Even though it feels like a balmy summer’s evening here in Newton, NJ, it’s hard to believe it’s actually Saturday, October 7, 2017!
As we stand on the sidewalk outside the Newton Theater waiting to enter tonight’s concert featuring Jim Messina, we chat with several music lovers looking forward to the performance.
A member of the folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield, a founding member of the country-rock band Poco, and one half of the well-known pop duo Loggins and Messina, for the past half-century, Jim Messina has been intimately involved in the music world as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, producer, and engineer.
Elaine from Clinton tells us, “I’ve been a fan of Loggins and Messina for many years, so I’m here tonight for the nostalgia of it all — to hear what used to be — what was so important to us way back when.” Notes Elaine, “it’s always nice to be able to hear those lyrics and chords and be able to recognize those songs and sing along with them again.”
Linda from Rockaway suggests, “I’m here out of curiosity — I want to see what Jim Messina will be performing — it’s always a surprise for the audience.” Going on to reveal, “I’ve been a fan of his music for many years,” Linda adds, “My sister even used one of his songs as her wedding song.”
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Lastly, Linda from Edison admits, “I’ ve been a fan of Jim Messina since the Loggins and Messina days. I’ve never seen him live, so I’m excited to get a chance to hear him perform,” adding, “A group of friends invited me, and I think this is going to be a great way to spend a Saturday night!”
We make our way inside the cozy Newton Theater just as the lights dim for tonight’s opening act, New Jersey singer Laura Crisci.
Introduced as “the best kept secret of Asbury Park,” Crisci opens her set playing harmonica and guitar on her upbeat and memorable original, “Catch Me If You Can.”
Welcoming the crowd by describing Newton, NJ as “a cool town,” Crisci introduces her fiddle player, who also happens to be Jim Messina’s fiddle player — Gary Oleyar.
Accompanied by Oleyar’s country-sounding fiddle, Crisci strums her guitar as she performs her tune, “Can You Hear Me Now.” She follows that up with another original song about a gypsy entitled “Until They Meet Again,” her story rolling along as Oleyar fiddles a sweet love story.
Announcing, “This is my way of saying thank you to Tom Petty,” Crisci concludes her set with a dynamic rendition of “An American Girl,” the entire audience singing along.
Following a short intermission, Jim Messina takes the stage with his band — Craig Thomas on woodwinds and percussion, Gary Oleyar on fiddle, Dave Beyer on drums, and Michael Brady on bass. Announcing, “Welcome to my living room!” he immediately puts everyone at ease.
Opening with a newer composition, “Mojito Moon (Michaela’s Song),” Messina’s voice still sounds young and spot-on, his expert acoustic guitar playing perfectly accenting his vocal. Thomas’ percussive shaker adds to the easy feel of this catchy Latin number.
Announcing, “This is a song I wrote myself in honor of Larry Sims, the original bass player for Loggins and Messina,” Jim performs “Keep Me in Mind.” A mystical sounding number featuring soprano sax, the crowd loves every note.
Messina tells a story about how he wrote his next song about fairies and giants entitled, “Whispering Waters.” Acknowledging that “fairies believe the fiddle is the devil’s instrument,” this Messina number from 2005 features a wonderful mix of fiddle and guitar work.
Moving on to a Poco song, “Follow Your Dream,” Messina sings four-part harmony with the members of his band.
The musicians follow that up with a Richie Furay number, “Kind Woman,” which was recorded by both Buffalo Springfield and Poco. The audience cheers as soon as they hear the opening guitar lick. A waltz featuring unusual shifts in rhythm, Messina’s voice cries out in a country way accompanied by Oleyar’s fiddle. Jim impresses the crowd with his electric guitar solo, fingerpicking the strings, and recreating his signature Messina twangy country electric guitar sound.
Following the up-tempo and rockabilly “Child’s Claim to Fame,” Messina and the band perform the roadhouse rocker, “You Better Think Twice,” featuring a driving beat, alto sax accents, and a wild electric slide guitar solo!
Hands clap to the fiddle and guitar intro to a medley of two well-known Loggins and Messina numbers, “Listen to a Country Song” and “Holiday Hotel.”
