On Friday night March 15, 2019, my friend Sharon and I had the great pleasure of attending “A Bowie Celebration” at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall in Ponte Vedra, FL. This was actually our second time in attendance, with the first exactly a year ago at the Plaza Live in Orlando.
I am so grateful that we decided to attend the event once again. Something felt a bit “off” last year–in fact, after comparing notes with fans who attended in Ft. Lauderdale a year ago, it seems the Orlando show was abruptly cut off, making it about 30 minutes shorter than the South Florida performance. It still rated very highly with me, and the line-up of musicians was brilliant.
The same can be said for this year’s performance. March 15’s show featured Mike Garson, Carmine Rojas, Lee John, Charlie Sexton, Earl Slick, Bernard Fowler, Corey Glover, and 2 wonderful back-up vocalists/percussionists Naia Kete and Imani Elijah.
Sharon and I arrived an hour early for the meet and greet, but instead of being bored, we met some wonderful new friends (Jana, Kiera, and a fashionable, very cool couple who drove up from Vero Beach), and Carmine Rojas came outside just to chat. He was warm and friendly and made us feel so welcome after a LONG (nearly 3 hours in traffic) drive.
When the time finally came, the VIP group (about 8 of us) were invited in for special swag (T-shirt, tote, pins, laminate badge and signed poster) and to witness the sound check. It’s hard to find the right words to describe the elation at seeing the band honing their craft onstage. These were people who had actually performed with David Bowie, or were super fans themselves who wanted to honor his music. We were allowed to watch the rehearsal/soundcheck for about 30 minutes. Then, Mike Garson and Carmine remained onstage as the others retired to their dressing rooms. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed, because I really wanted to meet Slick, Sexton, Fowler, Glover, et al. But the warm welcome we received up onstage with Mike and Carmine soon alleviated any feelings of disappointment.
After we had a chance to meet these two great musicians and have our pictures taken with them, we were ushered to the swag area where we were given a bonus gift–a limited edition numbered poster especially created for the concert in Ponte Vedra. It features a reproduction of the famous, iconic “Bowie Mugshot” from his arrest in Rochester, NY in 1976. I had it framed within hours of returning home and will treasure it always.
The show–here’s where it becomes REALLY difficult to find the words. Trying not to sound cliched by utilizing tired, over-used adjectives, and failing miserably– the performance was outstanding, fantastic, awe-inspiring, emotional, energizing, breathtaking, magnificent…it was everything the 300 or so in attendance could ever hope for it to be. I loved the fact that the venue was small and intimate. Because there were only a few seats placed along the walls, most of the group was up on their feet and dancing in front of the stage the entire time. I know I was–days later I can still feel the soreness–but it was so well worth it.
I have blogged before about how David Bowie saved my life. As trite and banal as that sounds, it’s the truth. To hear Garson, Rojas, Slick, Sexton, Fowler, et al perform the music that shaped my world over 40 years ago, and that still helps me to get through each day, was absolutely exhilarating. Bernard Fowler and Corey Glover did extreme justice to the songs they sang by making them their own and not trying to copy/imitate Bowie. Charlie Sexton and Earl Slick absolutely killed the guitar solos with Sexton’s added bonus of his beautiful and impassioned singing on several of the night’s songs. Lee John and Carmine Rojas were phenomenal in bringing their rhythm and bass expertise into each and every piece, along with Naia and Imani (and a guest percussionist who joined later in the performance).
And Mike Garson…what can be adequately stated about his obvious love of Bowie, his poignant anecdotes, his killer piano performances? I mean, seriously, this is the man who gave us the masterpiece piano solo in 1974’s “Aladdin Sane” that blew even Bowie away. Because of Mike’s genuine love of his friend, mentor, fellow musician, and maestro, we have the privilege of hearing Bowie’s music performed live in a way that I know is making Mr. Bowie himself smile, laugh, and dance up in heaven.
Thank you Mike Garson, and all of the accompanying musicians, for something I will cherish for the rest of my life.