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Turning 50 with Heart

Turning 50 with Heart

Turning 50 is a big deal. It’s a huge landmark in anyone’s life. It’s a half century. It’s a time to reflect on what has been, what will never be and what can possibly still be. If you’re lucky you turn 50 with good health and good friends…in many cases, you’re lucky if you turn 50. That’s the world we live in and that’s the nature of life. I consider myself lucky on many fronts, therefore turning 50 was a cause for celebration. And what a celebration it was. I turned 50 with gusto—and Heart!

Of course, I had a 49 year head start to plan for my 50th. That was no surprise. What was a surprise was that my favourite band since I was 13 would be playing a concert on my 50th birthday at the legendary Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. As it happens, my best friend whom I’ve known since I was 16 years-old lives in Los Angeles. So, when I saw the date announced, I figured the universe was helping me make plans for the big day. After all, what better way to spend your birthday than with your best friend and your best band.

I flew to LA and had an amazing time hanging out and celebrating with old and new friends…all leading up to the big day. Dinner with friends, playing on the beach, accidentally becoming part of a film festival party at The Roosevelt Hotel, hanging out in Beverly Hills and singing in a bar in Hollywood are pretty neat distractions and great ways of avoiding any 50-related angst. And the best part was yet to come.

Suddenly, there was the deep, resonating sound of a gong and Ann and Nancy strolled into the festivities.

1276363_10153183187235517_2003279636_oMy friend Tod and I arrived at The Greek at the appointed time for the very special VIP meet and greet. I knew the evening would be extra fun as we ran into Heart’s lead guitarist Craig Bartock outside the venue. I walked over and introduced myself. He was fun and friendly and gave me a good, firm handshake. Onward to the backstage festivities. Now, I had met and chatted with Ann & Nancy Wilson briefly backstage a month earlier in Toronto and mentioned I would be at the LA show on my 50th birthday. They were amused by the news and gave me big smiles, Nancy saying, ‘What an amazing way to mark that occasion in your life!” I wondered if they’d remember me?

We were ushered backstage to the appointed area for the meet and greet; a very nice patio surrounded by beautiful California evergreens that soared high and shaded us from the blazing sun. As fans lingered, chatted, and exchanged Heart stories, Tod and I sipped wine, watched the crowd and got reacquainted with a few folks we’d met a few months earlier. I happened to turn around and standing a few feet from me was Heart’s drummer Ben Smith. Ben had just celebrated his birthday the day before so I popped over, introduced myself and wished him a happy birthday. Ben is a very affable guy and thanked me with a big handshake. When I mentioned I’d come down from Toronto to celebrate my 50th (which happened to be that very day), he wished me a hearty happy birthday and gave me a big hug.

Suddenly, there was the deep, resonating sound of a gong and Ann and Nancy strolled into the festivities. They took their seats at a beautifully festooned table as fans lined up to meet their idols. Tod and I watched as people walked away from their moment with these rock icons. There were huge smiles, looks of “did that just happen?” and even tears of joy. Meeting these women is a very moving experience and you could see on each person’s face just how emotional it can be.

In unison, Ann and Nancy turned to face me and said, “Happy birthday, Andrew!”

1244109_10153183189225517_1146738139_oAs it happened, Tod and I were the last two people to meet Ann and Nancy. Maybe it was the fate’s conspiring or maybe it was just good luck. Regardless, I was about to have the birthday moment of my life. Now, like many people when we were kids, we would listen to our favourite bands and let our imaginations sail away in fantasies of meeting our heroes, hanging out, or sharing the stage with them. The stuff of teenage dreams. My teenage dream was coming true. Tod was first up to meet Ann and Nancy and they were all smiles. A moment later it was my turn.

I walked up to the table with a big, goofy smile on my face and said, “Hello!” In unison, Ann and Nancy turned to face me and said, “Happy birthday, Andrew!” I was dumbstruck It was spoken Wilson harmony. They remembered! I was over the moon. Nancy looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re still a young sprite.” Then Ann laughed and said, “Yea, you’re still young. You’ve got lots of time. But you’ll have to start making plans when you’re 70.” We shared a laugh and some small talk, they each handed me a guitar pick (one said Ann, one said Nancy) and I was on my way, waving so long and wishing them a great show. Ann said, “I hope so!” and laughed. There was no need to hope.

The stage exploded in lights and sound as Ann grabbed the mic and sneered, “So this ain’t the end, I saw you again…”

1277373_10153183211150517_1800935476_oTod and I arrived at our seats just in time for the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience to explode onstage with Zeppelin’s anthem, Rock and Roll. The crowd went wild as the band blasted through 40 minutes of Zeppelin covers that culminated in a spectacular version of Whole Lotta Love. James Dylan, the band’s lead singer hit those rare Robert Plant notes and blew the crowd away. Tod and I agreed that while it wasn’t Led Zeppelin, it was probably the closest—and best—we’d get to seeing the original band.

