By Tim McCoy and Jenna Lazenby
It was end of summer circa 1966 last night when Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin took the stage at Elmwood Park Amphitheater. The late August air was heavy with humidity, cicadas were screaming in the trees, and the smell of grilled burgers wafted from the vendor area. A jubilant crowd wore a mix of soft pastels and bright Hawaiian shirts, while beach balls floated and stilt walkers dressed in 60s fashion danced amongst the fans; one young man even had a surfboard in tow. It all combined to draw the audience back to the best summer nights of yesteryear.
It was a fitting backdrop to host the legendary Brian Wilson and his band, as they presented the seminal “Pet Sounds” album, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. This also marked the final show in the inaugural FloydFest-presented Totally Rad Roanoke Star City Concert Series, which also brought iconic acts Blondie and Huey Lewis & the News to Elmwood Park.
As the light from the setting sun softened, the band started the show with harmonized singing, reminiscent of a Sunday church choir. Wilson sat center stage behind his piano, as the 11 musicians launched into a medley of Beach Boys’ classics. The line-up included Beach Boys founder Al Jardine, as well as Blondie Chaplin, who played with the Beach Boys in the early 1970s. Among the other eight players was Matt Jardine, son of Al, who perfectly covered the falsetto portions that gave the Beach Boys some of its signature sound. Also in the group was keyboardist Billy Hinsche, who played in the mid to late sixties with Desi Arnaz in the singing group Dino, Desi & Billy.
The crowd clearly dug the beach vibe and responded enthusiastically to hits like “Little Surfer” and “Good Vibrations” (When do ever get to see a theremin played live anymore?). When the younger Jardine stepped to the front of the stage to perform the 1964 hit “Don’t Worry Baby”, the faces of the audience members glowed, as the music appeared to transport them back to the sixties. One attendee declared after the show, “I felt like I was 14 again when the Beach Boys ruled the airwaves!”
And then the rains came. About an hour into the show, the skies opened up and a heavy downpour doused the crowd. The rain fell with an intensity that felt like it could go on forever, but like so many summer storms, it ended as quickly as it started about 20 minutes later. It served to chase off a handful of concertgoers, but the vast majority stayed to see the second set of “Pet Sounds”. The opening strains of “Wouldn’t it be Nice” washed over the crowd, and the rain and damp clothing became a distant memory.
The performance was technically flawless. The band recreated live, the trippy atmospherics that were unique to the 1966 album that revolutionized pop music. At 74, Wilson’s voice remains strong, as evidenced in “Love and Mercy” and “God Only Knows”, a song Paul McCartney described as one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.
The band finished out the concert with a celebration of the best of the Beach Boys’ hits that had the crowd dancing and singing along. “Help Me Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann”, “Surfin’ USA”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun” brought the night to a joyful close, and was a fitting end to a concert series that brought a lot of nostalgia to Downtown Roanoke this year.
“It has been a real blessing to realize how strong the bridge between Roanoke and Floyd continues to be,” said Sam Calhoun, director of Marketing for Across the Way Productions. “This is a big majority of our fan base, and we are continuing to zero in on what works best for the Roanoke crowd.”
Without giving any specifics regarding who might be on the horizon for next year, Calhoun said that they would absolutely be back with more concerts and was enthusiastic that the Roanoke audience would be pleased with the line-up. Be on the lookout for those announcements later this fall, around the same time that the initial 2017 FloydFest lineup is released. In the meantime, keep those good vibrations flowing through your soul.
Photos by Jenna Lazenby