Earth, Wind & Fire played at Vina Robles on the Tuesday, on the nineteenth of September. It was surreal, to me, since arguably their most popular song is titled “September” and begins with the lyrics “Do you remember, the 21st night of September?” They may have missed the marquee night by two, but it was still incredible that they chose the small city of Paso Robles to play so close to the famous night, even if it is 46 years after the debut of the hit song.
The Vina Robles Amphitheatre was nearly full as the familiar music of “Shining Star” began to play as the band took the stage. I was born in 1992 — this is not the music of my generation, but I am someone who longs for the days of real musicians playing real instruments and can't stand the rise of electronic music that has begun to replace the real artists in the world. Perhaps the most refreshing part of the concert was the average age of the members in the crowd. As the iconic horn section began blasting, I was awaiting the moment when everyone would begin pulling out their phones in order to show their friends back home what they were witnessing, but it never came. Then it hit me, an enormous grin creeped across my face as I realized I was partying with a generation that was not obsessed with technology. There were no selfies, no Snapchats, no Instagram live, everyone was in the moment, soaking in every second of the concert without needing to document it. It was beautiful, it was inspiring, and as the couples around me began dancing away their inhibitions, I sat back and accepted my baptism into the church of funk.
The band looked incredible, their outfits looked like they had jumped straight out of a time machine backstage from 1972. There were sequins, bell bottoms, ruffled shirts, high kicks and more sequins dancing across the stage as they rocked the crowd with hit after hit. The band perfectly leveraged technology and nostalgia as the screen behind them flashed black and white photos of the band from back in their prime.
The band came out playing chart toppers and fan favorites. After starting with “Shining Star” they moved straight into “Getaway” unleashing the hips of every person in the crowd. There wasn't a still body in the venue, those in the seated sections stood and swayed to the music while clapping to the rhythm. Those in the grass sections had more room to dance and took full advantage as the messages of universal love and harmony filled the brisk night air. The band's lead singer, Philip Bailey, is now 66 and is truly a once-in-a-generation talent and still has one of most beautiful and powerful falsettos I've heard. He continued to hit notes time and time again that I questioned if anyone could reach, let alone someone of his age. On more than one occasion I was left with nothing but a blank stare on my face as I couldn't comprehend how high he could actually go.
After starting with fan favorites, the band slowed down the concert just a little and began to play songs that meant the most to them, and songs that would showcase the incredibly talented musicians they brought with them. Each instrument had its turn to solo: The drums, the horns, the piano, and then the most beautiful one of them all, the saxophone.
With the world in a state of such intense hate, anger, and fear, the repeated incantations of unity, love and fellowship seemed to help everyone forget about their everyday stresses as they hip-popped their way through a perfect September night.
The concert ended in a full fledged funkadelic frenzy. They ended playing “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Let’s Groove,” and “Fantasy.” Being as young as I am, I began realizing just how influential Earth, Wind & Fire is as I started noticing that I connected nearly all of these songs to iconic movie scenes I grew up loving. I, of course, knew that they were properties of Earth, Wind & Fire but my brain couldn’t help but flash the scenes across my mind. At one point I turned my back completely to the stage because I just wanted to see the faces of pure bliss and every single person had their glasses raised with smiles gleaming. They might not be able to hit the same notes they used to or kick quite as high, but they can still infect a crowd with their soul. Unlike the rest of the people in attendance, I did post a couple videos on my various social media accounts and based on all the “That sounds awesome! Who is that?” responses that I received, I think this music still has a place, and I hope it makes a huge comeback.