Fans of country-rock are filtering into South Orange’s SOPAC auditorium this Sunday, June 12, 2022 evening for a concert by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Richie Furay. In tonight’s special “Album Preview” performance, music lovers will get to sample several tunes from Furay’s latest effort, his 2022 release, In the Country.
Furay, 78, is an Ohio-born musician who started his professional music career in the NY/NJ metropolitan area as a member of the Au Go Go Singers, the house band at the Café Au Go Go, a famed ‘60s-era Greenwich Village nightspot. In the mid-‘60s, Furay formed Buffalo Springfield with several other up-and-coming musicians including Stephen Stills and Neil Young, both of whom went on to achieve success independently and with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Buffalo Springfield’s biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth,” became an anthem for the 1960s, but the band’s three albums — all recorded in the span of just two years — consisted of such additional outstanding material as Furay’s original composition, “Kind Woman.” Furay’s crisp, clean vocals earned him the nod as the group’s lead singer and, as such, it is his voice which carries many of Neil Young’s early compositions.
After Buffalo Springfield disbanded, in 1968 Furay teamed up with Jim Messina in an effort to fuse the sounds of rock and country in a new musical style. In the process, they worked with others including Randy Meisner in their group, Poco, developing a groundbreaking genre of music called country-rock — Messina continuing his experimentation with Loggins and Messina, and Meisner with the Eagles. It is said that at an Eagles’ concert in Denver, band leader Glenn Frey once pointed out Richie Furay in the audience and announced, “If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here.”
Following Poco, Furay went on to lead the Souther-Hillman-Furay band and, later, to work as a contemporary Christian music artist. On his new recording, In the Country, Furay sets his sights on the genre of country music.
Before tonight’s show, we talk to Furay about In the Country, a collection of cover versions of well-known country tunes. When asked how he chose the material for the recording, Furay replies, “All the songs on the album had to have a message,” revealing that he picked Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You” to open the record because he “loved the lyrical content” and because the song had “such a freshness to it.”
Furay also chose tunes like Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” and Marc Cohn’s “Walkin’ in Memphis” for the project, despite suggesting that doing so was somewhat problematic. Explains Furay, “To have these songs that are so ingrained in people’s minds was a challenge. We wondered, ‘Are we going to be able to do these songs, make them our own, and still give them a freshness that people who are so familiar with them won’t look back and say, ‘Oh, man, this isn’t so-and-so’s version?” but forged ahead anyway. You know, I didn’t want comparisons. I just wanted people to take the songs and love them for what they’re worth, because that’s what they are to me — they’re just great, great songs.”
Inside the SOPAC auditorium, Furay’s manager David Stone welcomes tonight’s crowd, joking, “How many times did we have to reschedule this show?” before exclaiming, “This is the third time!” He also talks about Furay’s new album, disclosing, “Next Saturday is Record Day when a vinyl version of In the Country will be released,” prior to announcing, “Let’s bring out Richie Furay and the band!”
Furay and his backup musicians — Jack Jeckot on keyboards/harmonica, Jim Soldi on electric guitar, Dan Skarda on acoustic guitar, Larry Grano on drums, Rich Nash on bass, Jesse Furay Lynch on vocals, and Marc Intravaia on electric guitar — take the stage.
Furay greets the crowd announcing, “How are ya? We’re looking forward to putting a smile on your face!” Opening with a number he wrote for Poco, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” Furay sings, “Well there’s just a little bit of magic in the country music we’re singin’/So let’s begin.” His voice sounding rich and full, Furay tells his story, deftly accompanied by his band on this uplifting country rocker.
The audience applauds and Furay reveals, “That song is a bonus track on the new record. We cut 14 tracks in four days and did that last song in one take.” After announcing, “We’re gonna tell you a little more about Poco right now,” he and the group launch into “We Were the Dreamers” a song which transports the listener back to 1969 when Poco first performed on the stage of one of L.A.’s premier music destinations, The Troubadour.
On this nostalgic rocker, Furay’s voice is clear and strong as he croons, “We were the dreamers/Shooting high for the stars/Making rock and roll music/Playing country guitars.”
The crowd cheers and Furay says, “We’re going to go back past Poco a little to Buffalo Springfield. This song became special at the Whisky a Go Go. I would sing this song to a special person in the audience there. Now, it’s 55 years later and I dedicate this to my bride.” Three-part vocal harmonies ring out on the Stephen Stills-penned rocker, “Sit Down I Think I Love You.”
Following large applause, Furay reveals, “I wrote this next song for my first solo record with my friend, Tom Stipe.” Here, he and the group perform “Starlight,” an emotional ballad which features inspired keyboard playing by Jack Jeckot as well as tight vocal harmonies which rise above the band.
Furay tells the crowd, “I brought my daughter along,” confessing, “If she wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here.” Jesse Furay Lynch is featured on a heartfelt rendition of Poco bassist Jack Sundrud’s composition, “Hard Country.” Lynch’s country-sounding voice rings out as Rich Nash plays bass.
The interplay between Lynch and the musicians — notably her dad on guitar and vocals — makes their performance a special one.
The band has the audience clapping along on Furay’s cover version of Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You.” As Furay sings with feeling, “There’s a new wind blowin’ like I’ve never known/I’m breathin’ deeper than I’ve ever done/And it sure feels good/To finally feel the way I do,” audience members clap along to the driving rhythm before erupting at the end with cheers, whistles, and hollers.
