Review / photos: Doobie Brothers bring classic songs, sounds to the Florida Strawberry Festival
Driving percussion and blues slide guitar greet you by the ferris wheel. Clean vocals drift through the fairgrounds like sweet, perfumed smoke on the Mississippi delta. The Doobie Brothers take the stage with not an ounce less vigor than they had 35 years ago.
Old fans greet the band at the Florida Strawberry Festival like enthused aunts, energetic no matter how many years since their last meeting. No one in the stadium noticed the wrinkles that have come over many years of rocking something mystical. They’ve been going to these shows for too long and it’s rude to be superficial. There’s soul underneath those faded tattoos.
Tom Johnston plays a weeping guitar. Keyboards are on backup as he slides along acoustic, warping, bluesy riffs, while his partners keep the rhythm moving.
The brothers play new tunes, like World Gone Crazy, and older standards, like Jesus is Just All Right. They carefully balance the oldies everyone came for and the newer stuff they ought to showcase.
The band has two drummers. It seems like they could get by with one. Maybe they couldn’t say “no” to a friend who wanted to join the group ... but wait — John McFee has a viola. And Marc Russo has a saxophone. Forget about the drummers.
A husband stops his wife from standing up while they clap along to the beat. This is a place of festivity, but reverence. McFee is willing to blow your mind with his blues guitar, but don’t take it too far. You may whoop and clap, but stay down until the standing ovation. Dance in your seat till Johnston invites you to rise, and then only briefly, politely.
Guy Allison on keys takes a moment to lead into Takin’ it to the Streets. He’s gonna let you know that he can play formal jazz piano. Don’t sneeze, Russo is coming back with that saxophone and he deserves respect.
Their vocals are too good. They sound recorded and pre-mixed. Flawless. There is no doubt that they are playing live, but one might wonder if they sold their souls for such longevity. Nah, that slide guitar is too soulful for that. Perhaps they just make regular sacrifices to the dark god of bold blues. Perhaps they consume the youth of other musicians and spit it back up on stage (Bob Dylan has sounded 60 since he was 30, but I guess no one seems to mind.) There aren’t many young fans here; likely, they gave themselves up to be consumed by these brothers.
Music this polished might strike you as being worthy of a more prestigious venue than the Strawberry Festival (or not too long ago, Ribfest.) But at the end of the day, there is nothing more genuinely middle American than fried cheese and blues. That seems to be the lifestyle their music evokes. Simple pleasures: highway drives with the windows down, good food, maybe a beer (if that’s your thing.)
Oh, Black Water. This song is performed just like the album version. The audience sings backup and the stadium rings in surround sound. Florida moon, keep on shining on me.
-- Review / photos by Andrew Ford, tbt*