Earth Wind & Fire still burnin’ up the stage

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AUGUSTA, Ga.—Earth Wind & Fire’s original fans from the Pittsburgh region may recall the group’s legendary 1970s performances, first at the Stanley Theater and later shows at the Civic Arena—retracted dome and all.

Recently, this reviewer witnessed the current version of this legendary act, days before they rocked the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Needless to say, the EWF performance is just about as solid as it was during their heyday years in the ’70s and ’80s.

EarthWindFire
EARTH, WIND & FIRE

Their unforgettable July 1 performance at the James Brown Arena in downtown Augusta, proved that.

While Maurice White no longer roams the stage, his spirit is apparent through the joyful vibes of lead singer Philip Bailey and Verdine White, Maurice’s younger brother and resident Mr. Bassman.

Ralph Johnson, the group’s third original member and drummer, was unable to make the Augusta trip due to the death of his mother in Los Angeles. Still, the music played, blended by ages, ethnicities, gender and cultures, the thirst for creative juices also known as “The Elements of the Universe” turned into a nostalgic love-fest for EWF enthusiasts.

Having witnessed the group initially some 35 years ago at the Civic Arena and also at the Blossom Music Center in Akron, Ohio—from my historical perspective, it’s apparent that EWF, much like MAZE and Frankie Beverly, remain one of the cutting-edge soul bands in the land and one of America’s must-see legendary acts.

Importantly, the show was well attended by a plethora of people with a common bond—the real music.

Kristal Eagle, 30, came with husband Brad. “I felt like it must have been back in the day.” she said. Attorney Leland Malchow and wife Jana, brought their teen­agers. “Historically valuable for the kids,” said Malchow. Gospel recording artist Pamela Bowman said ­Bailey’s piercing falsetto notes were indescribable. “He ­really hit some high ones tonight,” she said. Nuclear analyst Bobby Vest and wife Suzanne were also impressed. “One of the finest live shows I’ve ever seen,” said Vest.

For nearly two hours, minus a 20-minute intermission, EWF brought the proverbial house down by rendering classics like “Shining Star,” “September,” “Fantasy,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Serpentine Fire,” and “Singasong.”

Post intermission, the “Baby-Makin” set as dubbed by Bailey, provided us a chance to hear hit ballads like “Love’s Holiday,” and the David Foster-penned “After the Love Has Gone.”

Prior to the show, Verdine noted that their fan-base has grown increasingly younger. But on this hotter than July night, the group did not forgo their first fans.

A setlist including “Keep Your Head To the Sky,” “Evil,” “Kalimba Song” and “Power” and “Sing a Message,” were crowd-pleasers, while memorable sing-a-longs were apparent on “Reasons,” “Love’s Holiday” and the group’s cover of The Stylistic’s classic, “Betcha By Golly Wow.”

Backstage, tenor saxman Greg Bias, trumpeter Bob Burns Jr., drummer John Parris and trombonist Reggie Young, said they were appreciative of opportunities to keep the EWF brand alive.

Meanwhile, White revealed that “big brother” Maurice, remains active with the group and “is still very much our founder and leader.”

About 20 years ago, Maurice was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and no longer performs with the group. But his spirit remains omnipresent—with Philip now playing the African percussion instrument, Kalimba, that Maurice introduced to American stages.

The group is now infused with several younger members, led by vocalist David Whitworth, who was outstanding while singing many of Maurice’s vocal parts. Philip D. Bailey, son of the founder and his namesake, is vocally sound and injects a youthful energy to the stage.

Special kudos also go to bandleader-keyboardist Myron McKinley; guitarists Gregory Moore and Morris O’Connor for respecting and maintaining the group’s original integrity.

Although pyrotechnics, explosions and colorful theatrical clothing were missing this night, no one seemed concerned.

It was clearly all about the Music.

Without a doubt, EWF is still burnin’ hot.

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