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Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind, & Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

August 25, 2005 /

Concert Review: Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire at Red Rocks in Denver

Red Rocks above Denver is a natural amphitheater that has been hosting concerts for almost a hundred years and is where the Beatles appeared 41 years ago. Paul McCartney, during his last concert in Denver commented that when the Beatles performed there, they had a hard time finishing their set, due to the elevation. The walk from the parking lot alone is a formidable ascent.

The teaming of these two legendary bands is phenomenal, each performing for over three decades. Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) originally came from Chicago. The band Chicago, I’m not sure where they’re from.

The play list for Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire was essentially the same as their Platinum selling DVD recorded in Los Angeles in 2004 Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre.

Everyone cheered and rose to their feet as both bands entered together to do the Chicago song “Beginnings” with 21 musicians on stagetrading guitar licks between the bands

Already, the smell of burning herbs wafted across the twilight air. By the end of the evening the air was redolent with the unmistakable fragrance of superheated recreational pharmaceuticals.

EWF then did some funky dance music from “We Can Make It Happen” as the bands intermingled sides and shared lyrics.

They slid right into “We can make it happen,” then upshifted into an energetic tune with their trademark high voices.

Philip Bailey, the young lead singer of EWF is local to Denver and said, “Nice to be home. We used to sneak over the fence back there to see Chicago.”

Chicago left the stage and EWF opened their solo part of the show with an instrumental of blaring guitars superceeded only by horns gone wild. It was more felt than heard.

Then they did “Party People”, heavy on the thump, that was followed by “Party Like It’s Saturday Night”

The awaited “Boogie Wonderland” was pure discomania.

Philip played the kalimba, a beautiful African thumb piano.

It was a real treat to watch aging boomers recapturing their youth. But the middle aged gent in front of me was dancing to the music in a way that suggested he never had rhythem, even in his youth.

Then EWF did some blues followed by the love song co-written by Chicago’s Bill Champlin “After the Love Is Gone.” He invited the participation of the audience to sing along, and instrumental solos covered the fact that he just couldn’t hit the notes anymore.

EWF did some songs from their forthcoming (on September 20) CD, Illumination

They then did “Hearts Afire ” followed by Philip doing a riff from somewhere “Over the Rainbow” where he hit notes higher than many women I know. What a set of pipes!

This was followed by the Beatles cover “Got to Get You ionto My Life” and “12th of Never.” It was a funkalicious fantasy.

They had 12 people on stage, though only two from the original band: Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. They had 3, count ’em 3 drum sets — and bongos. Did I mention the cowbells?

Following the break, Chicago started their part of the show with a drum duel between their drummer and EWF’s drummer, and were later joined by steel drums by EWF. While there were 8 people on the stage, only 4 were from the original band: Robert Lamm, Walt Parazaider, Jimmy Pankow, and Lee Loughnane.

Then was “Great Shouts of Joy.” Great horns, but Bill Champlin’s weak voice couldn’t hit the notes so he kicked beyond it. Where EWF made up for their lack of precision with energy and enthusiasm, Chicago made up for weak voices with horns and guitars. While the horns were brassy, they couldn’t make up for the missed vocal fidelity.

When Chicago did “Color My World” the crowd went wild, especially for the flute solo.

Phillip Bailey of EWF (mercifully) sang “If You Leave Me Now” as no one in Chicago had the voice for it.

At Red Rocks, the wind came up and microphones got wind blasted.

Chicago did lots of hits from the 70’s. When they sand the lyrics “I Love You, you know I do, you love me too” one longed to have their former bassist/vocalist Pete Cetera on the stage.

They did “I am Alive Again” but not nearly as many people were on their feet as they had been for the entire EWF section. Indeed, while I came to hear Chicago and not EWF, Chicago suffered by comparison following EWF.

Chicago did some hits from their landmark album “Chicago 16” from 1982: “(Youre a) Hard Habit to Break.” When the sang “Being Without You” it pointed out that the band was without Pete Cetera. Did I mention that? I felt that way more than once.

“Old Days”, good times I remember brought them to their feet again.

