Suze Diaz …It’s a crisp, cold, Saturday night under the twinkling stars at the Moonlight Amphitheater and one can sense an exciting anticipation of the evening’s event as the patrons make their way to their seats. The 2017 Moonlight Present Series is celebrating another fabulous year with a tribute to one of Motown’s greatest music pioneers in “What’s Going On~The Marvin Gaye Experience”.
Marvin Gaye who was an extraordinary singer, prolific songwriter, and recording producer helped shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s; first, as an in-house session drummer and later as a phenomenal solo artist. St Louis, Missouri soul musician, Brian Owens, honors and brings the spirit of the artistically dynamic music of Marvin Gaye back to life with his 3-piece band: The Deacons of Soul (Shaun Robinson, guitar; Rob Woodie, drums; Alvin Quinn, bass) with great accompaniment by saxophonist Gerald Williams and vocalist Loren Battley.
As I made my way through the fully packed amphitheater, I was able to connect with Andrew Amezcula, Program Specialist and Usher Coordinator for the Moonlight, who was able to give me a little information on the evening’s tribute. Per the playbill, Owens credits Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album as “one of the most socially important artistic works in the history of American music”.
Brian Owens truly delivered as he and his band created quite a beautiful experience. First and foremost, energetic soulfulness permeated throughout the entire performance. The smooth tones of the saxophone blended with the magic of the band’s sound and Brian’s piano playing to bring that sensual soul and funk solid foundation to the set’s beginning songs such as “Pride and Joy” and “Heard It Through the Grapevine”.
Brian explained to the audience that he believed Marvin Gaye to be the greatest vocalist of the 20th Century. Through Marvin’s diverse single hits, Owens emulated the magic as he expressed character through song. He then introduced the talented Loren Battley to join him as they wonderfully sang duet through a few of the songs Marvin sang with Tammi Terrelle: “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.
Audience participation was highly encouraged as Owens set up the groove in inviting the crowd to sing along during “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Dancing in the seats was prevalent, you couldn’t help but let the music flow over you. As the night progressed, however, you felt that before the evening was over, the rhythm was going to move you up onto your feet and you will dance.
After humorously introducing the “Love Section” of the show by singing clips of Gaye’s love songs intensely with passion for those few moments, the audience filled in parts to “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”. However, Owens gives the audience a few ground rules as the crowd literally went wild upon hearing the first few notes of “Let’s Get It On”. Some of the audience members got inspired to dance their way to the front of the stage.
Brian performed nuances of Marvin when he sang those love songs; then segued into a mixed blend of “Sexual Healing” with a loving shout out to his wife. As the band slowed down to a sweet simmering silence, Owens shimmied nicely to the beginning notes of “Got To Give It Up”. More people made their way to the front of the stage as the bass was slapping deeply and glow sticks were dancing due to the audience at the rear section of the amphitheater gleefully adding to the festivities. To further the party excitement, Owens directed a sing-along where the female audience members sang “Keep On Dancing” and the male audience members sang “Got To Give It Up”. This was a joyful way to lead into intermission.
I was able to make my way to the Dr. Bronner’s display kiosk and speak with Krystin Costales of Events and Myrna Olea of Customer Service. Dr. Bronner’s is the primary sponsor of the Moonlight Present Series and was wonderfully represented. Krystin and Myrna were generous in sharing their information of the company and trial samples of their ALL-ONE! Products. I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint pure-castile soap and peppermint toothpaste and was delighted to be able to acquire a few extra samples to share with my group so they could try them.
As the second portion of the show commenced, Brian Owens took a moment to give an honorable mention to Veterans Day 2017. He took the time to acknowledge the men and women of our armed forces in the audience and asked them to stand so that we could express our thanks through applause. As a Veteran himself, Owens expressed his gratitude to his comrades-in-arms before he lead into a heartfelt rendition of “What’s Going On”.
Starting with “Inner City Blues”, you could hear a yell cry or an “Oh yeah!” amongst the crowd. Grown men were throwing down in dance because the “jam was on” as Motown songs from other artists were performed. The audience was more than delighted. Songs such as The Temptations’ “My Girl”, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” gave Vistans more opportunity to show and prove that we do know how to party in this town. As the audience was lead into another split singing participation during Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, all were on their feet to send warmth and Vista, California love to the people of St. Louis, Missouri. While the audience was still singing to each other, the band danced and made their way off stage leaving a magical experience in their wake.
For more on Brian Owens and The Deacon of Soul and tour information, please check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/brianowenssoul/
For more information on the Moonlight Present Series and other Moonlight productions, please go to their website at http://www.moonlightstage.com/
For more on all Dr. Bronner’s ALL-ONE! Products, please go to their website at https://www.drbronner.com/