Music lovers are streaming into the SOPAC auditorium in South Orange, NJ, this Thursday, November 3, 2022 evening for a concert by the celebrated singer, songwriter, and music producer, Jim Messina.
Says Brian from Hillsboro about Messina, “I went to high school in the 1970s so I know all of Jim Messina’s music,” revealing, “My very best friend was friends with Richie Furay, so I know Jim’s work with him in Buffalo Springfield and Poco.” Recalls Brian’s wife, Donna, “I remember Jim from Loggins and Messina. We’ve seen Loggins and Messina perform, but this is our first time seeing Jim as a solo artist, and SOPAC is the perfect venue to see him.” Brian agrees, revealing, “I hear he’s touring with a whole band, so he’s gonna rock the place tonight,” prior to suggesting, “We need these musicians to keep this great music alive, and we need good music journalists to write about it for it to stay alive, too!”
Comments James from Fanwood, “We’re fans of Jim Messina from way back. The first time we saw Jim was at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden when Poco was the opening act for The Moody Blues, and Poco brought down the house.” Remembers James’ wife, Debbie, “We were dating when we first saw Poco and that’s when I became a fan!” Continues James, “We also saw Jim Messina when he was here at SOPAC in 2020 and he was really good,” before noting, “I’m especially looking forward to hearing him play some songs by Poco like ‘Follow Your Dreams’ and ‘You’d Better Think Twice,’ in addition to songs by Loggins and Messina like ‘Angry Eyes.’”
The lights dim and the crowd applauds as drummer Jack Bruno, wind/percussion player Steve Nieves, keyboardist James Frazier, and bassist Ben King take the stage before Richie Furay’s manager and SOPAC board member David Stone introduces Messina, telling the crowd that, tonight, Jim will be playing music from the catalogues of Buffalo Springfield, Poco, and Loggins and Messina.
Messina enters to large applause as he straps on his acoustic guitar saying, “How’s everybody doing? We’re going to start with something you know.” Here, Messina launches into a song by Loggins and Messina, “Watching the River Run,” on an arrangement which is filled with strong, melodic guitar picking. Steve Nieves’ flute playing and James Frazier’s keyboard accents add to the overall sweetness of the performance.
The crowd breaks into applause when they hear the introduction to “House at Pooh Corner,” and happily joins in singing the song’s well-known “Count all the bees in the hive/Chase all the clouds from the sky” refrain.
After talking about watching Jack Benny on television as a kid, Messina, 74, recalls, “He was always 39 years old, and I have a big one coming up in December,” before joking, “Sometimes I forget lyrics. Help me out here if I do.”
The sound of acoustic guitar permeates the SOPAC auditorium as Messina launches into his rendition of “Danny’s Song” and leads the audience in singing the song’s “And even though we ain’t got money/I’m so in love with you honey” chorus.
Music lovers in the crowd get swept away in memories before responding at the conclusion with cheers for a nostalgic performance.
Steve Nieves’ soprano sax playing compliments tight background vocals on Loggins and Messina’s “Thinking of You,” a perky number with an easy ’70s groove that gets audience members’ toes tapping.
Messina tells the crowd that his next song is about nature spirits, fairy circles, and “the devil’s melody,” joking, “We’re going to play that part, but don’t listen!”
Here, he performs “Whispering Waters,” a number which starts out as a folk ballad featuring acoustic guitar and mystical percussive sounds. Following James Frazier’s synthesized keyboard violin solo, Nieves plays recorder and penny whistle before he and Messina perform the devil’s melody on guitar and soprano sax in a lively instrumental interlude.
Next up is a song by Poco, “Follow Your Dreams,” on which Frazier plays a Wurlitzer electric piano solo following Messina, who plays acoustic guitar crooning, “Give it your best, and remember that life is what you choose/Follow your dreams, and do what you love to do.”
After telling a story about the first time he met pedal steel guitarist Rusty Young, Messina dedicates his next song to him. Launching into Richie Furay’s “Kind Woman,” four-part harmonies ring out on the song’s famous “Kind woman/Won’t you love me tonight” chorus.
Audience members shout their approval and Messina announces, “Here’s one I wrote which turned out to be a hit record for Poco.” Switching over to electric guitar, Messina and the Co. perform the lively rocker, “You Better Think Twice,” with an arrangement which features a patented Jim Messina twangy electric guitar solo.
Hands immediately start to clap on the intro to a medley of Loggins and Messina tunes starting with “Listen to a Country Song” and “Holiday Hotel.” The crowd moves in their seats to the medley’s catchy rhythm, and the audience cheers following Nieves’ alto sax solo.
On “Lovin’ Me,” Messina cries, “Take me in your arms/And let me love you again/I bet you won’t get up and walk it on out the door,” as audience members clap along and nod their heads in time to the beat.
Segueing into “To Make a Woman Feel Wanted,” the audience sings along on the well-known “Tell her she’s the kind of a woman/That can send you home knowing that you really been loved” refrain before Frazier plays a barrelhouse piano solo and Messina solos, bending the strings of his guitar on this appealing country rocker.