When they did “Just You And Me” they covered their weak vocals with improvizational instrumental emblandishment.

The crowd came alive for “Saturday ion the Park”
“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” then brought everyone to their feet.

“I’m a Man” sounded like a plane taking off.

Chicago’s final song was the rambunctious double hit from Chicago 16 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away”. It was a veritable rock-o-rama.

EWF joined them for the encore including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Shining Star” but I did not stay, I’d had enough.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culture vulture

History of Labor Day

August 23, 2005 /


Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through in order to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday.

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement. While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist — observances of the holiday go back over a century.

The first Labor Day celebration was September 15, 1882 in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establishment a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as "a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations."

But it was on June 28, 1894 that Congress made the first Monday in September an official Labor Day holiday. In 1909 the Sunday preceding was designated as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of the Holidays

August 23, 2005 /

History of the HolidaysHISTORY OF THE HOLIDAYS

Welcome to this year’s edition of the History of the Holidays. I’m Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian. From now through the Spring or vernal equinox, we celebrate most of the major secular and sacred holidays. This is a series that recounts the history behind the major American holidays, some of the minor ones, and a few international ones as well.

Sacred and Secular

Many of the sacred holidays in our American “Judeo-Christian” heritage have secular associations, while many of the seemingly secular holidays actually have religious roots.

One example of the mixture of sacred and secular was that in ancient Rome the death and resurrection of Attis, the god of vegetation, was celebrated on March 24 and 25, corresponding to the vernal equinox.


Concert Review: James Taylor at Coors Amphitheater in Denver

August 21, 2005 /
Categories: , ,

James TaylorConcert Review: James Taylor at Coors Amphitheater in Denver

I’ve seen James Taylor in concert about half a dozen times from the Greek Theater in Berkeley to Red Rocks above Denver. This performance at the Coors Amphitheater in the Denver Tech Center was the most relaxed I’ve seen. It is wider than either of the other venues and seemed to add greater intimacy and immediacy to his style. He has a very easy going style with audiences and a relaxed manner but I’ve never seen him so chatty with the crowd. He was cracking jokes, handling hecklers and signing autographs several times between acts and encores.

He began with a relaxed acoustic “Secret Of Life,” then was joined by the band for “Summer’s Here,” where each mention of “beer” in the lyrics brought people holding their Coors beer bottles high.

Andrea Zonn, one of his female singers is also a terrific fiddler. Her Irish tunes were delightful, especially as he performed the unexpected “The River is Wide.”

He performed two of his original pieces that were distinguished by having had Ray Charles cover them: “Nothin’ Like a Hundred Miles” and the mournful “Everybody Has the Blues.”

“Fire and Rain” seemed to be what everyone was waiting for. And “Handy Man” lit up the audience. With 8 instrumentalists and three background singers, there was quite a lot on stage. The harmonies were rapturous. He improvised still more beyond his already jazzed up live versions (which you can hear on his Live album) than his studio standards.

At numerous times during the concert, he joked with the audience. He talked about his “Elvis collar” that phenomenon which occurs when the wind blows your collar up. At another time we couldn’t hear the question from the audience, but his reply was

“…their pitching is a little weak, but it’s still early in the season.”

When people felt compelled to call out song requests, “Mexico” came out loudest. His reply,

“We’ll get to it (holding up his blackboard). See, it’s right down here. We’ll have to get through this crap first though.”

Later, when someone was quite insistent about a song he said,

“I’m going to do this song instead. It’s really just like that song, except there are some differences, actually it’s not at all like that song. Never mind.”

When he did get to “Mexico” he introduced his Cuban drummer who dazzled the audience. Following a 20 minute break, he pointed out that to be environmentally friendly the second half’s songs were written on the backside of his blackboard. He performed “Sonny’s Eyes” and a song he said he learned from the Dixie Chicks “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”

His horn section was terrific: Walt Fowler on trumpet and Lou “Blue Lou” Marini on sax and flute — you’d know him from the Saturday Night Live Band and The Blues Brothers.

