Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 2


The marquee at The Packard Music Hall

How We Came To See America

Forty-six years after their first concert, we finally saw America, that classic rock band that formed the soundtrack for many of us in the 70s.

Had it not been for the accidental bump into Bill Worrell, their genius lead guitar, we may have still missed an unforgettable concert, just this week, in historic Warren Ohio.

After meeting Worrell, we followed America’s tour schedule and targeted the closest drive to see them. We bought two seats at the Packard Music Hall for June 15 in Warren, Ohio, an hour outside of Cleveland.   This venue was a small, old, yellow brick auditorium which seemed an unlikely spot for a famous group to appear.  But with some reassurance from the folks at our hotel, we headed into town.

W.D. Packard, builder of the Packard automobile provided for a music hall in his estate.   That building didn’t materialize for some years, but eventually, in 1955 it opened, and became the home of the W.D. Packard Concert Band.   The hall since then has attained renown for its regular hosting of concerts for all tastes.  It is the go-to place for music in Trumbull County.  You would liken it to a small Ryman Auditorium.


70s– life is good and easy.

Our image of America consists of three young faces with lots of hair.  But neat.  Their album covers telegraph thoughtful rock melody, with some leather and tie-dye.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but given that they graduated from high school in 1969, a quick look in our mirror would set the tone.

Driving down Mahoning Street in Warren, we sense an event about to take off.  Warren is a grand old city, but it has endured some devastating challenges with the collapse of the Ohio steel industry.    Our earlier drive across West Market Street coming into town is heartbreaking and disturbing.  Urban decay in full bloom.

But here, on Mahoning, the cars–all new, all shiny, SUVs and hobby convertibles– signify that money has arrived.   The parking security wave us in like ground control, and we are placed within bumper distance of a classic 80s Corvette.  The crowds are moving to the doors, and after scanning our online tickets, we are admitted to the front room.

Our Crowd Packs In

The Packard only seats 2,500 fans.  So this event will be close, and if not intimate, still friendly, unlike the massive takes at the United Center in Chicago.


Some happy fans, these sisters and cousins are here to hear their band.

Around us, pony tails, tees, shorts, and sandals abound.  And those are the men.   Beside them are women outfitted in jewelry, dresses, capris and well made up.  This crowd is the picture of the Boomer: under 50, over 70, need not apply.  They are a happy, satisfied bunch who are eagerly looking for a reminder of just how good and innocent those raucous 60s and 70s really were, compared to now.

The Lights Go Down.

The host of the Packard appears and welcomes us all.  He thanks us for being in this hallowed hall, and introduces Brennin Hunt, who opens for America.


Brennin Hunt, from Oklahoma by way of Nashville

Hunt, aka, Brennin is a smart guitarist/writer who finds a melody and picks it over repeatedly until it is glued into your head.   He has a vocal range that hits Vince Gill highs, and with whom he has co-written songs.

“I have some CDs out front, and I’ll be there to sign ’em for ya.  I’m a nobody so I have time to talk with you too.  Thanks!”

He has fronted for America for only a couple of weeks, but he is the perfect appetizer.  His music is calculated to attract and articulated with a free range across his Martin D-28.   Lots of passion in his tenor voice, he delivers a strong melody.   His best, and most phenomenal delivery is a cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.   He was brave enough to take on this iconic piece, and he serves it beautifully, acoustic guitar booming out the hypnotic bass line.  Quincy Jones would applaud.


Brennan and Billy The Kid Worrell render New Kid In Town

Closing his act, Brennin invites our personal hero, Bill Worrell to the stage.  It turns out that Worrell, aka “Billy The Kid” also played guitar for a tribute concert tour  for The Eagles.   To acknowledge that, Brennin and Worrell duet on New Kid In Town.   Worrell’s smiling addition is effortless, and before the crowd can reseat themselves, America romps onto the stage.


A 70s light show entertains. Easy to set up and take down for the next show in Detroit, tomorrow night.

Dewey Bunnell sports wire frames tucked in beneath neatly combed back silver hair.   He may be seasoned, but he is in good shape, and with a confident, upright pose launches into Tin Man.  He is playing a beautiful black, mother of pearl inlay Taylor acoustic.

To his side, Gerry Beckley is likewise be-spectacled, and strums his six string, tucked under his arm.  Behind them, Worrell plays a third acoustic.  To his right, Ryland Steen, a mere youngster is on drums, and to his right, Rich Campbell nimbly fingers a five string Spector bass.

I mention the band’s gear because the electrified acoustics give a full body of sound.  You think you are listening to an orchestra, but it’s just five guys and a powerful amp.

Just then, I asked myself, why do guys like this keep at it?  This is work, big time.

The crowd is on its feet.   We have been waiting for this sound since 1976.  For a moment, tonight it’s all music and light.

With hardly a pause, the group turns over “You Can Do Magic”, “Don’t Cross The River”, and “Daisy Jane” .   We are enraptured, and a spotlight on the audience would show a sea of pasty, wrinkled faces with wide grins singing back at the band.

The guys perform their hits flawlessly like shooting bottles off a fence rail, one after another.  They introduce Billy The Kid, and he takes off on an instrumental break, one of many in the show.


America’s classic logo sustains and endures, like the band.

Meanwhile, the back stage screen flashes an encyclopedia of America images.  From album covers to Peyote Indian meetings to Viet Nam gunboats and helicopters.

What is enchanting about this 70s light show, is that it is a 70s light show.  No fireworks.   No pedestals or trapeze work.  No swinging microphone stands and no dance groups.

In all, America played 20 of their tunes.  They were all good, and fresh.

You might expect that like other vintage groups, a back up team of vocalists would deliver the high notes.

Instead, Gerry Beckley hits them, if like climbing out on a drooping limb at the top of a tall tree, he was careful, and plucked the peach he was after, every time.  A fearless display of singing.

The group soaked up several standing ovations, and only then did they turn over “Ventura Highway”.  Beckley fingered that one on his Taylor acoustic and made it look devilishly simple.

In a quiet moment, Bunnell smiles and thanks us for listening, and remarks that they have been performing over 100 concerts a year, for 46 years.

“People ask why?  Well, as long as you keep coming, we’ll keep playing.”

Asked and answered.


In front of a U.S. gunboat we get “Sandman”.

The band unloads a solid “Sandman”, heavily enhanced by Bill Worrell against a grey tone backdrop of Huey helicopters in flight over Viet Nam.  They goose us up with “Sister Golden Hair”  and then leave the stage.

We cheered them back, and then, like Christmas, they unleashed “A Horse With No Name” which made the evening complete.

Watching this enduring 70s band do its best stuff with cheerful ease awakened some dormant yearnings and memories.   School.  College.  First love.  First job.   Money and independence.

It made me imagine the high times on West Market Street in Warren, when the steel industry was in its heyday, and wealth and the plans for future wealth were effervescent in everyone’s imaginations.   Those days are long gone here, but as the town continues to remake itself, and this music plays on at Packard Hall, they will come back.

That is the joy of America.


Thanks for reading!  Here’s some websites you might value:

America Concert Tour Dates

Brennin Hunt

Bill Worrell

Warren Ohio

Warren Photo Tour


Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thank You

America’s Time Warp – 1

How We Nearly Missed A Classic Rock Band, Again

I_need_you_-_AmericaAt 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.

bill warrell

A Steve Gaglio Photography image of our seat mate, Bill Worrell.

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.

Center of the World

Great expectations, questionable today.

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.

Warren City Hall

Warren’s City Hall, a beautiful building decked out in petunias.

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.


Trumbull County Court House in downtown Warren is majestic.

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.


Our first look at the concert hall.

“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.