The music transitions yet again as the band launches into a highlight of tonight’s set — a live rendition of Loggins and Messina’s “Peace of Mind.”
Strong vocals take center stage before alto sax and guitar take over. Messina leads the audience in singing a heartfelt rendition of the “Peace/Peace of mind” lyric which elicits cheers and applause from the standing crowd.
An audience member calls out, “Let’s hear it for that sax!” and Messina responds, “Man, can he play that thing or what?”
Messina switches over to mandolin for Loggins and Messina’s “Be Free.” The ensemble creates a mystical mood throughout the SOPAC auditorium via the use of keyboards, soprano sax and flute, and percussion.
After introducing his fellow band members, Messina follows up by performing another highlight number of the evening — Loggins and Messina’s “Angry Eyes.” Opening with its iconic electric guitar intro, the audience cheers the instant they recognize the riff.
Following the “You and I must start to realize/Blindness binds us in a false disguise” lyric, the audience claps along in double time. As the extended arrangement plays out, it features a dynamic Steve Nieves’ alto sax solo which is followed by a masterful Jim Messina guitar solo that has all eyes focused on his precise and skillful playing.
Following a fluttery and staccato flute solo, the band comes back in for a final chorus. The audience rises to its feet as Messina exclaims to the crowd, “Thank you for coming! Good night!”
The crowd stands applauding and wanting more. Returning for an encore, the band launches into a slow and funky arrangement of Loggins and Messina’s “You Need a Man.” Fueled by Jack Bruno’s steady percussion, James Frazier’s organ sound rings out, Steve Nieves dances on a bluesy and wild alto sax solo, Ben King slaps low and funky on the bass, and Messina plays a thoughtful electric guitar solo before the dynamic climax.
The crowd reacts with hoots, hollers, and cheers before the band plays the crowd-pleasing Loggins and Messina hit, “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” After the audience sings along on the famous “Your Mama don’t dance and your daddy don’t rock and roll” chorus, they reward Messina’s performance with a well-deserved standing ovation.
Messina responds by stating, “Thanks for being such a great audience!” and invites audience members to join him for a Q and A session in lieu of a meet and greet following the show.
Devoted fans stay for the chat with Messina where he responds to queries posed by the audience.
When asked what band was the most fun he’d ever played in, Messina replies, “They all had their moments. I was in The Jesters in high school; in Buffalo Springfield, I played bass; and in Poco, I returned to the guitar. The most growing I did was working with Kenny Loggins. That’s when I started I started writing, playing more, and working as a producer.”
Responding to a question about his guitar idols growing up, Messina lists artists including “The Ventures,” “The Champs,” “Freddie King,” “Dick Dale and his Del-Tones,” and guitarist “Chet Atkins” among his early favorites.
After being asked about how he puts together a set list for a concert, Messina replies by using tonight’s show as an example, revealing, “First, I brought you all to a place in the ’70s, where we basically said ‘Hello.’ Then, I brought you back to my solo career and my work with Poco, Buffalo Springfield, and Loggins and Messina. As the show progressed, the band and I brought the energy up, rather than beating you up throughout the entire show and possibly hurting your ears. Finally, I left you with where I‘m going next year with my new band and at the end, emotionally, I took you to a new place.”
As audience members filter out of the SOPAC auditorium, we chat with several music lovers who share their thoughts on Jim Messina’s program tonight. Comments Marian from Basking Ridge, “Jim Messina is so talented, and there was so much talent with him on that stage. I also loved his interaction with the audience. This was a top-notch concert which exceeded my expectations. I’m a huge fan of Jim Messina, and I especially loved it when he did ‘House at Pooh Corner.’”
Remarks John from Elizabeth, “I liked this show a lot! Jim Messina was great, and I really liked when the audience was singing along, even when they weren’t asked to.”
Kathy from Milford, PA reveals, “I still have all of my Jim Messina albums at home, and I listen to his music on Spotify, too,” prior to acknowledging, “My favorite song tonight was ‘Peace of Mind,’ which, these days, is something we all need.” Clarisse from Maplewood agrees, adding, “I really liked how Jim Messina answered questions after the show. Not many artists do that. He’s so easy to talk to, he made everyone feel so comfortable.”
Lastly, we chat with Anita and Robert from Hillsboro. Explains Anita, “I really enjoyed this show, and I think everyone else here did, too. My favorite song was ‘Peace of Mind,’ and I love that the audience wanted to sing along even before he asked us, too.” Robert concurs, adding, “This show was great! I’ve followed Jim from Poco through Loggins and Messina and on through his solo career, and I’m so glad I got to see him tonight. I love his great guitar picking style,” before concluding, “As a musician, he’s one of a kind!”
To learn more about Jim Messina, please go to jimmessina.com. For information on future concerts at SOPAC — including Judy Collins on Dec. 2, A Rockapella Holiday on Dec. 9, and Sweet Honey in the Rock on Dec. 19 — please click on sopacnow.org.
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