The crowd moves in their seats to the medley’s infectious beat, and the audience cheers at the unique alto sax and fiddle duet between Thomas and Oleyar.
While Messina and the band take a short break, we chat with several audience members about the performance so far.
Comments Jim from Blairstown, “I like how Jim Messina’s guitar playing is effortless. I’ve always loved Loggins and Messina — I’ve been a fan since 1972 — and I think his violin player, Gary Oleyar, is awesome.” Acknowledging, “This is my first time seeing Jim Messina,” Jim also notes, “There are so many good shows to see here at the Newton Theater.”
Jim’s friend, Bruce from Blairstown, agrees, commenting, “This is a great venue — there’s not a bad seat in the house. The shows are always terrific, and the ticket prices are reasonable,” adding, “Where else can you see Grammy Award winners for under $60?”
Act II begins with Messina playing the mandolin on the Loggins and Messina staple, “Be Free.” Pizzicato violin and mandolin — along with the sound of soprano sax and flute — achieve a real feeling of being free. The audience claps along to Messina’s mandolin solo as Oleyar joins in on fiddle, creating a rousing country dance in the Irish tradition before they move on to more of a jazzy sound, all to rousing cheers and whistling.
After introducing the members of his band, Messina and the group perform the bluesy “Sinners and Saints.”
Featuring an unusual meter, mid-song, Messina changes guitars from acoustic to electric. Harmonizing together with Thomas’ sax on this slow-burn shuffle, the audience whistles and shouts.
Four-part vocal harmonies are featured on Loggins and Messina’s dynamic “Changes” before the group performs one of the highlight numbers of the evening, “Angry Eyes.” Featuring Messina’s masterful guitar solo, and a guitar, sax and fiddle trio, the audience rises to its feet!
After leaving the stage and returning for an encore, Beyer’s drums kick up a driving beat as fiddle and sax harmonize to a song which Messina dedicates “to all the ladies here tonight” — Loggins and Messina’s “You Need a Man.”
Oleyar’s fiddle and Thomas’ sax play off one another like they’re having a conversation, followed by a Michael Brady bass solo with Messina’s guitar sharing riffs as the drums keep the groove going. Improvising by borrowing the main lick from Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida,” the band rocks, propelled by Beyer on the drum set, playing, at times, with a double set of sticks!
Ending the song to audience screams, the group briskly segues into the crowd-pleasing Loggins and Messina 1975 smash, “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”
Announcing “Help us out!” the audience is on its feet dancing and singing along on this feel-good song before Messina ends by saying, “Good night and God bless” and throwing his guitar pick out into the crowd.
As we make our way out of the theater, we chat with several concertgoers in the lobby who share their opinions with us of Jim Messina’s performance this evening.
Regina from Hewitt says, “Jim Messina was great! This was the first time I’ve ever seen him and I loved him. In addition to the Loggins and Messina tunes, I really liked his newer songs, too.”
Chuck from Hewitt agrees, adding, “It was awesome — just classic,” before adding with a smile, “And I got the guitar pick!”
Back out on the sidewalk, we catch up with Donna from Readington who tells us, “I loved this concert. I couldn’t sit still!”
Marsha from White House Junction agrees, stating, “I loved it,” whereas Valerie from Readington adds, “They are all great musicians.”
Lastly, we chat with Nancy, who traveled from Florida to Newton, NJ, specifically for tonight’s show. Says Nancy, “Jim Messina was fabulous! Anyone who missed this concert missed musicians par excellence,” adding, “As far as I’m concerned, Jim Messina could play all night.”
Going on to note, “I’ve been a long time fan of Jim Messina but I’ve never had a chance to see him perform live before, so tonight is a really memorable one for me,” Nancy concludes, “Jim Messina, his backup band — every singer, every musician — they are all superlative.”
To learn more about Jim Messina, please go to jimmessina.com. For information on future concerts at The Newton Theater — including The Outlaws on November 10 and The Marshall Tucker Band on December 9 — please click on thenewtontheatre.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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