Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
The first time I heard the Village People, I was a roller skate guard at a place called Gay Blades in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was one of those moment that you liked and feared as a skate guard. You loved it because the crowd got into their rhythmic lyrics and bass notes, but their fans also had a tendency to simultaneously crash to the varnished wooden floors in large piles to form a huge human obstacles course.
Of course the circa World War II large half moon aluminum skating rink is gone now, replaced by something distinctly ironic in its place. A 10-story hospital (Edward White) now looks over the speeding Interstate. It is amazing sometimes how the music still stays fresh in your mind and how 30+ years later, I can still recite the songs lyrics and remember some of their choreographed moves. But I still shudder every time the Tampa Bay Rays have a 70’s Night.
More for the fact that it embodies my teen angst days. My moves from Junior High to High School, those days when you sometimes felt awkward and uncoordinated, but still thought you had the “cool” factor going for you. So it was with a sense of apprehension, but utter curiosity that I wanted to see this late 1970’s “Boy Band” again up on the stage performing and doing their hits. And the group definitely did not disappoint us at all on Friday night.
Even though as a Rays credentialed photographer for the event, I only got to stand near the stage for the first two songs, then became a member of the huge crowd lingering and dancing on the Field Turf of Tropicana Field. All our favorite were still assembled in the group, the cowboy, construction worker, Indian, biker and the military soldier. But the biggest cheer went up when the police officer finally made his way to the front of the male chorus line singing just as sharp as those 8-track recording I have hidden in one of my many boxes in storage.
And it was great to see so many within the Rays Republic dress the part of the musicians (especially the teens) and hanging on their every lyric like we did back in the 70’s. Was a bit surreal to hear their songs again and parents teaching their young kids the body moves of such songs as “YMCA“. Was a great walk back into the past to see the crowd chant and sing hits like “Macho Man” and “In the Navy” that were first recorded when 50% of the crowd was either in diapers or not even a gleam in their parents eyes yet.
It was just pure adulterated fun for everyone and it is simply amazing how a novelty act from the forgettable era of disco can be so refreshing and entertaining when most of us are trying to forget those leisure suit and platform shoes days. And yes, back then I did have a male ‘fro. But back to the music. The group had their usual flair about them last night using props and mannerisms to evoke audience participation at different times in the concert. And maybe that is why they have endured for so long.
When the Village People perform, it is an all-out party scene complete with glittery caps, construction hats and even a few sequins. It caught my eye early that the construction worker might be a bit overdressed for normal work as his sequins on his plaid shirt, plus his one specially designed mirror sequined construction hat might not make it on the job site today. But it was the advent of fun, frolic and general sense of “getting down” that pegs this concert into it place in history.
And the pure fact that most of the group who sang back in 1981 were still present on stage last night just speaks to their special place in music lore. And even if most of their songs do not resonate anymore with us as ballads or socially conscious tunes, the group’s main focus still to have everyone moving, grooving and having a great time just letting go for a little while. But we all know that 50 percent of the crowd stayed for one tune. They all seemed to be waiting, anticipating and relishing in one lone vocal and dance song that will transcend generations long after we are gone from this Earth.
Everyone was waiting for the “YMCA” moment. And of course it was saved for the last song of the night. Because that was only right. You wanted to wrap up the party scene right on Friday night, and only the best will do. So the anthem of every wedding recital and corporate gathering had to be the last notes flowing through the air of the Trop. From the field to the Upper Deck, you could see the outlines of people forming the letters, signing the lyrics and maybe even a tear or two fell to remember a time when innocence was cherished by some of us.
The Village People were the perfect send-off to end the Rays “Turn Back the Clock” night. Not only did some of us get lost in the rhythm, but some of us remembered a time when things were simpler, more relaxed and just plain fun. Weird, I have a Dixie High School reunion party on Saturday night after the Rays game just down the street from Tropicana Field at MidTown Sundries. I am debating if I am going to show my mug to my old classmate today, but enthusiastic to the fact that tonight I was reminded why I enjoyed those times so much. Guess I might have an ulterior moment to go tonight…Maybe they will play “YMCA” for old times sake
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