Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rock Through the Ages: Live at 75’s Era-Spanning Bill of Acts

“Live at 75” proved to be an intriguing mix of music and memories that allowed a cross section of music lovers to experience a show that became the perfect mixed-tape/CD/iPod playlist for Hofstra University’s birthday.

By Dave Gil de Rubio ’90 

Academics is the rock-solid foundation on which Hofstra University was built, but popular music has always had its place on campus and in student life, dating back to Hofstra College’s 1940 senior prom, which featured entertainment by the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the South Shore Yacht Club. It’s only fitting then that Hofstra’s Live at 75 Festival, held on the North Campus’ Intramural Fields on Saturday, September 25, 2010, featured a concert that played like a soundtrack of Hofstra student history from the 1950s through present day.

The day was packed with activities, ranging from the homecoming parade to class reunions and a closing comedy show by Jimmy Fallon. However, the Live at 75 Festival, featuring a daylong concert and carnival, was the centerpiece of the festivities. Two days into the start of autumn, temperatures blazed into the high 80s. Alumni and students soaked up the sun and the nostalgic ambiance. Along with a number of food stations, attendees enjoyed amusement rides, including giant slides and bounce houses, in addition to games of chance. Tents lined up along a portion of the perimeter for groups representing the alumni arms of different organizations – Alpha Theta Beta, Hofstra Concerts, WRHU, Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi, to name a few.

Despite a huge variety in musical genres and eras, each of the performing groups embraced the spirit of the day and had the crowd of thousands singing and dancing. The opening act was the doo-wop inspired Sha Na Na, featuring original members Jocko Marcellino, Screamin’ Scott Simon, Donny York, and Robert Leonard, who is a longtime professor at Hofstra and director of the Forensic Linguistics Project (see page 12). The group’s lineup included a string of classics ranging from the Danny and the Juniors’ opener “At the Hop” and the sax-fueled quasi-instrumental “Tequila” to an a cappella reading of the 1956 Del-Vikings’ smash “Come Go With Me” and a version of Dion and the Belmonts’ “A Teenager in Love,” during which the group gave way to the crowd to sing the song’s chorus. 

Clad conservatively in a red tie and blue jacket, Dr. Leonard joined his old bandmates on stage for the first time in almost 40 years, taking the mic for a number of songs. First, a stirring “Teen Angel” had the rocker-turned-educator singing up to the heavens on bended knee. Then he was equally impressive as the vocal centerpiece for “Tell Laura I Love Her.” After their set ended, a clearly pumped-up Dr. Leonard admitted to an equal mix of nerves and adrenaline. “It was great and so much fun. I was stressing like mad,” he said. “It really was heaven because I haven’t sung with these guys in 35 or 40 years.”

Next up was Long Island’s own Blue Oyster Cult, still headlined by founding members Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma. Buttressed by hits like “Burning for You” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” B.O.C. delivered a tight enough musical performance that they were able to not only slip in lesser-known numbers like “Hot Rails to Hell” into their set, but also win over the crowd for chants of “one more song,” despite time restrictions that prevented them from returning for an encore. For alumni Russell and Diane Levin, both Class of 1978, who were married at the Hofstra University Club a decade later, and watched their daughter graduate this past May with a B.A. in fine arts, the concert was a walk down memory lane – particularly after admitting they first saw B.O.C. play at Hofstra more than three decades ago at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, where Russell was a member of the lighting crew. “They were as tight today as they were then,” he agreed before adding, “This ranks up there with some of the shows I worked at the Playhouse back then ... artists like Jeff Beck, Chick Corea and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.” 

Even though Hell’s Kitchen native and Latin dance diva Lisa Lisa performed with prerecorded tracks and a posse of four backup dancers, she more than held her own alongside the acts that featured live instrumentation. It helped that her vocals still pack a considerable punch, especially given the deep canon of hits she had to draw from, including “Little Jackie Wants to Be a Star,” “Can You Feel the Beat,” “All Cried Out” and “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” which she performed duet-style with former Cheetah Girl and concert emcee Adrienne Bailon. 

By the time Public Enemy came onstage, the crowd swelled considerably. The group’s ties to Hofstra can be traced to members taking classes and to WRHU, where Bomb Squad affiliate Johnny “Juice” Rosado once hosted a show. 

With a stage set that featured a guitarist, bassist and drummer accompanying DJ Lord on the turntables, Public Enemy unleashed a barrage of socially conscious classics, punctuated by Chuck D.’s stentorian delivery, that included “Fear of a Black Planet,” “Fight the Power,” “Shut ‘em Down” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” With Flavor Flav prancing around in a red outfit with his ever-present oversized clock dangling around his neck, Professor Griff led camouflage-garbed members of the group through choreographed military posturing. Most inspiring was the message of education the group embraced, with Chuck D. encouraging the concert-going undergrads to “Get what you paid for, don’t come here just to flunk out” and reminding them that “the cheapest price to pay is attention.” 

It was a message that Alpha Phi Alpha President Andre Derricotte agreed with. “This is a great day for Hofstra,” he said, “and I think we’ll see more people here to enjoy the music by the end of the day.” 

Contrasting with P.E.’s thunderous beats and harder-edged sound was Fountains of Wayne’s sturdy but nonetheless frothier musical style. It was a surreal enough moment for frontman Adam Schlesinger to dryly quip, “It’s an honor to play with so many cool people on the bill. We came on after Public Enemy, which makes sense seeing as we get compared to them a lot.” Undaunted, the band launched into an abbreviated set that included “Red Dragon Tattoo” and the band’s 2003 mega-hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” whose familiarity received a positive response from the crowd. 

With the sun slowly setting and a number of young fans sporting Trey Songz concert T-shirts, it wasn’t a stretch to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction awaiting him. And Songz did not disappoint, performing his upbeat hits “Say Ahh” and “Bottoms Up,” and stopping long enough to croon ballads like “Neighbors Know My Name” and “Already Taken,” oftentimes accompanied by a huge contingent of the crowd singing along.


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