Backstage at 80s Fest
The Ruth Eckerd Hall folks, to whom I'm deeply thankful, have gotten all three acts to agree to give me unlimited backstage access for tonight's show. You know what that means -- raiding the catering room for Diet Cokes while scamming photos and meeting the musicians. All in the good name of Internet journalism. Hey, I'm doing this for YOU. Not for me.
I've already snuck in Springfield's dressing room for a couple cozy photos from his couch. Other than some really comfortable furniture, his backstage suite has some snacks and enough bottled water to last a month.
Eddie Money is on stage doing his soundcheck right as I type. (The drum set must be on the other side of my dressing room, since the computer is shaking with each thumping of the bass drum.)
Soundchecks are totally off-limits to the press and everyone else who is deemed "non-essential." I have no clue what the deal is with all the secrecy. It's not like I'm going to run out on stage and yell "Gimme Some Water!"
I get a personalized tour of the stage as the crew sets up for Springfield's sound check. Rick's plane is circling Tampa, waiting for the thunderstorms to settle down before landing.
Eddie's guitars are set up on Stage Right, waiting for this set. Meanwhile, the sound crew is checking out the drums. It's pretty much as you imagine: "Bang!" "Check one" "Bang!" "Check two." Over and over again.
Wait! The guys coming on stage now look familiar. Yes, it's Rick Springfield's band. And the man himself strolls onstage moments later to take a look around. A little buzz goes up the spine. But he's gone as quickly as he arrived, shuttled back to his dressing room.
While Rick enjoys his 10 cases of bottled water, 20 or so members of his fan club have been escorted into the first three rows of the audience. Why? Because THEY get to watch the soundcheck! Not me. Probably because I'm not a 25-year-old blonde, buxom female. As soon as they sit down, they whip out their compacts and start touching up their makeup.
Springfield's drummer is going non-stop on the other side of the wall as their sound check begins. Meanwhile, I've finally gotten my official press pass for the evening along with the much coveted secret code to open the backstage door. All access, baby! By all access, what they really mean is, "Steve, please stay out of all the dressing rooms except your own, and stop giving Eddie Money that creepy look. And by all means, no more running and sliding across the stage."
My dressing room is right across from catering, and the smell is beginning to get a little too much to resist. So I wander across the hall to see what the rock stars are eating tonight. Turns out it's Italian Night here at Ruth Eckerd, so if there's any variation of pasta that can be covered with cheese and sauce, it's here.
The production staff here is getting a little anxious. Springfield's soundcheck should have been over by now, but it's really barely getting started. And John Waite hasn't shown up yet. He'll be the last do to a soundcheck -- possibly even after the hall opens the main doors. Meanwhile, a TV crew from Bay News 9 is waiting patiently to interview Rick after his sound check. I'm going to try to ambush Rick as well for a photo when he finishes with that.
John Waite has been spotted! He's in his dressing room, reading the Q&A article that Sean Daly and I wrote for today's paper. Meanwhile, I'm listening as other members of the staff in a different room read aloud my Top 5 list about Eddie Money. It's pretty bizarre hearing other people read your stuff when you're sitting in the next room.
I now also have the set list for Springfield. He's opening up with "Who Killed Rock n' Roll" then going into "Affair of the Heart." He'll close with "Love is Alright."
John Waite is singing and strumming his guitar in his dressing room.
Mr. Springfield walks into the Green Room for his TV interview with Bay News 9's Virginia Johnson. I introduce myself to Rick and remind him that I interviewed him for a podcast last time he was here. He immediately perks ups. He's wearing a leather jacket and his shoes look untied, but nobody besides me probably notices. Virginia fires away with some great questions, asking about his recent return to Australia and even manages to get him to turn some phrases in his native accent. I'm sitting in a couch three feet away during the 15-minute interview, trying not to be a distraction (though the staff walking by and the door chimes might be distracting enough.)
As soon as the interview ends, Virginia pops up and asks if I'll take a photo of her and Rick. Happy to do so. And here it is...
I'm rehearsing my introduction for the show in my dressing room. If all goes according to plan, I'm supposed to get up there -- alone, since Sean Daly wimped out -- and go through a three-minute monologue, announcing future 80s acts and then introducing tonight's bill o' fare.
But right now, all the blood has left my hands and the chills are running through me something fierce. I can see the headlines now, "Man dies on stage from massive cowardness."
