Feature photo by Ray Chavez for Bay Area News Group taken on 8-22-2017
Short video clip of Refugee jam
I found myself listening intently to ‘Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty & laughed at its cavalier honesty. Knowing he and The Heartbreakers would be in the Bay Area, I bought a ticket to their ‘Fortieth Anniversary Tour’ stop.
The scene: The sun is setting on a warm day in beautiful Berkeley; the distinctive smell of weed is wafting through the air. It’s the first day of their tour in Northern CA. The Greek Theater is known for its good sound quality. It’s a relatively-small venue with an intimate feel. Concerts lend themselves to fast friendships, if only for the night.
The Shelters, their warm-up group, were well-received with their enviable knee bends & hyperactive sound. I’d learned Tom & The Heartbreakers would be landing in Oakland on a flight from San Diego. The Highway Patrol had been alerted their limos would be scooting north to Berkeley, scheduled to arrive just on time.
The energy level inside The Greek Theater rose to a peak within ten minutes of their arrival. Tom was humbly taken aback. Like a child who thanks you for your thank-you note, the excitable turnout cheered more after each of his thanks. Tom Petty is handsome- his signature long blonde hair is faded & he’s as fit as ever. His gait on stage is stealth-like- definitely a worthy meme.
Tom declared he would “drop the needle on this 40th anniversary vinyl album & see where it lands.” Songs from throughout their extraordinary career were awe inspiring! Stirs of recognition & musical thrills filled the air. The crowd was treated to awesome, tight-magical jams.
The singer/songwriter gave us the group’s history as he reminisced during introductions. Way back in Gainesville, Florida, Tom wanted to start a band. He & his fellow-founder drove to the awful house of a musician whose card they saw posted with no phone number. There, they met the young job-hunter who played for them on his $17.00 Japanese guitar. Blown away, Petty said, “I don’t know who you are, man, but I want you in my band forever.” Tom spared no accolades for each of of the band members. The Webb Sisters from the UK are touring with them as back up singers. “We’re really fortunate to have them,” he confided.
Petty & The Heartbreakers have lots to be proud of. Forty years is a sustained career. They pursued their dreams with their unique style & made a name for themselves. The fans in the house were obviously grateful. On the day after the partial eclipse, we were in totality with their musical force. They show-cased the talent & collaboration of their trade while connecting with their fan base. It was an outright celebration!
Finally, Tom confided after their encore, “People come up to me & ask how we make it. I tell them that people keep coming back.”
He’d spoken of his memories of being in Berkeley years ago. Those of us there that night, will no doubt, fondly remember being with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
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