How We Nearly Missed A Classic Rock Band, Again
At the time we first were raising kids we managed to survive without a television, stereo, or car radio. Only occasionally did we hear those magnetic tunes of America by Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. In the background, George Martin produced.
Years later, the kids now have kids of their own, and we have lots of sound equipment. And a collection of America’s Greatest Hits which are an irreplaceable soundtrack of the 70s, and still captivating today for their lyrics and melodies.
On a flight back from LAX last spring we sat beside a polite young gentleman who stared at his laptop, ears plugged in, for most of the trip. Coming into O’Hare, we all powered down, and said hello. A casual, perfunctory conversation followed:
“So, what do you do?” I asked.
“I’m a musician.”
“Really? In a band?”
“Unhunh. I play in a classic rock band called America. My name’s Bill Worrell.”
“Oh, cool. Well, nice to meetcha. We’re Phil and Jane. Safe trip home.”
The plane landed and we all scrambled for our bags, got onto our feet and into the aisle to get off the plane. The guy walked out ahead of us and disappeared into the crowds at Terminal 3.
“Do you know who that is??” my wife asked, incredulous.
“Uh, Bill somebody. Nice guy.”
“You twit!! He’s with America. You know, the band. Ventura Highway? Horse With No Name? Tin Man? Sister Golden Hair? Daisy Jane???” By now she is dragging her bag ahead of me straining to spot Bill Worrell in the crowd.
We never found him, but the enormity of my density hung over my head the entire ride home in the car.
I felt badly. On the one hand, this kid is looking for fame and recognition, and I crush him with indifference. On the other hand, he sees me as a wizened old goof probably humming Dion tunes.
I made things up by contacting him on his website and blaming my doziness to jet lag. He immediately responded, and graciously gave me a pass with a chuckle. I wrote back adding that anyone who could play the opening riff to Ventura Highway was a hero in my books.
Ever since then we have tracked America, and a few months ago booked tickets to see them last weekend at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio. It’s a 450-mile drive but we have the time.
A Wrong Turn, And A Crisis
Warren is southeast of Cleveland. We approach this historic city from I-8o and a solid line on the map entices us to skip the beltway outside the city to our hotel, and instead, drive through town on West Market Street.
Just off the interstate, our first introduction is to the hamlet, Center of the World. It is distinguished by a few small roadside stores and the shell of a burnt out, collapsed garage. We drive on.
Getting closer to Warren on West Market street we drive past closed shops, discount stores, pawn shops and unkempt properties. We see a couple walking toward the Superpawn Shop, him with bareback in shorts, festooned in tattoos. She shuffles by his side in tee and flip flops.
Our trip to downtown continues dismally. The ruin continues with no cease.
“How could they book a gig here?”
“An aggressive agent, I guess. Wow. What an eye opener.”
Deflated by the west side, we head up to Packard Music Hall to check out the venue, look for safe parking and quick getaways if we need them.
Along the way we see the greatness of Warren. Founded in 1798, this city has some of the most stunning architecture in its public buildings we have ever seen. Along the wealthy streets there are some enormous, and beautifully built antebellum homes. Flowers are everywhere.
The music hall is small. Which means a cozy concert, and that’s good. But beyond it is a park with groups of people milling about, not so much picnicking, but lazing about, because there is nothing else to do on a Wednesday afternoon. The view among the ancient oaks and green lawns is strangely unsettling.
We drive back through the city center amid vacant store and office buildings, out along East Market Street where the real estate improves.
But it doesn’t improve enough to lift a feeling of dread about going downtown at night to see America.
By the time we reach our posh hotel in the suburbs we have decided to go home. I inform the front desk folks, and with that, we elect to have a lunch in the mall, and start the 450-mile return trip, extremely disappointed.
The Turning Point
We sit at the bar of an Outback Steakhouse. Bar sitting is great when you are splitting a meal. It also gives license to speak with neighbors.
Lynn is running the bar. I opened:
“Hi Lynn. We just got into town, but I made a huge mistake driving in on West Market. It’s pretty scary. What happened?”
She paused before answering, maybe wondering if I was worth explaining to.
“Well, we used to have about six steel mills in the area. They all went out of business in the 80s and it’s been a struggle for many. All the people and business who supported the economy went away. Welcome to another country.”
With that I started to synchronize the news of Ohio’s past with my sheltered life in Illinois. But concerns persisted.
“We’re going to the Packard Music Hall to see America. It looks kinda rundown. Are we crazy?”
“Oh no. You’re perfectly safe there. It’ll be a good show. The east side is quite different than the west side.”
With that, a lady came up to us from behind.
“Are you going to see America tonight?”
She wore a black and white summer dress. Bracelets on her tanned arms telegraphed upscale success. Her 20s-something daughter hung back at their dining table.
“We are going. It will be great. You’ll love it. We are having dinner at Leo’s first, and then drive in. The Packard is perfect, and the place will be packed. You’ll feel right at home.”
Her name was Diane, and she unloaded a ton of dining advice, hotels, and sights to see. Had I asked, she may have admitted to being a real estate sales rep. Regardless, she was good.
With that, we decided to rebook our hotel room.
More tomorrow, and I tell you how this trek to see America ended up.