Music, even among the arts, has the rare ability to weave itself into the fabric of a life, managing to enhance the emotions of the present, whether good or bad, and summon those same emotions as sharp memories years after the experiences have transpired. Kenny Loggins has crafted songs that perform that magical service for my mother. On August 19th at Chicagoland's most beautiful concert venue, Ravinia Festival, it was easy to understand why millions of people joined my mother in their affinity for the pop-folk artist's music.
From the opening combination of "Keep the Fire" and "Heart to Heart," Loggins demonstrated with clarity a few of his finest qualities. At 75, his soulful and powerful voice has aged astonishingly well. Those familiar with his catalogue, or even his Greatest Hits record, are aware that he boasted one of the most effective vocal ranges in pop music. Whether it was a silky-smooth falsetto or gospel-like shout, Loggins' voice was at home in any stylistic delivery. While his range has shortened, which is predictable due to the natural effects of aging, his singing remains passionate and resonant. Undoubtedly, he sounds better than many of his peers still on the tour circuit. Before his closing song, he gave the following summary of his life in music: "It's been one hell of a ride."
It was an assessment that also captured his mood throughout the 90-minute set - fun, yet pensive; celebratory, yet melancholy.
After "Heart to Heart," Loggins paused to greet the audience. He then introduced the hit, "This is It," by telling the story of its inspiration. His father was set to undergo a major, invasive surgery, and told Loggins that he did not think he would survive the recovery. Suddenly, the lyric that Loggins already had in his notebook took on deeper meaning: "You think that maybe it's over / Not if you don't want it to be." Loggins and Michael McDonald finished the song, and it operates as an anthem for hope, redemption, and perseverance. The performance at Ravinia was more energetic than the studio version, and even the outstanding version available on Loggins' "Live from Outside the Redwoods" record. As it neared the end, Loggins even added new lyrics, firing them off with rapid speed as the song came to its closing crescendo.
The song that followed was one of Loggins' most obscure - the 2003 single, "It's About Time." Also written with Michael McDonald, Loggins explained that song is about "recovering self-confidence and purpose after an emotional fall." With a funky bassline, and clean harmony vocals from Loggins' bandmates, Loggins advanced the feeling of healing with the chorus, "If it's about joy / If it's about life / If it's about love / It's about time we get started..."
Loggins' band was tight, deft, and skillful, delivering the pop ornamentation and sophistication of Loggins' craftmanship without fail. The group that Loggins has assembled for his final tour has a rich sound - harmony vocals, saxophone, keyboards, and rock guitar. His songs shift identities from pop to funk to blue eyed soul to singer/songwriter folk, and his band excelled at playing each part and servicing each role.
Loggins continued to display his songwriting and singing prowess in the sit-down portion of the show, which featured acoustic renditions of hits, "What a Fool Believes," "Whenever I Call You Friend," "Return to Pooh Corner," and the eternally poignant and infectious Loggins and Messina classic, "Danny's Song." With his lyrics and his stories behind the songs, Loggins developed as the central idea and focus of the night - the passage of time, and the beauty and sadness it brings. "Whenever I Call You Friend," sung tenderly with Loggins and his rhythm guitarist taking the lines sung by Stevie Nicks in the original version, gave tribute to the gift of friendship, "Return to Pooh Corner," an updated version of "House at Pooh Corner," Loggins' first recorded song, took the audience from the dreams of youth to the hope of fatherhood. "Danny's Song" featured a new verse for Loggins' granddaughter. "The circle never ends," Loggins belted out to close the added verse, "Catch it when it comes around again."
In The Tao of Kenny Loggins, Buddhist teacher and translator, Dennis Waller, writes that Zen and Tao are similar to "telegrams" - "condensed teachings" that directly hit the heart. Waller argues that Loggins' music is full of these telegrams. I have no idea if Loggins is aware of Waller's analysis, but his performance at Ravinia seemed designed to emphasize the telegrams. It captured the mysterious highs and lows; the permanent and fleeting connections that come to define a life like my mother's, mine, and anyone's in the audience.
The closing songs of the main set amplified the idea of connection at highest volume. "Celebrate Me Home," a soulful hit from Loggins' first solo record, showcased Loggins' vocals at their strongest. Stretching the song over the seven-minute mark, Loggins shouted and crooned to express the redemptive delivery of the song. Popular in the Christmas season because of its opening line, "Home for the holidays," "Celebrate Me Home" is a poignant musical tribute to the feeling of belonging - both the endless search for it and the transcendent peace that imbues its discovery. "I'm finally here," Loggins belted out as the song reaches its conclusion. Following a jazzy interlude of guitar and sax solos, interlaced with Loggins' scat singing, it was a musical declaration, as much as an emotional one.
The final song before Loggins took his first bow was "Conviction of the Heart" - a profound pop-folk hybrid with gospel elements that Al Gore called the "anthem of the environmental movement." Written in 1990, Loggins performed it at the Redwoods Forest in Santa Cruz and at the Grand Canyon in television specials promoting environmental causes. His prescient lyrics now resemble prophecy. He sings of "water our children can't drink, "air that's too angry to breath," and asks, "How long must we all wait to change / The world bound in chains that we live in..."
The rousing chorus, which the Ravinia audience sang with gusto, posits a political and spiritual solution: "One with the Earth / With the sky / One with everything in life..."
In 2020, Loggins explained that the chorus came to him in a dream. It has transformed into the articulation of a dream for a better, cleaner, and freer world. "The environmental movement is about a mass cultural consciousness shift," Loggins said at the time, "Until each of us understand that we actually are connected to every living thing on the planet, including the planet itself - until we realize that our very existence is inextricably linked to the world's biosystems, mankind itself is doomed." Despite the dire warning, "Conviction of the Heart" is a hopeful anthem. Even as climate change produces more extreme weather events, and threatens more livable ecology, the song retains its ability to inspire; to inculcate the belief that, as Loggins said in his 2020 message, "we can vote not just for ourselves, but for the world and all the beautiful plants and animals that live on it."
From the smallest turns of intimacy to the largest transformations of thinking, Loggins was intent on forging connections, through his music, with and for his audience. My mother and I attended our first Kenny Loggins concert together when I was in high school. In the twenty passing years, my life too has undergone dramatic changes. Music is a means to measure, document, and even relive those changes. Loggins' "hell of a ride," like that of any great songwriter, includes all the audience as co-passengers.
Loggins declared the first encore a "party," playing his trio of movie hits - "I'm Alright," "Danger Zone," and "Footloose." The crowd, especially during "Footloose," went into a frenzy. When Loggins returned to the stage for a second encore, he performed a stripped-down version of a ballad about loss - a ballad about continuing to live with hope and love after death robs us of someone we treasured. "Forever" was not only the name of the song, but the last word that Loggins sang out, holding a high note, in the closing seconds of the show.
The conclusion belongs to my mother who, as we left the pastoral grounds of Ravinia, said, "It was healing."
David Masciotra is the author of several books, including Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky), Metallica by Metallica (a 33 1/3 book), and I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters. He has also written for the New Republic, No Depression, the Guardian, and many other publications about politics, literature, and music.
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