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Paul Mann: Hippiefest 2011 Rolls Into L.A.‘s Greek Theatre

Traveling rock-and-roll road show, heavy on guitar, entertains the crowd with classic favorites

The latest version of the traveling classic rock-and-roll road show known as Hippiefest rolled into Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on Aug. 4.

The five former rock stars represented an historic wealth of early rock pop hit music. Although all of the performers had roots in the happy hippy rock generation of the 1960s, most of them had their greatest success in the 1970s hair band heydays.

The one exception was opening act Felix Cavaliere, most famous for his stint in the The Young Rascals in the 1960s. The hippy generation was truly Cavaliere’s most productive period, singing on six of the Rascals’ biggest radio hits.

The 68-year-old singer, backed by a house band of capable studio musicians, tore through a 30-minute set covering more than four decades of his recording career. The aging singer and keyboard player exhibited a remarkably intact, deep bluesy soulful voice that made him famous early in his career. In fact, many young music fans who first heard him on the radio in the 1960s thought he was black since he sang in a style popular with black soul and blues singers of the time. He led many in the crowd into a dancing and clapping frenzy by the conclusion of his short set of well-known classic songs.

The first of three classic rock guitarists took the stage next. The 63-year-old Rick Derringer also had a hit song in the 1960s. When he was 17, his band The McCoys released the classic pop song “Hang On Snoopy.” The song became the No. 1 hit in the country in the summer of 1965, and it had the whole crowd on their feet singing the chorus in the Greek Theatre like children at an old Saturday afternoon cartoon matinee.

But it was in the 1970s that Derringer established his identity as a hard-rock guitar extraordinaire, playing on a regular basis with both Johnny and Edgar Winter in their career heydays, He was also the go-to guitarist in countless recording sessions of the day, including contributions to bands as diverse as Alice Cooper — playing one of their biggest hit songs “Under My Wheels” in 1971 — and on some of jazz rock superstars Steely Dan’s biggest hits, including “Show Biz Kids.”

He ended his set with his solo hit version of the classic rock song “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” Although his voice appeared a bit raspy (he never had much of a singing voice to start with), his performance on the guitar more than made up for his anemic voice, launching into several classic rock guitar jams.

Gary Wright took the stage next, an American pop star best known for his phenomenally successful 1976 album The Dream Weaver. His musical career, however, began much earlier, as a child star and singer on Broadway in 1954. But his career as a rock star took off in 1967 in Europe, when he joined the groundbreaking rock band Spooky Tooth as their second keyboardist. His vocal and keyboard talents were well-known in England and utilized by rock legends such as George Harrison. In the past several years, the pop star has been extremely busy, touring with the last two versions of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, releasing a new album in 2010, Connected, and touring as part of the 2011 Hippiefest.

His 30-minute set showcased songs from two Spooky Tooth albums as well as his two big hit songs from the Dream Weaver album. He paused during the set to chat about his partnership with Harrison, helping the former Beatle with his classic solo album, All Things Must Pass. He also explained how his friendship with Harrison led him to write the mega hit “Dream Weaver,” based on Harrison’s dealings with an Indian Yogi.

After a short intermission, the sound system was cranked for the next performer, who may have stole the show with his larger-than-life performance as the former lead singer and axeman for one of America’s most successful and loudest rock bands ever, Grand Funk Railroad. Mark Farner, a 62-year-old former rock guitar god, played like a man possessed, strutting about the stage and engaging the audience like a true rock star. His voice remained strong, and his innovative and aggressive lead guitar work was a phenomenal reminder of his great talent.

Franer had the crowd on their feet for the entire set of his well-known favorites, including the masterpiece “I’m Your Captain,” which recently has been used as the soundtrack on the popular Discovery TV series Deadliest Catch.

Farner has had a rocky relationship over the years with former Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer and bass player Mel Schacher, the latter two who still tour as Grand Funk. The three remain phenomenally energetic performers, and it is too bad they couldn’t reunite for a fresh tour of one of America’s biggest hard-rock bands ever.

After Farner’s amped-out set, another legendary guitarist, Dave Mason, took the stage for the final set of the night. Mason was the first to employ his own band of backing musicians, as the house band that backed the first four performers retired for the night.

Mason’s band of veteran musicians brought a new, richer layer of music to the evening. Lacking the over-the-top rock star energy of Farner, Mason instead opted for a more demure presentation of four decades of some of his greatest musical achievements. His set included the classic “40,000 Headmen” from his stint in the groundbreaking English rock band Traffic. He also included the Jimi Hendrix version of the Bob Dylan classic “All Along the Watchtower,” explaining that he had played acoustic guitar on the original recording.

During the set, Mason switched up to his trademark acoustic guitar to play some of his biggest solo 1970s hits such as “We Just Disagree.”

The set ended with a rousing version of the Joe Cocker version of “Feelin Alright,” which Mason originally wrote with the band Traffic. He was joined by Farner on vocals and Derringer on guitar for a classic finale by three historic rock guitarists.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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