John Waite is outside my dressing room, so I summon up the courage and introduce myself. He's incredibly kind and begins playing "You Are My Sunshine" as I get a photo taken with him. The conversation is predictably one-sided:
John Waite: "Hey Steve, how's the newspaper business?"
Me: "....... (inaudible sounds as mind locks up)"
John Waite: "How about I play another song for you?"
I suddenly realize he and I have the same basic haircut. Mine's just shorter.
Shortly before we go on stage together, he begins running through several other classic tunes, then tells me how the theme song to "The Beverly Hillbillies" sounds like a half dozen Dylan songs and begins singing it, "... up from the ground came a bubbling crude..."
I'm a wreck, but John Waite is playing TV theme songs for me. So all in all, things are going pretty good.
Stage announcement time. I'm standing just off stage left when they tell me I have to do announcements AND give the formal intro for John Waite, who is standing right behind me. So I skip onto the stage and the next three minutes is pretty much a complete blur. I remember thinking, "Are these people applauding what I'm saying? Or did Springfield stick his head out?" Finally when it was time to wrap it up, I got brave and uttered these totally unfamiliar words: "Please welcome my good friend, John Waite!"
Great set by John Waite! Just him and two other musicians on guitar. Simple, elegant and unforgettable. He even did an acoustic version of his Babys hit "Isn't It Time." I wish he could have stayed on for another hour or two. A half hour isn't enough for this guy.
Eddie Money is just finishing his set now with "Shakin'" -- and he's had the crowd on its feet nearly all night. Eddie performs here in Tampa Bay nearly every year, but you'd never know it from the enthusiasm of the crowd. They were on their feet from "Two Tickets to Paradise" straight on through the end.
He's working the backstage crowd now as I finish typing. What's really cool is that his band brought some of their children on stage with instruments to "play" along during a few of the songs. Eddie's daughter Jesse Money also sang background vocals and took centerstage for a couple of her own solo tunes.
We've got 25 minutes until Dr. Noah Drake hits the stage. I'm heading to the lobby to find a pair of earplugs to handle all the screaming.
OK, so the show is over. The highlight? Probably Rick Springfield singing "Jesse's Girl" RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. How close? Maybe a foot away. Life doesn't suck right now.
Lots of other audience members got some up close and personal time with Rick, including this young girl who sang along to "Don't Talk to Strangers."
Let me make this perfectly clear: I did NOT take this photo. My assistant did. I'm sure she had a somewhat different agenda at the concert than I did. Hey, I'm just about the music!
But Springfield really is more than music. During his 75-minute set, he'd occasionally poke fun at himself and some of the goofier plot lines on "General Hospital," even the one about himself looking like a fictional rock star named Eli Love. And he borrowed a fan's cell phone and used it to call her husband. "Hey, it's Rick Springfield!" he yelled. Too bad the joke was foiled when the husband recognized his voice and said, "Hey Rick" first.
(The late comedian Sam Kinison did the same bit during a show I saw in college, but instead he called someone's ex-girlfriend. The exchange wasn't nearly as friendly, but equally funny.)
Important note here: There's no such thing as a bad seat at a Springfield concert. Rick works the whole auditorium, playing with a microphone headset and wireless guitar for at least three songs ("Love Somebody," "Human Touch" and a killer cover of The Who's "My Generation.") He started singing "Jesse's Girl" right in front of me, as I mentioned above. It was a fantastic version of the tune.
If you ever think you're tired of an 80s classic, just ask Rick Springfield to sing it in front of you. Problem solved.
I'm backstage, wrapping up things. Rick's still here too, signing autographs and posing for photos. Every 30 seconds or so, he passes by my dressing room, peaking inside to see what's going on. (Trust me, Rick. You're having more fun than I am. Get back to the ladies.) He's also on his fourth shirt of the night, my trusty assistant tells me as she snaps away a few final pics.
I manage to sneak out to my car just before he leaves the building. But the cries and squeals coming from the far side of the hall tell me he's encountering his last barrage of fans for the night.
So another 80s Fest is in the books. If you've never been to one of these shows, you're really missing out. It's a revival of sorts that will have you on your feet, singing along at the top of your lungs and generally reliving life in the 80s again. So until the next show, just stay stuck in the 80s here with the rest of us.
[Photos by Marina Spears]