COURTESY ELISSA JOSEPHSON
Verdine White, left, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson have kept the EW&F flame burning bright for more than 30 years.
Rock and soul at the crater
Ralph Johnson has fond memories of the visits he and his bandmates in Earth, Wind & Fire made to Hawaii in years past. The singer-percussionist of the soul-funk band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 remembers its first show here, in 1975 at the Waikiki Shell, and subsequent concerts at the Blaisdell Arena.
2007 Diamond Head Crater Celebration
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $69 general and $99, $135, $150 and $175 reserved seating -- available at the Blaisdell Center box office, all Ticketmaster outlets at Times Supermarkets, charge-by-phone at (877) 750-4400, or online at ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices include reserved parking at convenient auxiliary lots and round-trip shuttle service to the crater.
Note: No tickets will be available at the crater the day of the festival. Those with general admission tickets will be allowed to bring low-back beach chairs. Additionally, those who bought general admission tickets at the original price of $125 are being offered a free upgrade to reserved seating. Call 735-7000 or visit cratercelebration.com.
2:30 p.m.: Yvonne Elliman
3:30 p.m.: Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band
5 p.m.: Earth, Wind & Fire
6:50 p.m.: Gregg Rolie Band
(Live auction of music memorabilia and signed items prior to EW&F going on stage)
And memories are sure to be made when the band performs in Diamond Head crater Saturday as part of the second Crater Celebration in as many years.
The vision of its creator Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire continues to be one of the premiere bands around, noted for its high musicality and such memorable songs that span more than 30 years -- starting with "Keep Your Head to the Sky" and "Mighty Mighty," through a list of monster hits such as "Shining Star," "Reasons," "That's the Way of the World," "Getaway," "Serpentine Fire" and "Boogie Wonderland."
Another hit was the band's version of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" from the cheesy 1978 movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." EW&F appeared in the movie and survived the critical backlash the movie first received (now considered a bit of a guilty pleasure). But the experience also unexpectedly brought Johnson into the limelight.
"While the camera shot was being set up for our performance of "Got to ...," George Faison, who choreographed for 'The Wiz,' asked me to come out from the back to fill out the front line of Maurice and singer Philip Bailey. Before then, I never expressed any intention of being out front. Because of that, while I've never been featured as a singer on our recordings, I'm a front line performer strictly on stage."
Even though White no longer tours with the band due to Parkinson's Disease (his brother, bassist Verdine White, performs with veterans Johnson and Bailey), the band's current profile is still strong, thanks in part to their recent appearance on a little TV show called "American Idol."
The band opened the "Idol Gives Back" special on April 25 with a medley of their hits. "It was a lot of fun, man," Johnson said by phone, enjoying some downtime by shopping with his wife in the Bahamas on Monday. "That's, like, quite a phenomenon. Even if you don't win, you win by virtue of being in the final group. And we've definitely made new fans since we did the show."
Earth, Wind & Fire's last album was 2005's "Illumination," a project that featured guest producers Wil.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Raphael Saadiq, and Atlanta's Organized Noize. But it's the band's intention Saturday to play the hits and nothing but the hits.
"Our stage show has definitely toned down from the last time we played there. There's no more lasers, no more pyrotechnics. It's all personality on stage," Johnson said.
THIS YEAR'S Crater Celebration is offering a small cabaret stage for local musicians, more food and beverage concession stands and, its promoters hope, clear weather. Last year's concert went on despite being preceded by weeks of rain that left Oahu a soggy mess. GM Entertainment CEO Ron Gibson hopes attendance will near 7,500 this year, and he and business partner Mark Mellick have a permit for 2008 to put on another festival in the crater.
With EW&F, Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band and former Santana/Journey keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie on the concert bill, there's a definite classic rock-and-soul feel to this year's festival.
And singer Yvonne Elliman returns to the crater main stage, this time with a 10-piece band. Compared to her shortened set with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra last year, she said this time around is "a bigger opportunity for me to play my own tunes in a longer set."
Elliman said she plans to showcase more of her rock-oriented songs and original material. She said she'll probably kick off her set with her disco-era hit "If I Can't Have You."
"So many local friends of mine have gotten together to make the band. I've got five guitar players!"
COURTESY ELISSA JOSEPHSON
Gregg Rolie, former Santana and Journey keyboardist, will also perform.
COURTESY ELISSA JOSEPHSON