James’ performance this time of “Carolina” used the backup singers like an a cappella church choir. I’ve never heard it so good.

He did a rather long introduction to “God Have Mercy on the Frozen Man” where he told the background to the story, then got off-track and decided to forget it. He similarly had a long intro to “Line Em Up” discussing the Nixon Whitehouse juxtaposed to the last verse relating to the marriage of 5,000 people by Rev. Moon at Madison Square Garden. He said there was so much matrimonial energy that some of it leaked outside and some people on the street were spontaneously married.

But one introduction caught the crowd by surprise.

“This is a song I wrote for my nephew… on the occasion of his birth. It’s been a number of years now. He was named after me and this was intended as a cowboy lullaby” — and now the audience has figured it out — “His grandmother is in the audience tonight.”

Could this have in fact been both the grandmother of Sweet Baby James as well as the mother of James Taylor? This performance had an accordion and a steel string guitar. Lovely.

He did “Country Road” and donned his electric guitar to play “Steamroller Blues.” It turned into a jam session featuring solos by trumpet, keyboard, and guitar. He ended with “How Sweet It Is.”

The expected encore brought him back to do the old Drifters’ hit “Up On the Roof.” By now, the sky above the venue was dark. As he sang about “the stars up above” a shooting star lit the sky.

He followed this with “Summertime Blues” and left the stage, only to return with another encore and signing of autographs for the front row. A good time was had by all.

Bill Petro

Theatre Review: The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic in London

August 21, 2005 /
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Philadelphia StoryTheatre Review: The Philadelphia Story at the Old Vic in London

Sometimes you meet famous people when you attend the theatre in London — I did at a recent performance in early June. I attended the new London version of The Philadelphia Story, which though most people know by the Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant movie, was originally a play. Indeed, it had been originally customized to Hepburn. The one in London is being done this year while Kevin Spacey is the artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre. He also stars as CK Dexter Haven. Jennifer Ehle has the starring role of Tracy Lord, and she makes the part her own. You may remember her as Lizzy Bennet from the British miniseries Pride and Prejudice. But more on this play later.

I hadn’t been to the Old Vic Theatre in years, indeed not since Patrick Stewart was doing his one-man version of “A Christmas Carol.” Back then, I thought I’d go to the stage door around back to meet Captain Jean-Luc Piccard of Star Trek‘s USS Enterprise. So did a couple of hundred other “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans. While I did not get to meet him, I did get close enough to breathe the same air molecules. But that was all.


Famous Stars at the London Theatre

Diana Rigg: Medea

One time though, my waiting at the stage door paid off. I waited behind the Wyndhams Theatre in London following Dame Diana Rigg‘s performance in “Medea,” for which she subsequently won a Tony on Broadway. It’s a real Greek tragedy: everyone dies in the end… and she kills them. Dame Diana breezed out 45 minutes after the show and apologized to the two of us waiting for autographs. I said I’d been following her career since the T.V. show The Avengers in the ’60s. She cooed, “Oh, the black and white ones?” She signed my program, and I floated back to my hotel.


Future of the Moon

August 2, 2005 /


As a follow-up to my article commemorating landing on the moon in 1969, there is an interesting site here that shows what it will look like in the future:

In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we’ve added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor. Happy lunar surfing.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood futurist

History of Scotty

July 20, 2005 /



The actor James Doohan, who played the beloved engineer Montgomery Scott, or “Scotty” on the original Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise died today at his home in Redmond, Washington. He was 85 and had been battling Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, lung fibrosis and, most recently, pneumonia. Born March 3, 1920, in Vancouver, British Columbia, he fought with the Royal Canadian Artillery during World War II, and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the U.S.-led D-Day invasion. He lost a finger in the war, and it was rarely noticeable in the show, as they usually used a “stunt hand.”

