Music and wine: Earth, Wind and Fire

August 3, 2012


So what do you get when you mix wine, boogie rock and the pungent smell of farm animals? An alignment of cultural planets that can only be one thing: music and wine night at the California Mid-State Fair.

Fast becoming the signature event at the fair, cowboys, cowgirls and lots of wine lovers converged on the Chumash Arena Friday night with their coolers, hollowed-out bread loaves and vast food spreads that would befit a king.  And let’s not forget a live performance from one the most beloved music acts of the 1970s, still going strong after 41 years.

The infectious ‘Boogie Wonderland’ kicked off festivities as Earth, Wind and Fire, sporting eleven musicians on stage, including three original members, brought their unique brand of pop funk soul to the central coast for the first time since their spring 2010 show at the Chumash Casino.

The sold-out show featured snippets of video from their disco-era past on two large screens, which definitely got everyone who wasn’t decked out in bad seventies garb dancing and clapping.

But their performance stalled a bit after the ever-popular ‘Shining Star,’ as various musicians took their turns on solos and extended jams. So I’ll keep saying it: if you’ve got a great song catalog, don’t waste our time on fluff and filler.

Despite being a rocker guy, for me EWF, Kool and the Gang and to some extent the Commodores defined the promise and angst of being a teenager growing up in the post-hippie Watergate era. After the Love is Gone? Standing alone against the gym bleachers at one of my high school dances, there was no love to lose.

But that’s the great thing about nostalgia, time softens the heartache of our adolescent past, especially when there’s cool music involved.

And Earth, Wind and Fire are cool personified, hey they even got invited to play the White House a few years ago. Featuring the spry, energetic Verdine White on bass, co-drummers and vocalists Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson, the band offered up a time capsule of hits like ‘Reasons,’ ‘Fantasy,’ ‘September’ and the Beatles cover ‘Got to Get You Into My Life.’ By the end of their 90-minute set, most of the audience had put away the brie and were on their feet grooving to their funky sound.

Overall, it was another solid concert season at the venerable fair, the only big disappointment being no headliner on the first Saturday night like Sammy Hagar or Train/ Maroon 5 were in past years.

I usually judge the fair on the hidden musical gem, the un-hyped, un-well attended performance that unexpectedly delivers. In the Grandstand it was Joan Jett and Paul Rodgers playing to a quarter-capacity crowd. She was spot-on, exciting the tatted-up, leather-clad punks and the middle aged wanna-bes like me. And he was and is the ‘Voice,’ banging out Bad Company standards and his Free classic ‘All Right Now’ with his stellar touring band. Needless to say, us concertgoers enthusiastically ate it up.

Finally, former ‘Live’ frontman Ed Kowalczyk was an alt-rock tour de force for an hour on the free stage last Saturday night before about 200 of my closest friends.  Whenever you get a chance to see a vocalist, lyricist, guitarist whose best album sold 8 million copies, take it. Especially up close on the central coast, where such opportunities are few and far between.

I promise you will thank me later.

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What?! You had EARTH, WIND and FIRE… but no RAIN?

“you have the hips of a 6-year old girl: use them!” (Big Mike is the greatest)

I loved their show, much more than the Journey show. I do wish they had stuck with their more well known numbers, but I would definitely go again.