Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.” — Aretha Franklin
The following opening paragraph was penned by my wife, Lea Ann Williams:
“Through difficult times, we reach out to the familiar. Nostalgia takes us back to happier and more simple times. Music is a form of nostalgia that does just that, it transports us to the past when things were happier or yes, simpler. Music to me is like a soft comfortable pillow, easing the rough times and making them a little more bearable. The past year has been difficult with family loss and the dreadful breast cancer diagnosis but through it all, music has been a comfort and a blessing. The Eagles concert was one of those concerts where you knew every word to every song and loved every minute of it. From ‘Hotel California’ to ‘Take It Easy,’ there was this familiar feeling, like an old friend had just shown up. People that you did not know singing all the words to your favorite songs and the old guys on the stage were strangely timeless and young again.”
This past Saturday night, Lea Ann and I had the opportunity to share with 8,000 other music fans an experience that, for some of us, was emotionally transforming. You see, we went to enjoy The Eagles as they kicked off their Hotel California tour at the new Enmarket Arena in Savannah. Now, some of my friends don’t consider this group to be anything special in the world of music, opting for other critically acclaimed groups. I will not challenge their beliefs in this forum but will instead just share our experience.
To say that The Eagles is etched into the sub-conscience mind of those of us that grew up in the ‘70s would be an understatement. They are arguably one of the most prolific, truly American rock groups of all time. Formed in 1971, The Eagles began with a decidedly country sound but with the addition of Joe Walsh in 1975 (more on him later) the group became the rock group they are today. Lea Ann and I have attended no less than 25 concerts in our lives, so we showed up at the new Enmarket Arena Saturday evening looking forward to checking off yet another concert experience. It was much more than that.
We both are people-watchers with Lea Ann more on the people-talker side and me more on the watcher side. The woman doesn’t meet strangers and this has often taken me a little out of my comfort zone, which I think has made me a better person, so standing in line with thousands of excited concert-goers, I really had to tap into my extrovert reserves. Concerts are gatherings where you will see people from all walks of life as well as a few surprises. As I am leading us, passing through people in line to go to our seats, I hear Lea Ann yell and turn loose of my hand. We have passed directly through the line where her first college roommate and her husband were standing, so this chance encounter allows her to rekindle a decades old friendship and introduces me to a new friend. We make our way to our seats and chat briefly with our fellow seat mates and as I am looking around at all of the old people, I realize that I am also one of these people. This realization is not lost on the moment as I begin to think that all of these people are just like us and have memories of these songs and of the places they were when they heard them the first time. What I wasn’t expecting was the emotions these songs would bring to the surface.
I lost my dad in January 2021 and Lea Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, so the rollercoaster we have been on for 13 months probably had something to do with the reactions we both had as the opening song began. We also think it had a lot to do with the fact that we were actually seeing the musicians who painted those pictures for us for so many years. As I looked around to see if anyone notices the emotions streaming down our faces, I realize that many others around us are also having the same reaction. It was startling and soothing at the same time. Aretha said in the opening quote, “Music is transporting.” She definitely nailed it.
The concert began with a man dressed in black walking from one side of the stage to the other carrying the Hotel California album to a waiting turntable, where he placed it and cued the needle. They proceeded to play the entire first side of Hotel California. A young lady in black now enters the stage to flip the album over, and they play side two. It was during side two that the Savannah Philharmonic joined the band, much to the delight of the gathered fans. The sound they added was phenomenal. After Hotel California was completed, Don Henley walks center stage and announces they are going backstage for a break to get more comfortable but will be back to play set 2 that will consist of their greatest hits. Fourteen songs later, they leave the stage, only to be brought back by the crowd for the encore, where they play four more songs ending with “The Best of My Love.” Although Glen Frey is no longer with the band after his untimely death in 2016, Vince Gill has been tapped by the band to fill in, and he did a fantastic job on the songs originally sung by Frey. Henley, one of the original band members, did a great job on the songs he always sang lead on as well as Timothy B. Schmit, but the show was stolen, in our opinion, on the next to last song during the Hotel California set when Joe Walsh sang “Try and Love Again.”
This set the stage for the following three songs Walsh sang “In the City,” “Life’s Been Good”,”and “Rocky Mountain Way.” Now, Walsh is not the most famous of the group and, bless him, is not the most handsome of fellows, but what he did Saturday night, his mastery of the guitar and vocals, were a surprise to the crowd as they responded with thunderous ovations during his performance as well as after he finished each song. For Lea Ann and me, his performance was the show.
As for all of us old people, we weren’t the only ones in the audience. There were many young people there as well. I spoke with my classmate Milton Gray, who had his youngest daughter with him, and he said this was the fourth time he had attended an Eagles concert. There was a lady behind us who had seen them eight times. As I looked around, the young folks were signing along with the band just like all of us were. They knew the words to the songs because either their parents or grandparents played the music in their house and they fell in love with it, too. This makes The Eagles a cross generational group of major proportions.
I know we have many terrible things going on in our world today that demand our attention. Isn’t it great, though, that we live in the greatest country in the world that allows us to be able to, even if for a brief moment, to escape back to a time in our lives when we had that peaceful easy feeling?