He is immortalized by the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty,” although Capt. Kirk never issued that order during the TV series, and indeed didn’t utter it until the subsequent fourth movie.I met Mr. Doohan in 1975 on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley when I was a student. He was doing a play on campus about Ulysses S. Grant and I was doing a show featuring theatrical fencing (and you though I only studied history.) When I saw him sitting on the lawn I excitedly told my acting-student fencing partner, “That’s the actor Jimmy Doohan!” He replied, “Who?” I said “Scotty, from Star Trek.” We sat on the grass with him and talked for about an hour. We spoke about theater, which he loved, and how he would do that exclusively, if it paid well enough but needed to do the occasional movie or TV show to pay the bills. He had a rather gruff Canadian accent and discussed his skill and delight in accents. In the play, he portrayed an American Civil War officer. A Scottish post-doctoral friend of mine used to say, “When he comes on, we watch and laugh at how bad his accent is!”

When my friends, who knew what a Star Trek junkie I was, ask if Mr. Doohan and I spoke about Star Trek, I replied, “No, I didn’t want to seem like a sniveling fan.”

Here’s to ya, lad

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Trek junkie

History of the Moon Landing

July 20, 2005 /


It was 36 years ago today, July 20, 1969 when man first stepped on the moon. As Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of Apollo 11’s Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and stepped onto the lunar surface, he said “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” What he meant to say, but didn’t in the exitement was “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Take a look tonight at the moon, it will be full tomorrow night.

There is a new feature at where you can see the landing site for not just the Apollo 11, but also the:

  • Apollo 12 on Nov 19, 1969
  • Apollo 14 on Feb 5, 1971
  • Apollo 15 on Jul 30, 1971
  • Apollo 16 on Apr 20, 1972
  • Apollo 17 on Dec 11, 1972

Zoom all the way in by clicking the “+” symbol on the map to see the detail of the lunarscape.

You can watch the official NASA video clip here.

Bill Petro, your friendlyneighborhood skygazer

History of the 4th: Thomas Jefferson

June 30, 2005 /


Perhaps no one person is more associated with the 4th of July in American History than Thomas Jefferson, probably because he penned the immortal Declaration of Independence.

As my friend Clay Jenkinson says in his book Thomas Jefferson: Man of Light, “The Third President is the Muse of American life, the chief articulator of our national value system and our national self-identity. Jefferson was a man of almost unbelievable achievement: statesman, man of letters, architect, scientist, book collector, political strategist, and utopian visionary. But he is also a man of paradox: liberty-loving slaveholder, Indian-loving relocationist, publicly frugal and privately bankrupt, a constitutional conservative who bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803.” Even by 1782, as an admiring French visitor observed, Jefferson, “without having quitted his own country,” had become “an American who … is a musician, draftsman, astronomer, natural philosopher, jurist and a statesman.” He knew about crop rotation, Renaissance architecture, could dance a jig, play the fiddle, or tie an artery.

Though friends in their youth, disagreements separated Thomas Jefferson and our second President John Adams in later years. They were eventually reconciled toward their twilight years and though they never saw each other again after Adams left the White House to be replaced by Jefferson, in the last 14 years of their lives they exchanged 156 letters, some of them quite warm. This correspondence is generally regarded as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen.

They both died on the same day, July 4th, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two of the last three signers. At the age of 91 John Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair and died that afternoon, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson would have said “wrong, as usual.” In his last days his health had failed and he passed in and out of consciousness. On the 4th of July, 1826 just a few hours before Adams died — in his home in Monticello, Virginia — surrounded by his daughter and some special slaves, shortly after noon, at the age of 83, Thomas Jefferson died. His last words were, “Is it the 4th?”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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History of Independence Day

June 29, 2005 /


The 4th of July, named after Pope Julius IV… sorry, wrong file.

Independence Day, or the Fourth of July is the adoption by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the severance of the allegiance of the American colonies to Great Britain. It is the greatest secular holiday of the United States, observed in all the states, territories and dependencies.

Although it is assumed that the Continental Congress unanimously signed the document on the 4th of July, in fact not all delegates were present and there were no signers at all. Here is what really happened.

