitar pics several times during his frenzied playing. In order to replace his pics, he had roughly 6o of them effectively attached to his mike stand. He swiped a replacement pic from this array often. Cheap Trick wrought havoc on stage while they performed, but not limited to “The Flame”, “Dream Police”, “Surrender”, “Mighty Wings”, and “I Want You to Want Me”. Cheap Trick is highly respected by their rock peers, but for enigmatic reasons they are most popular in Japan where three of their albums went gold.
One thing that I was absolutely reminded of during this Vallarta-Nayarit Classic Rock festival was the total inter-connection between all these musicians and groups. Their individual and collective histories are replete with the formation of many important and extremely talented bands and solo careers. Most have played with each other before, or have created new bands from the existing ones. This correlation is too large to list. It is amazing. The power of Rock and Roll is never- ending and the elements of such flows like a river into a larger pool of water to never die and to create again.
The setting, weather, sound system, and acts were tremendous for this Classic Rock Festival. The John Zaring Group who are the promoter’s state they wish to do this again next year. Many of the acts said they want to return to this venue. The cost, logistics and energy needed to produce this Festival is overwhelming. I congratulate all involved for pulling this off. I believe the creators of this event have learned much from the creation of this “First Annual” Vallarta-Nayarit Classic Rock Festival and I hope to see them again next season for the 2nd annual Rock Classic event.