I’ve been covering music in The Villages for eight years but never saw such an emotionally charged, powerful and entertaining event as I witnessed Saturday at Brownwood Paddock Square.
“Rocky and the Rollers 23rd Anniversary Party” was one of those ultra-rare concerts that brought goosebumps and heart-pounding awe over the power of music. It was an all-star gathering of Villages’ performers who gave all. This was not only a celebration of Gerry “Rocky” Seader, but also the bond of music that unites a community.
We desperately need that in these troubled, divisive times.
The Villagers who packed the streets, sidewalks and seats in Brownwood were a big part of the show. I’ve never seen so many people at the Brownwood Square. The crowd must have been in the thousands.
This was not your typical Villages Square crowd, out for some booze and line dancing. These people exhibited a passion for the music and performers. They only added to the celebratory musical aura that permeated everything.
The concert kicked off at 4 p.m. as Rocky and the Rollers played for three hours. Then at 7 p.m. the surprise guests started arriving and the musical heat hit the boiling point.
The most emotional moment came when Al Morse, one-time lead singer of the Rollers, came on stage.
Morse has rarely appeared with the band over the past two years as he battles prostate cancer. But the Soul Man was fired up and ready for this moment.
Al made like “Wicked” Wilson Pickett with a rousing version of “Land of 1,000 Dances.” Later on, Morse and the Rollers would nearly blow the roof off the stage with a rollicking version of Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose.”
Then, Morse teamed with Kathleen Kane on a version of “Proud Mary” that would have made Ike and Tina Turner proud. Morse and Kane sang, danced, screamed and rocked like there was no tomorrow.
I’ve often seen Kathleen Kane perform, but I’ve never seen her better than this night. She turned Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” into a scorching, liberating female screed.
You might think that Johnny Wild –Andy Matchett – and Rocky and the Rollers are rivals. Both Johnny Wild and the Delights, as well as Rocky’s band, play the oldies with a spirited stage show.
On this night, though, on stage was Johnny Wild, backed by Rocky and the Rollers. It was an oldies match straight out of rock and roll heaven.
Wild seemed inspired. He ripped into “Blue Suede Shoes,” with fearless abandon, jumping and dancing while knocking off hot riffs on his guitar. Somewhere, Carl Perkins is smiling.
Wild wasn’t finished. “Anybody out there like Roy Orbison?” he asked to a reply of thunderous applause and screams. Matchett then did his Wild Thing, and nailed “Pretty Woman,” including the famous Orbison growl.
Steve Santo is the singer who replaced Al Morse in Rocky and the Rollers. It’s a nearly impossible task, but Santo is an explosive talent with incredible range.
Santo stomped and kicked his way through the old Ides of March number, “Vehicle.” The real treat came when Santo took on the Righteous Brothers’ classic, “Unchained Melody.”
Now, no one can top the late Bobby Hatfield’s solo on that song, but Santo more than did it justice. It almost seemed like a religious experience when he looked up to a starlit sky and sang “I need your love/God speed your love to me.”
Bobby Blackmon might be the king of the blues in The Villages. He came on stage in a rocking mood, with a couple of steamy, soulful classics, “Turn On Your Love Lights” and “Knock on Wood.”
Peggy March was the national headliner of this show thanks to her all-time hit, “I Will Follow Him.” She sang that song, but really brought the house down with a fiercely emotional “Bridge Over Trouble Water.”
Other performers included the Leesburg Blues Brothers, Dawn DiNome, Uncle Bob’s Rock Shop, Clark Barrios and Kaity Strong. A cool-rocking dude named Brian Russo stepped on stage for some hot licks.
And let’s not forget the reason for this remarkable celebration: Mr. Rocky Seader and his band of Rollers.
These guys were just as inspired as the performers and played with energy for nearly 7 hours.
“We got here at 9 in the morning,” Rocky said. “But we feel great. This is such a special night. We’re not tired; we’re going to keep going.”
The Rollers, past and present feature: Al Layton, Bruce Wallace, Steve Falkner, Rick Abbott, Pat Gallo, Bruce Nardi and Doug Spoonamore.
“These guys are something else,” Johnny Wild said. “I can’t believe I waited this long to play with them.”
The night, however, belonged to Rocky. Near the end of the show, Rocky and all the guests crowded the stage to sing “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight,” even though no one wanted the night to end.
“I’m trying not to get emotional,” he said in a hoarse voice. “To see all these people come out to play with us; and all the fans – it’s just so special. We’re going to do this again for more anniversaries.”
This was a show to feel “the love,” Kathleen Kane said. “I’m not surprised. I’ve known Rocky 20 years and he has the biggest heart in the world.”
This night was all about the heart and soul of Rocky and the Rollers — and The Villages.