Where Are We Going This Time?: An Evening With Huey Lewis & The News At Wolftrap

by | Jul 29, 2014 | MUSIC

The distance from home plate to first base is ninety feet. I spent the better part of two hours on Sunday July 20 at Wolf Trap in Vienna standing that far from one Hugh Anthony Cregg III, aka Huey Lewis. Close enough that I could actually hear the man clap his hands on stage during an admittedly pretty thin sounding version of “The Heart of Rock and Roll.”

The News (only four of the original six members remain) then ventured into the poodle-skirt rock balladry of “If This Is It,” which could be the product of a backseat soirée between Dion’s “Runaround Sue” and the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go”–which, by 1983, would’ve morphed into a guitar, saxophone, and keyboard driven teenager.

At the end of “If This Is It,” sweat was darkening Lewis’s untucked, purple button down. The man was casually dressed in jeans; the days of red sports coats, bolo ties, and wise-guy suits are gone. At 64, he’s put on some extra pounds over the last few years. I’d think, over time, comfort becomes harder to turn down. Most of the News were dressed similarly. Maybe a tie or a vest to church it up.

Huey’s lungs are no longer as pristine as they were thirty years ago either, and there’s more of a rasp in his famous yowl then there was before. Some of the songs seemed almost spoken instead of sung as he looked over black framed glasses like a college professor in an auditorium of incoming freshman. A father looking over his TV Guide. The “be back by midnight” look.

The News rolled out hits like “I Want A New Drug,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” and “Heart and Soul.” Most of the audience remained seated for the a capella versions of songs and the blues-based tunes in between their setlist of hits.

“We’ll have to play this song every night, for the rest of our lives,” Huey said before roughly 7,000 people got to their feet for “Power of Love.”

The concert ended with an energetic version of “Workin’ For A Livin,” which was followed by a stiff-bodied, entire-band leap into the air. They stayed in the down position for a few seconds after the lights went down. Like a designated hitter with bad knees stealing home, briefly lying in the dust after missing the catcher’s tag.

But several songs before that, Huey & Co. played a new track entitled “While We’re Young.” The song didn’t really do anything for me. If anything, I tuned out for a while. Turning around, I saw that the majority of the audience looked close to my mother’s age. Some wrinkled skin. Some liver spots. Bad backs. Arthritis. Fannypacks and bald heads.

Things were a lot different than they were when I saw Huey at Wolf Trap with my parents on July 20, 1997. Seventeen years to the day later, I was in the same place, seeing the News again, this time with only my mother.

They were already far removed from the headlines when I saw them the first time. Popular music for the uncool. The anthem makers for the Michael J. Foxes in every city and podunk town in the U.S. They were never the staple band to play CBGB’s. Too working class and not New Wave enough to be pals with Blondie or Television or the Talking Heads. Too California and not enough New York. They probably got the same dismissive treatment from hipsters and punkers in the 80s that the Knack got in the 70s and the Gin Blossoms got during the heyday of grunge in the 90s. The Cars were even cooler than the News. Maybe this is where the “Hip To Be Square” mentality stemmed from.

For me, even in 1997, the music had the same innocence and original charm it had back when my mother was still tying my shoes. It was only the second concert I’d ever been to. I was fourteen.

This was long before the drugs and the alcohol and dirty apartments and shitty friends and worse lovers and dead-end jobs and depression ruined my dignity. I won’t ever be able to go back to the innocent time when Huey Lewis was something new on the radio. When Back to the Future wasn’t being shown on AMC. When kids were okay with being kids and there weren’t smart phones and everyday people still had hope that things would be different.

It was a much different experience this time. The music was almost a side note. Poignant and bitter sweet. Like going back to your high school after nearly two decades. Going back as a different, more cynical person. I used to listen to the fucking radio. I used to watch television. Both on purpose. Now I don’t do either.

For me, the innocence of Huey Lewis and the News is gone. Maybe because mine is too. The last decade hasn’t been too easy. I’ve put myself in rehab. Been to the nuthouse. Still haven’t finished my degree. Buried various friends, my mother’s mother, and the majority of her family. Twenty months ago my stepfather decided, after 26 years, to leave my mother for another woman.

Impeccable timing.

We walked together into Wolf Trap on July 20th as very different people than we were seventeen years ago. Together, but alone. Broken in a sense. We needed this show.

In the five and a half minutes that the News played “While We’re Young,” I thought about those things. How different it was before when I was young, and at thirty-one, I am still relatively young, but others aren’t. Michael J. Fox is fifty-three and suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Christopher Lloyd is seventy-five. Huey Lewis has two grown kids. My mother is sixty and has glaucoma. Gets a discount on her coffee.

Everything is different now. I’m unsure if it’s better or worse, but it’s different. That time in our lives is over forever.

I can see subtle differences in my mother. Things only a son or daughter would notice. And I heard the changes in Huey’s voice. Could see the defined wrinkles in his face. The man who is no longer thirty-four, as he was when Sports was released. It made the realization hit home that my life, as everyone else’s, will continue to progress. One day my mother will be gone, as will Huey Lewis. And Marty McFly. And Dr. Emmett Brown.

Cheers and applause. “While We’re Young” was over. I stood up and clapped with everyone else. In half an hour, the lights would come up and the show would be over as well. Maybe this was the last time we would see him perform. Or at least, the last time we’d see him perform together.

When we got through the exodus of drunk white people and finally made it back to my mother’s car, we sat there for a while letting the traffic dissipate, listening to the greatest hits album she bought from their merch guy. Funny how a lighthearted song like “Back In Time” can move things into focus.

Listening to the words and horns and guitars and keyboards and drums, I was hearing the sound of my parents at the age I am now. The sound of them at thirty-one and me at three years old. She played me a lot of music when I was a kid. Typical mom music, for the most part. Some of it I loved, but some of it was pretty bad. Like that month of nothing but Wilson Phillips. Or Bonnie Raitt at 9AM on a Saturday.

But even with all of the shit and everything else that’s come inbetween, at least there was Huey Lewis & the News.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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