By Tim McCoy
The sky threatened rain as local indie rock and opening band, My Radio, took the stage last night at Elmwood Park, but that didn’t stop the masses from once again packing the park for installment number two in the Totally Rad Roanoke ~ Star City Concert Series featuring legendary New York punk rock band Blondie.
With the Blue Ridge Mountains as the backdrop, love was once again in the air as glamorous stilt walkers danced among the crowd, the cold beer flowed, and rock lovers of all ages edged closer to the stage. It was instantly clear that the summer festival season had arrived.
In between sets, people were upbeat and eager to fill time with chatter about what they anticipated from the influential 70’s rock band.
Christine Smith, of Roanoke described herself as a longtime fan, and considered this to be one of her bucket list concerts, “I’ve seen Billy Joel, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar, and now I get to see Blondie!” Smith went on, “The first time I heard ‘Rapture’ on the radio, I was stunned. I’d never heard anything like it. And when I heard ‘Call me’, I was hooked.”
Further conversations were cut short as the first orchestral guitar chords chimed out into the night, and a steady march beat emanated from the stage. Fans packed onto the Elmwood lawn began clapping in unison, as if some Soviet-era leader was about to arrive. It was better than that. The Grande Dame of New Wave, Debbie Harry took the stage, and Blondie led off the night with the hit ‘One Way or Another’. The audience erupted into dance, and sang along with every line.
Blondie front woman Debbie Harry was every bit the image of an icon, wrapped in a black overcoat, donning tall black boots, and large sunglasses, as she toyed and flirted with the crowd with a comfort that declared this was her stage. As the group powered through the first few songs, Harry dropped the sunglasses, and shook off the over coat, revealing a slinking black dress, and worked up the crowd with number one hit ‘Call Me’ followed by ‘What I Heard’. She then slowed things down a bit and took the time to speak intimately to the audience about her experiences in the city and reflected on the organizers and crew who had given her many reasons to fall in love with Roanoke. Not surprisingly, the community made her feel welcome and she took the time to mention by name each person who appeared in the locally produced “Heart of Glass” Blondie video tribute.
Blondie then launched into ‘A Rose by Any Name’, a synthpop hit off the 2013 album “Ghosts of Download”. The song was clearly new to many in the audience, but the band drove it home, reminding everyone that Blondie was, and will continue to be a New Wave band. From there, the band teased the audience by drawing out the familiar snare and keyboard intro of ‘Rapture’, before jumping headlong into the 1980 hit the fans had been waiting for. Harry played it up, and rapped beautifully, with the fans singing along. Charlie Stein stepped up and delivered a gritty, hard hitting guitar solo just before the band morphed from ‘Rapture’ into the Beastie Boys’ hit ‘Fight for your Right’, that had the crowd raging. The mashups didn’t end there as Blondie transformed ‘The Tide is High’ into a smooth rendition of Deee-Lite’s ‘Groove is in the Heart’.
The band continued to mix in new songs like ‘Sugar on the Side,’ with fan favorites ‘Atomic’ and ‘Heart of Glass,’ and closed the ninety-minute show with ‘Dreaming’. As to be expected, the gleeful audience stood clapping and cheering for more.
“I loved her energy,” said Roanoke resident, Keri Kelly, “She was so playful with the audience.”
Tonight’s show was the second in the “Totally Rad Roanoke – Star City Concert Series” presented by FloydFest and Across-the-Way Productions. Once again, they have brought a world-class talent right to our doorstep.
As Roanoke resident Susan Blum stated, “It is unbelievable that I was 5 feet from Debbie Harry 15 minutes ago, and 10 minutes from now I can be home.”
Unbelievable indeed. It just shows the benefits of living in a region that has access to great local and internationally acclaimed artists.
The concert series concludes August 20 with Brian Wilson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys’ legendary “Pet Sounds”. The Totally Rad Roanoke series has set a high bar with the Huey Lewis, and now Blondie. There’s little doubt that the FloydFest crew will deliver another high caliber party to the Elmwood Park stage later this summer.
In the meantime, check out a few of the other great events coming up this year courtesy of Across-the-Way Productions, and make sure to regularly check the Blue Ridge Rocks calendar for information about all the region’s upcoming music events. Then get out and support the scene. It’s the only way to keep the nights of rapture coming.
Local band, My Radio, opening for Blondie. Photos by Meagan Iwaniszek Reynolds.