Kenny Loggins
at the Kresge Auditorium,
Interlochen, Mass.
(5 August 2009)

Veteran performers know what their audiences expect. Fans want to hear as many of their favorite melodies from the singer's catalogue as possible (and to hear them sooner, rather than later in the evening); they want to be able to sing along with those tunes; and they want to feel free enough to let the music take them to any dancing dimension that seems appropriate. Conversely, they'll tolerate new or unknown songs only sparingly and only if they're given a reason to do so. I'm pleased to report that Kenny Loggins still delivers on all points, after almost 40 years in the music business.

This 100-minute concert began softly and slowly and gradually worked itself up to a frenetic frenzy. That kind of progression is also the mark of a savvy music maker.

Kenny and the four members of his band arrived quietly onstage, then they started us off slow and easy with "Danny's Song." Although the tune was popularized by Anne Murray's vocals in 1973, it was Loggins who was inspired to write it when his own brother got married. Everyone was invited to sing along with the well-known chorus: "And even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with you, honey...." It's difficult to imagine a better beginning to the evening. They followed it with "Return to Pooh Corner," which is "House at Pooh Corner" with an additional conclusion that allows the narrator to graduate to adult life. And of course we got to sing "Count all the bees in the hive, Chase all the clouds from the sky." We were time-traveling to the 1970s. And what's wrong with that?

The small open-air amphitheater provided an informal and intimate setting. It felt more as if we were all participating in a musical sharing, rather than witnessing a performance by five musicians with thousands of fellow onlookers. Kenny was dressed in comfy casual style: jeans and a salmon button-down shirt that was opened far enough to show off some California-boy necklaces. His hair and goatee still look good, even though some gray is advancing into the brown. His voice is as strong as ever and is still defined by a distinctive tenor edge. And more so than many other entertainers, Kenny likes to talk to the audience and explain the origins of his songs.

Singing "Pooh" with us led him to promote another children's CD that he's releasing in December 2009. But Kenny was quick to insist that he hasn't "gone Barney." This new album will be aimed more at parents than kids anyway, he explained, and it will offer new interpretations of older popular songs that are kid-friendly. The selection he chose to do for us this evening was a cover of Donovan's "There is a Mountain." Now it had a good driving beat to it. Kenny's 11-year-old daughter (via audiotape) could be heard singing the chorus in the background. It was obvious that Loggins was having fun tonight. And his high energy was passed along to the bandmates who accompanied him on this tour: Scott Bernard on lead guitar, Paul Peterson on bass guitar, Scott Sheriff on keyboards and Tom Brechtlein on drums. All worked together to achieve a musical unity.

Next up was "Conviction of the Heart," which remains one of his most powerful statement songs. Kenny opened it on his own with just his voice and his 12-string guitar; then the band joined in after the first verse. It's a musical affirmation that I first heard him perform during an environmental conference in Colorado in 1993. "One with the earth, with the sky, one with everything in life: I believe it will start with conviction of the heart." You just can't get more earth-friendly than that. With another change of guitars (which happened between nearly every song), Kenny moved on to "A Year's Worth of Distance," a collaboration created with football-player-turned-country-songwriter Mike Reid. Then he abandoned the instrument altogether and sat at the edge of the stage to croon "What a Fool Believes," which he co-wrote with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Scott Bernard stepped up and shined with a few lead licks and quick six-string picks on that one. Kenny next donned an acoustic guitar to perform a wonderful rendition of "The Real Thing." In one form or another, his lyrics are all about love.

"Celebrate Me Home" was a poignant musical plea that lent itself in part to another sing-along opportunity. Kenny strode confidently into the audience with his microphone, all the time engaging in an expanded game of melodic tag as stage-bound Bernard tried to match his leader's vocals on the guitar. That exchange eventually ended in cheers and the first standing ovation of the evening. It also marked a turning point in the general energy level felt in the building. The sun lowered itself behind the Interlochen student dormitories and fell into Green Lake, and the air got chilly enough that a few folks reached for the light jackets and sweaters they had brought with them. Other daring souls crowded into the aisles to get closer to Kenny and to find more room for dancing.

And not a moment too soon. As Loggins returned to the stage, the group called up a new version of "This Is It" that offered far more intricate rhythms than ever before. It was followed by the country-rock feel of "I'm a Free Man Now," which featured Paul Peterson on harmonica. Then they dipped into a few Loggins and Messina classics. First up was "Angry Eyes," which segued into a snippet of "Vahevala." Then everyone -- and I do mean everyone -- rose to their feet for "Your Mama Don't Dance." How could they choose not to? And as long as we were already up anyway, why not end the concert proper with "I'm Alright"? Hundreds of people were twirling in the aisles or jiggling more conservatively at their seats, doing their best to imitate that well-remembered silly Caddyshack gopher. It's easy to get an ovation when the audience members are already standing. Another lesson learned through years of performing experience.

Kenny and his band exited the stage, then came back for the inevitable encore. We stayed on our feet for a three-part medley that began with a song I couldn't identify. It soon segued into "Danger Zone," which led directly into "Footloose." You forget about all of those KL toe-tapping movie themes until he summons them up again. And Kenny and his band had taken us all about as "up" as we could go. They left the stage a second time to more rousing applause. When they returned, it was to bring us back to earth and to send us home with the powerful closing benediction ballad, "Forever." "Forever in my heart, Forever we will be, And know that when I'm gone, You'll be here in me." Wow. It was the perfect end to a perfect concert on a perfect summer day in the Midwest.

The only tragedy was that the concert wasn't sold out. Empty seats outlined the far edges of the pavilion. Those Michiganders who chose to miss this event really missed a great opportunity, in my opinion. They could come close to the experience by listening to the live album (or watching the video of) Outside: From the Redwoods. The instrumentation of that 1993 concert is vastly different from this one, but some of the selections remain the same.

Just a few weeks after this concert took place at Interlochen, 62-year-old Kenny Loggins embarked on a reunion tour with 61-year-old Jim Messina. Here's hoping that their music and their energy continues ... well, forever.

by Corinne H. Smith
26 September 2009

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