Earth, Wind and Fire had their hey day in the 70's with a string of funky rock and R&B hits that like all good music seem to have a timeless, familiar quality, even if it is old school by today's R&B standards. The three original members of the band, Ralph Johnson, Bertine White, and Phillip Bailey have been playing and singing high-energy R&B to enthusiastic crowds world-wide for 30 years. Anchoring the Taste, they worked their way through most of their hit songs, including "Shining Star," "Dark Star," "After the Loving," "Got to Get You into My Life," and "House Afire." At one point they did a medley of parts of a half a dozen songs, including "Fire," "Boogie, Oogie Oogie," and "Jungle Nights," to the roaring enthusiasm of the large, sweaty crowd. While this is definitely old-school R&B, they gave some flashes and tastes of the new school sound in their vocal harmonies and solid instrumental work.
Bertine White danced all over the stage playing his funky bass dressed in his bright red pants with long white fringe. At one point he ran down in front of the stage and played right to the crowd along the security fence, pausing here and there to shake hands and say hello. All the while Phillip kept things moving along as the leader and ringmaster of this huge R&B spectacle, featuring multiple guitars, drummers, horns, and back up singers, two of whom constantly changed costumes and danced on stage to add to the visual effect. Ralph and Phillip sang some great harmonies, sharing lead vocal duties back and forth. And Phillip, despite his years as a performer, can still hit those high, emotional falsetto's that are such an essential part of their music. In spite of the size of the band, and the relatively short time they played, every member of the band was introduced and had a chance to shine on a solo or small group ensemble.
The positive energy and goodwill was flowing all over the festival site as a result of the good vibes coming from the stage. And the performers genuinely seemed to be having fun, although they were sweating even harder than the crowd because of their exertions. It was great to see such a large, diverse crowd dancing and expressing their joy of the music peacefully together. Especially during this celebration of our nation's birth when our country has been so challenged over the last year. Earth, Wind and Fire has spread a lot of joy, love and beautiful music over the years. And with their unflagging enthusiasm, it looks like they should be for many more.
Next year the Taste will move to new digs on the banks of the Mississippi on Harriet Island, across the river from downtown St Paul. Executive Director Ron Maddox explained that they will have more space, ample nearby parking, and also the benefit of the improvements made to Harriet Island, including the permanent performance areas. Congratulations Ron on another great year of great music and bringing the folks of Minnesota together! If you keep bringing in talented bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, the huge crowds will keep coming.
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