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Paul Mann: Don Henley Brings Southern-Tinged Classic Rock to California Mid-State Fair

Don Henley, founding member and drummer of the Eagles, treats fans to a two-hour, 19-song concert on July 26 at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.
Don Henley, founding member and drummer of the Eagles, treats fans to a two-hour, 19-song concert on July 26 at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

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Don Henley, founding member and drummer of the Eagles, brought his grandiose solo project to the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles on July 26 as part of a world tour that continues for the rest of the year.

Henley led a band featuring no fewer than 14 performers on a two-hour journey, covering his more than 40 years as a songwriter.

Unlike last year's tour that shied away from Eagles songs, the current tour includes Eagles classics as well as the prolific songwriter's biggest hit singles, songs for his latest album, Cass County, and a few surprises.

The southern- and country-rock-tinged show was well received by a crowd of about 9,000 people, which seemed fittingly set in the midst of the classic summer fair.

The musical journey began with Henley in the center of the stage, his guitar swung over his shoulder. He sang an inspiring version of "Seven Bridges Road," surrounded by most of the band's members acting as an impromptu choir.

The Steve Young cover, on the Eagles' 1980 live album, was a beautiful way to begin the show in the searing summer twilight of the Mid-State Fair. During the next 30 minutes, the extended band of veteran musicians tore through some of Henley’s biggest hits, including "Dirty Laundry" and "Sunset Grill," a new song from Cass County, "That Old Flame" and even an Eagles classic, "Witchy Woman," setting the pattern for the rest of the evening.

As has been well-documented in recent reviews, the critically acclaimed and country-tinged Cass County album offers up great songs with a legendary roster of guest singers. Songs from the album appeared throughout the show, with three backup singers taking over the parts sung by guest vocalists on the album. Meshing majestically with Henley, the three sang eloquently. Laura Johnston sang an emotional version of Trisha Yearwood’s vocal in "Words Can Break Your Heart," and both Lily Elise for Martina McBride in "That Old Flame" and Erica Swindell for Dolly Parton in "When I Stop Dreaming" also were astounding.

A real surprise on this tour is the inclusion of a cover of the Tears For Fears classic "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," described by Henley as particularly relevant, in a veiled reference to his dislike for the Donald Trump campaign.

The 19-song set list continued in the same vein, covering all aspects of Henley's career — to the delight of the crowd. A triple encore featured three Eagles classics, including "Life in the Fast Lane," "Hotel California" and a particularly moving closing rendition of "Desperado," dedicated to the passing of fellow Eagle Glenn Frey and the turbulent times that we live in.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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