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Looking Back: Whitney Houston and The Beach Boys rocked the Super Fourth Rockfest (July 4, 1987)

Fireworks explode over Tampa Stadium during Whitney Houston's performance at Rockfest.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

Fireworks explode over Tampa Stadium during Whitney Houston's performance at Rockfest. TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on July 5, 1987. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographer Evan R. Steinhauser.


By Eric Snider, Times Staff Writer

A thin veil of high clouds kept Tampa Stadium from turning into an oven Saturday. Rain threatened the Super Fourth Rockfest early, but never came. Later, with a bright orange sunset, a beautiful day magically evolved into a gorgeous, balmy night. As a result, the six-hour concert, featuring pop diva Whitney Houston, the rock band Starship and fun-in-the-sun veterans the Beach Boys was relaxing, comfortable and, for the most part, entertaining.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

The concert nicely mixed tradition with the latest hits. The only major hitch was that the show went way past what was originally a tightly timed schedule. Miss Houston, the final performer who was slated to take the stage at 8:45 p.m. did not take the stage until 10.

The leggy former model looked stunning; her smile lit up the stadium. Although not overtly showy, she had a confident stage presence. Her voice was a wonderful combination of silkiness and power.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

She improvised considerably more than on her two tightly produced studio albums - reaching for the heavens with her falsetto; soul shouting on her opening song, "How Will I Know"; cooing luxuriantly on her first ballad, "You Give Good Love."

Miss Houston mixed hit material from her hugely successful debut album with not-yet-popular tunes from the new LP, Whitney. "Love is a Contact Sport" was a bouncy slice of Motown-inspired pop. On "I'm Saving All My Love For You," she stretched the phrases, adding more drama. At one point, she held a long note and drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd of more than 50,000.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

She did not sound particularly good, however, singing quick, dabbling versions of Janet Jackson's "Control" or Anita Baker's "Sweet Love."

Miss Houston's recorded work reflects a very strong hit-making approach. Her live set had a much more impromptu, human quality.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

The concert ended up running late, but not because of the Beach Boys. The band started promptly at 5 p.m., as scheduled, and finished exactly at the appointed 6:15.

The Beach Boys is the band most associated with the Fourth of July.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

It played a spirited, energetic collection of timeless oldies. The band's one-time creative leader, Brian Wilson, who plays only occasional live dates, sounded strong singing lead on "Don't Worry Baby" and "Surfer Girl."

Overall, the California group's trademark harmonies, which in the past have been known to sound a bit ragged, were right on the money.

With nary a stop, the Beach Boys played nostalgic hit after hit: the opener, "California Girls", "Fun, Fun, Fun", "I Get Around", "Good Vibrations" and easily more than a dozen more.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

The day's only down note was Starship. Besides blowing an amplifier and setting the event back 50 minutes, the group played a shortened set that was mostly dismal. The middle-of-the-road rock was tight and melodic, flawlessly executed and thoroughly lackluster.

The band opened with the a cappella strains of "We Built This City." And it finished with a reprise of that same lame anthem ("We built this city on rock and roll") that the group peddles from town to town, pandering to the local citizenry.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

In between, Starship did bland versions of "Sara," "Find Your Way Back" and others. A hard-rock version of "Somebody to Love," sung by Grace Slick - the last remaining member from Jefferson Airplane, from which Starship evolved - was bloated and perfunctory.

TIMES | Evan R. Steinhauser

Starship's set provided no surprises and little inspiration. It was rock 'n' roll by numbers.

To order reprints, license or download any image from this gallery, please visit the Times image archive.

Contact Jeremy King at [email protected]

Looking Back: Whitney Houston and The Beach Boys rocked the Super Fourth Rockfest (July 4, 1987) 02/16/17 [Last modified: Thursday, February 16, 2017 1:27pm]
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