After about a 20 minute break, the lights suddenly dropped, the ambient music got louder and the crowd started howling. With spotlights panning the audience the band took the stage in the shadows when Nancy—slinging her guitar like a rock and roll Jessie James—marched front and centre and began playing the opening chords to one of the best rock and roll anthems ever written, Barracuda. The stage exploded in lights and sound as Ann grabbed the mic and sneered, ‘So this ain’t the end, I saw you again…” The proverbial horse had galloped out of the barn and we were on our way into a wild night of rock.

The band blasted through more hits, Heartless (where Ann hits and holds notes that boggle the mind and shake the soul), What About Love, a funky, hip thrusting, Even It Up, a raunchy and sinuous take on Magic Man that is as powerfully sensual as it was in 1976. They did a symphonic take on Dog & Butterfly that left you feeling like you were buoyed in air. They continued to mine more 70s classics with a rollicking Kick It Out that lead into a mystically moody Mistral Wind. This song is considered by Heart aficionados to be their best song as it is written in five different keys, builds from a mournful lonely opening to an epic, almost operatic middle, then drifts earthward on a gentle breeze that leaves the audience gasping for breath. Of course the lyrical imagery and Ann’s spectacular delivery are enough to blow the minds of the most demanding rock fan. It’s pure classic rock perfection.

Ann Wilson’s voice filled the night with passion and power…as she roared,
“How do I get you alone…” touching the heart of anyone who has experienced unrequited love.

1272951_10153183193840517_2064181795_oNancy took her turn at the mic for lead vocals on a beautiful cover of Elton John’s I Need You To Turn To which she dedicated to their fans. It must be said that while Nancy is regarded as a great guitarist, she has a beautiful singing voice and can really project power, even in the quietest moments of a ballad. She exchanged her guitar for mandolin and performed the band’s first ever number one song, These Dreams. It was during this lilting tune that I turned to Tod with a big smile on my face and said, “I’m so happy right now.”

There was a pause after Nancy finished and then the air crackled with anticipation and cheers as many in the audience knew what was about to happen next. With the opening keyboard chimes, Ann began to sing their epic love song Alone. With a hint of piano and acoustic guitar behind it, Ann Wilson’s voice filled the night with passion and power as she modulated through the verses, then built to soul-crushing heights as she roared, “How do I get you alone…” touching the heart of anyone who has experienced unrequited love. And to punctuate the moment, a fan handed Ann a single long-stem red rose right at the end of the song.

Thank you Ann, Nancy and the rest of Heart for making 50 RAWK!

1157655_10201944813768450_1803655583_nHeart ended their set with two big punches: a rocker dedicated to their late father who served in the military for two wars and also dedicated to “those who are out there and trying to get back’, Dear Old America, then launched into one of their signature songs, Crazy On You. At this point everyone was on their feet cheering—and that’s when we broke from our seats (a mere 10 feet from the stage) to get right up front. Nancy was literally two feet away from me as I leaned on the edge of the stage and smiled up at her while she played the acoustic intro to COY. Here was the other part of that rock and roll fantasy, practically being onstage with your heroes and exchanging eye contact and smiles as they play some of the most famous songs in the rock canon.

Heart left the stage to catch their breath and give us a moment to digest what we had just seen. Then Ann and Nancy returned alone, mandolin and guitar in hand, respectively, for a roof-raising take on Battle of Evermore. Their voices and harmonies were so powerful and spot on it was incredible. The rest of the band joined them onstage for the Zeppelin-fest encore. Back came Jason Bonham with guitarist Tony Catania, Craig Bartock, and keyboardist Debbie Shair for a thunderous set that included Immigrant Song (unreal, blistering!), Misty Mountain Hop, Kashmir, The Rain Song and the apotheosis of the night, Stairway to Heaven, complete with choir. It was spectacular and you knew why Robert Plant had tears in his eyes—he wasn’t the only one.

The band left the stage. We sent our last cheers to Ann and Nancy Wilson and the night as the lights came up on what was the most memorable birthday of my life. Thank you Ann, Nancy and the rest of Heart for making 50 RAWK!

AndyAndrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites.


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  1. This is so amazing Andrew…Oh what a night!….and what a story… you tell it so well. I feel as though I turned 50 with you and enjoyed the whole night live. Thank you for sharing and thank you for being you! Happy 50th year, welcome to the ageless and timeless club 🙂

  2. Yay!!!

  3. Andrew your story rocked, I felt like I was right there with you. Thanks for sharing, and again Happy Birthday… Love your name as my Son is also named Andrew…

  4. What a great birthday.

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