As the song goes, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future,” and the 1970s are now nearly a half-century ago. In previous concerts, Waimea Community Chorus’ (WCC) Director Barbara Kopra has led us on several sentimental journeys that fondly look back at America’s timeless tunes by spotlighting a particular decade. Last Saturday’s Rocks The ‘70s sold-out show at the Kahilu Theatre was no exception. From the Doobies to Disco, Kopra brilliantly conducted 45 singers who performed 26 songs over the course of a two-hour show, and that’s no jive. Can you dig it?
In a backstage pre-concert interview, Kopra commented on her personal choices in the set. “My favorites are the slow ones from Carol King and James Taylor – the ballads.” For most of the ‘70s, pop music “mellowed” from the edgy psychedelic sounds of the late 60’s. Kopra kept her set selections to the softer side of the era, but valiantly took on Zeppelin’s classic rock anthem “Stairway To Heaven” with baritone Eric Witt on lead vocals. Move over Robert Plant.
Kopra assembled the songs in chronological order, starting with CSNY’s “Our House” from 1970, and ending with Sister Sledge’s 1979 hit “We Are Family.” Occasionally several members of the Chorus were given the opportunity to perform solos. “We had a lot of fun putting it together, and it started in February,” recalled Kopra. “One of the challenges we had was rhythms – the way it was written compared to how the artists originally performed it, and how we wanted to perform it. That was the dilemma – do you stay honest to the way it was written, or to the recordings you grew up with?”
An instrumental trio featuring Joe Barry (bass), Larry Boucher (drums), and Alex Czerny (keyboards) backed up the vocalists. For my taste, I would’ve have liked to have seen an electric guitarist added for a bit more gusto on songs like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” along with much-needed “chicken-scratch” effects during the “Disco Survives” medley. Maybe some room could’ve have been given in the set for punk rockers like The Ramones or new wave pioneers Talking Heads. Check out how the senior citizens in the documentary film Young @ Heart covered these bands.
Along with Zep’s “Stairway,” another evening highlight was “Lean On Me,” the big 1972 hit for R&B singer Bill Withers. Tenor John Stover and Waimea’s own opera star, Amy Mills, did a fantastic duet on this classic, and the crowd cheered loudly when their segment of the “Seventies Gold Medley” finished. Mills got her start as a Honokaa High School student singing under the guidance of Gary Washburn, studied arts in music, gave vocal performances on the East Coast and earned her degree from Bridgewater State University.
Each song was preceded by a brief slideshow intro with a promo still of an artist and the corresponding 45 rpm record label. The images were projected behind the singers, and often provoked memories from the crowd when icons like John Lennon appeared, expressing their favorites with “oohs” and “ahhs.”
One of the great moments in Act II was a cover of The Village People’s “YMCA.” Several of the singers stepped forward, sporting the familiar costumes that made the disco group famous: the construction worker, Indian chief, cop, cowboy, and a stoned hippie was tossed into the colorful mix. The audience seemed like they were ready to dance at that point. Rising to the occasion, they joined in forming the letters Y-M-C-A with their arms and sang along vibrantly.
If you think WCC is just a Big Island chorus group who only do nostalgia concerts and Christmas carols at the Kahilu, you’re wrong. They were recently invited by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) to perform at Carnegie Hall, one of the most prominent music locations in the world. “Fourteen of us will be going to New York in a couple of weeks,” said Kopra.
WCC will be one of seven groups from around the world, including Germany, France, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago, to perform June 9 at the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, under the direction of Christopher Tin. The groups will be performing Tin’s “Calling All Dawns,” a song cycle, or set of related songs that form one musical entity. “Calling All Dawns” is a set of 12 songs in 12 different languages. “If we enjoy performing it, we’re thinking about trying to inspire the rest of the Chorus to do it for our December concert,” added Kopra. “Next Spring we’re going to do Brigadoon/Camelot.”
Our House | Big Yellow Taxi | Fire and Rain | You’ve Got a Friend | Imagine | Seventies Gold Medley: Your Mama Don’t Dance/Crocodile Rock/ Joy to The World/Listen To The Music/ I’d Like To Teach/Stairway to Heaven |
Bohemian Rhapsody | Love Will Keep Us Together | Fly Like an Eagle | Isn’t She Lovely | Old Time Rock & Roll | Heartache Tonight | Disco Survives Medley: Boogie Fever/ Dancing Queen/ How Deep is Your Love | Stayin’ Alive | More Than a Women/ I Will Survive/ We Are Family |
We Will Rock You
Read some of our past reviews for WCC’s 2018’s Christmas Concert: https://www.bigislandmusic.net/its-beginning-to-feel-a-lot-like-christmas-waimea-community-chorus/
And, 1940’s Golden Age of Song: https://www.bigislandmusic.net/sentimental-journey-to-the-1940s/
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby