I knew we were in for a treat when the announcement over the speakers said, “If you have a cell phone, leave it on, take as many pictures as you want and tweet them, put them on Facebook; basically, do whatever the f_ _ k you want! The crowd, composed of mainly of people 50 and over, went wild!
Moments earlier, as my wife and I boarded the elevator on the second floor, we had noticed all the occupants were in their late fifties and early sixties and no one had pressed the button for the first floor. A hippie with a weathered face and long hair tied in a ponytail said in a playful manner, “Hey man, is anybody going to press 1?” Another long-haired gentleman replied, “Dude, we’re all staying right here ’cause nobody’s sober?” We all erupted in laughter and finally, the hippie guy got us going to the first floor. These people were definitely here to have a good time!
And so began the journey into a magical night at the Seminole Hard Rock Live “Once Upon a Dream” (May 25, 2013) show featuring The Rascals’ lead singer and keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, singer and percussionist Eddie Brigati, guitarist Gene Cornish, and drummer Dino Danelli.
The show started with a bang as the intro was read on scrolling text a la “Star Wars” (I don’t want to give up the funny details and ruin it for you) and a little girl named Sophie Zamchick started singing “Once Upon a Dream” dressed as a sixties flower child followed by a montage of clips culminating with Ed Sullivan introducing “The Young Rascals.” Then bam! The Rascals brilliantly appeared live on stage in a black and white backdrop. That was genius!
Within three songs, Felix Cavaliere was already singing the hit “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long” and I could tell his vocals sounded as full, crisp, and spot on as ever. People behind me appeared shocked while saying, “Damn, he sounds so good.” Make no mistake; Cavaliere does not only have one of the most distinctive rock voices ever, he is one of just a handful of American vocal treasures still with us today!
In the sixties, after the British musical invasion, The Rascals were one of the few American rock bands who managed to stay on top in popularity and record sales unlike the vast majority of American acts at the time. The biggest reason was the magical combination of Cavaliere’s soulful voice, Eddie Brigati’s vocals and energetic percussion, Dino Danelli’s incomparable and virtuosic drum playing, and Gene Cornish’s tasteful guitar licks. True talent rules!
The Rascals played a total of 28 songs throughout two hours including all their #1 hits. When they played “Good Lovin” people were dancing in the aisles and suddenly all the 60 year olds in attendance pretended they were 22! Moments later, when Felix Cavaliere began singing “Groovin” and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when he sang the lines, “I can’t imagine anything that’s better, The world is ours whenever we’re together.” That song still gets tons of airplay to this day and is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and coolest songs ever recorded. One of the most important parts of this song is obviously Gene Cornish’s wailing harmonica, and it was wonderful to see how he would play his guitar and alternate that with pulling out his harmonica and playing those important lines perfectly.
The highlight of the night, however, was when Eddie Brigati sang, “How Can I Be Sure?” Even though you could tell his voice was straining a little bit on a few of the high notes, his passion and emotion while singing the song struck everyone squarely in the chest and he received the biggest standing ovation of all, for that performance.
One of the last songs they played was their #1 hit, “People Got To Be Free” and Felix Cavaliere never sounded more soulful. In fact, if you closed your eyes while listening to this performance, you would swear Felix was African-American! Something interesting about the history of this song is that once it was released, The Rascals, in the spirit of the song’s message, declared they would not play any more concerts unless half of the billed artists were African-American acts. And they stayed true to their words. God bless them!
The biggest treat of the night was watching Dino Danelli play the drums while twirling the sticks in his hands. Can anybody say, “That’s tight.” Folks, for those of you who can appreciate the different styles of the greatest drummers in the world, you need to watch him play. If you aren’t able to make it to one of The Rascals’ concerts, makes sure you search for their live performances in the sixties and beyond on Youtube so you can see Danelli in action. He is absolutely mind-blowing!
The Rascals were backed up on stage by a handful of talented musicians; a bass player and keyboardist as well as three background singers and they all added to the energy and impact of the music. The harmonies were always in perfect sync and sounded authentic to the actual recordings.
I can’t get over how important music like this can make people go through a range of emotions and make such an impact in their lives. On this night, I was reviewing the show and it was my duty to focus on the performers as well as audience reaction. I couldn’t help but notice how many people were dancing one minute and crying the next while these guys played their biggest hits.
I had barely turned four when “Groovin” was released in 1967 but I remember hearing the song all the time as a child in my father’s car throughout the late sixties and early seventies. I have to admit when they played this song, I fought back the tears as I was suddenly catapulted back into a time capsule where I found myself in the backseat of my dad’s car in 1969, both of us singing along as he chain-smoked his Marlboros on the way to Miami Beach.
I’m not going to say today’s music is not on par with yesterday’s. I would sound like an old fogie and like my father did when, in the sixties, he would talk about how music from the 40’s and 50’s was real music compared to the crap we were hearing in the 60’s and 70’s. We now know this is not true!
However, I will say this; I wish there were more bands today as original and soulful-sounding as The Rascals were in the sixties and I certainly wish record companies and executives would make a better effort to cultivate an environment where real bands and musicians cold flourish and accomplish what these four guys have!
By the way, Steve Van Zandt, one of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band guitarists, gave the introduction speech when The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. He is also the one responsible for putting this show “The Rascals Once Upon a Dream” together after years of bugging the four guys to finally do it. Thank you, Steve!