“Thank you!” exclaims Furay. That’s one of the covers from the new album.” Launching into a second selection from In the Country, Furay and Co. continue with Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Performed as a slow ballad, lush five-part backup vocals enter to support Richie’s heartfelt lead as he sings, “Promise me that you’ll please give faith a fighting chance/And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/I hope you dance.” At the end, audience members stand and clap while others cheer.
“That’s a little taste of our new album,” says Furay, adding, “I hope the album is a breath of fresh air for people,” before introducing his band members. Then, he and the musicians follow up with his song, “Someday,” a lively country-rocker that has audience members bobbing their heads to the infectious beat.
Jack Jeckot plays a honky-tonk keyboard solo before handing things off to Jim Soldi who rocks out on electric guitar. Jeckot switches off from keyboards to play a bluesy harmonica solo before Soldi and Marc Intravaia duel on electric guitars, captivating the crowd. Eventually, all of the musicians deliver a rousing finish which has music lovers in the audience on their feet whistling and cheering.
Richie gestures to his bandmates as he asks the audience, “Did I tell you? They’re another reason I’m here,” before announcing, “Jesse’s going to sing another song,” and Lynch performs her interpretation of Bonnie Raitt’s “(Goin’) Wild For You Baby.”
Her voice pleading with emotion, Lynch connects with the audience on an arrangement which has Scara picking out a tasty guitar solo.
The crowd applauds and Furay says, “These are two songs I’ve written for Nancy, my wife. After all these years, I love her more than when we first started going together.” Launching into the title song from his album, Hand in Hand, Furay sings with passion, “I couldn’t love you anymore/I couldn’t tell you anymore/But every time I see you/The more I know I need you.”
On this sweet rock ballad, father and daughter sing in harmony, blending their voices with a special bond as they’re joined by the other singers. Next, Furay segues into his Buffalo Springfield classic, “Kind Woman,” the audience happily swaying along as Furay croons, “Kind woman/Won’t you love me tonight?” on this beloved country waltz.
His heartfelt performance profoundly appreciated by the crowd, Furay performs “Wind of Change,” a powerful country rock ballad which features a twangy guitar coda.
He and the band follow up with Richie’s patriotic song “America, America,” where they sing out in harmony, “America, America/God shed your grace, please do/Wake up, wake up, our sleeping soul/Before we hear the bells that toll.” Richie plays a harmonic on his acoustic before leading all of the guitars in picking out an ending.
Furay and Co. conclude their performance tonight with an electrifying version of “Stand Your Guard.”
The driving rock beat bounces along as guitars ring out. After clapping double time, the band picks up the tempo and explodes with dynamic keyboard, guitar, and harmonica solos. The musicians have fun as they play off one another — each instrument adding its own unique flavor to the mix before the tune rolls along to a compelling conclusion.
The crowd leaps to its feet as Furay says, “Thank you so much! We love you!” and he and the band bow together to cheers and applause. The musicians leave the stage, even as the audience clamors for more. Soon, the ensemble returns as Furay jokes, “We know one more song!”
The sound swirls around the SOPAC auditorium on the Souther-Hillman-Furay country-rocker, “Fallin’ in Love,” and audience members stand, clap, and sing along on Poco’s “Good Feelin’ to Know,” where Furay and his band rock and roll their way into every audience member’s heart.
As music lovers make their way out of the auditorium, we chat with several audience members who share their thoughts on tonight’s concert. Whereas Keith from New York declares, “Richie just keeps getting better and better — he improves with age!” George from Newark remarks, “I thought tonight’s show was inspiring. The dueling guitars were just amazing — fantastic!” and Joey from Great Neck points out, “This performance will inspire a whole new generation of fans.”
Rich from Hasbrook Heights calls tonight’s show, “Unbelievable — excellent,” while Kay from Hasbrook Heights exclaims, “There was such energy tonight! From start to finish it was just great!” Joy from South Orange agrees, adding, “It was wonderful seeing Richie here at SOPAC. It’s such a nice venue — small, comfortable, and immaculate — which is why I love coming here.”
Notes Al from Ramsey, “I hope this isn’t the last time we’ll see Richie at SOPAC. He puts on a purely joyful show, where you feel happy at the end. For me, it’s like happy medicine. If you want to feel better, just listen to Richie’s music.” Jolie from Ramsey agrees, adding, “Richie exudes joy. You can’t help but smile at the end. He’s just an incredible human.”
Lastly, we chat with Gary Oleyar, a professional musician from Clark who will perform later this summer with Loggins and Messina. Recalls Oleyar, “Richie Furay was one of the first musicians I ever idol worshipped. I would cut high school once a month to listen to his records with an older friend, and I literally worshipped him.” Continuing, “There are not a lot of people out there like Richie, so it’s great having him back,” Oleyar concludes by asserting, “Seeing him here tonight was just a remarkable experience!”
To learn more about Richie Furay — or for information on his new recording, In the Country — please go to richiefuray.com. For info on upcoming events at South Orange’s SOPAC — including Peabo Bryson on September 10, John Pizzarelli with Catherine Russell on September 24, and Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn on October 26 — please go to sopacnow.org.
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