The congressional delegate from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, introduced in the Continental Congress, on June 7, 1776, a resolution “that…body declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from allegiance to or dependence on the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain…” On June 10 a committee of five, headed by Thomas Jefferson (the actual writer), was appointed to prepare a declaration suitable to the occasion in the event that the Virginia resolution was adopted. Jefferson’s version was revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams before it went to the Congress where they did some editing of their own.

Congress approved the resolution July 2; the declaration composed by Jefferson and amended by his committee was adopted July 4. That evening John Hancock ordered Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to print 200 broadside copies of the agreed upon Declaration that was signed by him as President and Charles Thomson as Secretary. These were distributed to members of the Congress and distributed to the 13 colonies and elsewhere. The Declaration was read in the yard of the state house July 8. New York did not even vote on it until July 9. The signing was even more gradual, and it is somewhat misleading to speak of the “fifty-six original signers of the Declaration of Independence”.

By August 6, most of those whose names are on the document had signed, but at least six signatures were attached later. One signer, Thomas McKean did not attach his name until 1781! Some of those who signed were not even in Congress when the Declaration was adopted, and some who voted for it in Congress never did get around to signing it. Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five; he helped to frame it; he voted for it; and he never signed it.

The first anniversary of the declaration was observed only in Philadelphia, Pa., by the adjournment of Congress, a ceremonial dinner, bonfires, the ringing of bells and fireworks. In 1788, after the requisite number of states had adopted the constitution, Philadelphia celebrated July 4 by elaborate festivities, including a grand procession.

Boston, Mass., first observed the day in 1783, and thereafter this celebration replaced that of the Boston Massacre, March 5. The custom spread to other cities and states, where the day was marked by parades, patriotic oratory, military displays and fireworks. In present time, games and athletic contests, picnics, patriotic programs and pageants, and community fireworks of pyrotechnic expertise are characteristic of the 4th of July.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

History of Father’s Day

June 16, 2005 /


The celebration of Father’s Day goes back all the way to the beginning, actually to the Garden of Eden when Abel gave his father Adam a razor while his brother Cain gave his father a snake-skin tie. This was the beginning of Cain’s downward slide.

Scholars have debated for ages why Mother’s Day seems to be more honored than Father’s Day. A parallel has been drawn between this phenomenon and that of the difference in popularity between the Irish patron saint and the Italian patron saint. The noted scholar, Father Guido Sarducci, papal legate and gossip columnist for the Vatican has pointed out that for St. Patrick’s Day, we have lots of festivities, lots of green, celebrations and major parades. But for St. Joseph, a very good saint, there is nothing. The only thing he is known for is children’s aspirin. Dr. Les Capable of Stanford University confirmed this research by saying “Ditto”. Professor Illinois Smith, of the Department of Redundancy Department at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California said much the same thing by repeating the same thing over and over again many times in a redundant and repetitive fashion.

The holiday was first canonized by Pope Hallmark in 1582 in the Papal Bull “Quando Ipso Facto Volare FTD Que Sera Sera” which translated means “When you care enough to send the very best”. This was confirmed years later in the United States when one of the founding matriarchs, Ma Bell ordained and established both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in an attempt to help bolster the fledgling nation’s telecommunication coffers. It is well known that Mother’s Day generally posts the highest volume of long-distance telephone calls of any single day of the year. It is not as well known that Father’s Day posts the highest volume of long-distance collect calls.

Everyone has had a father, but not everyone can be a father, especially if you are a woman. But there are few challenges in the world that are more rewarding than being a father. It is a special joy and a great honor.

It is noteworthy, as we celebrate Father’s Day, that the Bible refers to the Almighty as Father.

Happy Father’s Day!

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Children’s children are the crown of old men;
and the glory of children are their fathers. –
Proverbs 17:6

History of April Fools’ Day

March 30, 2005 /


April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day, or sending them on fools errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s day, March 25, ended on April 1.

Though April 1 appears to have been anciently observed in Great Britain as a general festival, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as “hunting the gowk”, i.e., the cuckoo, and April fools were “April gowks”, the cuckoo being there, as it is in most lands, a term of derision. In France the person befooled is known as poisson d’avril.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood hysterian