Blue Sky Riders on Tour: Play That Funky Dulcimer, Georgia
by Holley Dey, Louise Uznanski, Richard Uznanski
The house was packed and primed for Blue Sky Riders on Sunday evening. Four rows from the stage sat a woman who had traveled all the way from Cincinnati to small town, Connecticut for the show. Stage left sat a smiling pair who had caught an acoustic performance at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe and liked what they heard. Two rows from center stage, a man with a jacket had come to the show with razor sharp intent. He knew what he wanted, and he was hell bent on getting it.
The band took the stage to enthusiastic applause and high pitched whoops of excitement. Kenny strapped on his guitar, looked casually to his left, and with a smile in his voice said, “Play that funky dulcimer, Georgia!” With that, the music erupted from the stage and the rocking “Feelin’ Brave” opened the set with the band alternating lines on the verses, then bringing a tight three part harmony to the chorus. It was a strong beginning to an evening full of music and melody, laughter and storytelling. An early announcement drew cheers; the band’s entire debut album would be played at Ridgefield Playhouse. All fourteen original songs were to be shared with the audience in advance of the record’s release; Finally Home will come home to roost on January 22.
The band members were introduced in turn. Kenny presented Nashville Hall of Fame songwriter Gary Burr whose credits include fourteen number one hits. Gary introduced Georgia Middleman who has written hit songs for Keith Urban, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, among others. Georgia pointed to the man “who had the whole kooky idea to put this thing together…the great Kenny Loggins!”
It was a kooky idea that almost ended before it started. As Loggins tells the story, he first met Gary Burr when the two collaborated on four songs for Kenny’s 2008 album How About Now. In the course of that collaboration, the two found that their voices blended like brothers, and Loggins remarked “You know, if it was twenty years ago, we’d form a band.” When he began to seriously consider the idea, Kenny realized that a third member, a female singer/songwriter would complete the group. He turned to Gary for a recommendation, and Georgia was recruited to the band. It was then that the plan almost unraveled. Kenny shared his excitement with a longtime friend who advised against the idea, suggesting that at this age and stage, retirement made much more sense. Despondent, Kenny texted Georgia “too old to dream”. She ran with the idea. When Loggins returned to Nashville, he found that Georgia had used those words to pen the chorus of Blue Sky Rider’s heartfelt original song “Dream”. The band was a go.
It would be easy to write the story of this band as one of reinvention, of mature adults who find a new purpose and vigor, a new place in the workforce. It’s a good story, but only part of the tale; it’s the subplot that can distract from the storyline that defines the Blue Sky Riders. Consider a well written whodunit, or a competitive game of Clue. Multiple characters compete for attention, each a plausible suspect in the crime and capable of diverting attention from the truth. Is it Gary in the pantry with a knife? Georgia in the dining room with a candlestick? No, what slayed the audience in Ridgefield were the blended voices of three uniquely talented musicians. Fourteen original songs, all different in design and lyrical content, all melodic and meaningful. On Sunday night, the story was music, music that crossed genres, combining folk, pop rock and country influences, the product of the hearts and experience of all three songwriters.
At the midpoint of the concert, musician support on guitar, bass and drums left the stage and the Blue Sky Riders offered an acoustic set, all three singer/songwriters seated at stage front, guitars in hand. Each songwriter performed two of their own songs, prefaced by brief stories about the songs or songwriting process. The audience helped Loggins chase the clouds from the sky during “House at Pooh Corner”. Georgia responded to an audience request with a performance of “Table 32”; the surprise ending drew a series of appreciative “Ahhhhs” from the crowd. Gary performed “A Thousand Wild Horses”, a song so memorable and well written that the lyrics are used to teach songwriting at the Berklee College of Music.The acoustic set was a window into the depth of songwriting talent and performance ability that reside within this band. Kenny’s voice, distinctive and immediately recognizable, drew contented sighs from the audience. Georgia’s dazzling smile and expressive performance style charmed the crowd. Gary’s strong, clear tone, dynamic range and vocal control impressed.
The band put its experience and good humor to use when a request came unexpectedly from the audience between songs. Said the man with the jacket, “Kenny, Kenny, can I have a guitar pick?” Surprised, but without missing a beat, Kenny replied, “Sure, can I have your jacket?!” The evening was punctuated with humor and shared stories, as well as good natured teasing among the band, creating a warm intimacy between the few on stage and the hundreds at their feet.
As the band prepared to deliver the last song of the evening, Gary made it clear that there would be an encore. Why leave the stage and pretend otherwise? As the audience responded with thunderous applause, Blue Sky Riders sang “I’m a Rider” complete with acapella introduction performed in a soaring three part harmony. Is it January yet?
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