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Friday, July 29, 2011

Doobies Rock the Levitt with Some Funky Dixieland Jams

Doobies Rock the Levitt with Some Funky Dixieland Jams
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Four decades after forming the band in northern California, Tommy Johnston was still rocking as hard as ever. And sidekick Pat Simmons was right beside him, strumming his axe and launching himself through the air. As Johnston put it, they played “a little old stuff, a little new stuff and some in-between stuff” and had the crowd completely mobilized.

The Doobie Brothers rocked the Levitt Pavilion Thursday night as the star attraction of the organizing body’s Summer Gala, the most important annual fundraiser the Performing Arts group organizes, which helps fund the cost of offering over 50 free performances at the space each summer season. The evening began with a 7 p.m. reception, held under a large white tent on Jesup Green, for top supporters, donors and dignitaries, sponsored by Honda of Westport. The concert followed at 9 p.m., underwritten by Poland Spring, which provides major support for the entire year of programming.

The opening song was the classic “Jesus Is Just Alright (With Me)” and, at first, it seemed as if the crowd would be polite and sedate and remain seated in the many rows of white molded chairs that filled the pavilion field. But as the band launched into “Rockin’ Down the Highway”, audience members leapt to their feet and rushed the stagefront to begin shimmying and dancing. And as the Doobies fired up “Rock Me a Little While”, the group of dancers grew until the whole pit area was packed solid and sweat ran off the brows of concertgoers as they writhed in the humid night.

It was drummer John Hartman and lead vocalist/guitarist Johnston that planted the Doobie seed, forming a power trio called Pud, with bassist Greg Murphy, in 1969. They then teamed up with bass player Dave Shogren and guitarist Simmons, adopting the name Doobie Brothers in 1971. The origin of the name is attributed to a housemate, Keith Rosen, who noted the guys’ fondness for doobies (marijuana cigarettes). The group built a following in Northern California in and around San Jose, and with the Hells Angels. A first, self-titled album failed to make record charts but a second, in 1972, called “Toulouse Street”, gave life to “Listen to the Music” and “Jesus Is Just Alright”, which propelled the band into the spotlight.

Michael Hossack took over for Hartman on drums, Shogren was replaced by Tiran Porter and Bill Payne came in on keyboards. Their sound evolved into a blend of R&B, country, bluegrass, hard rock, roadhouse boogie, funk and rock & roll, which found its way into follow-up anthems “China Grove” and “Long Train Runnin’”, on their 1973 album “The Captain and Me”, and “Without You” on 1974’s “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.”

As Keith Knudsen replaced Hossack and Jeff Baxter joined as third lead guitarist, the Doobies-defining “Black Water” rolled off the band’s assembly line, forever embedding the line “I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand” into fans’ minds and driving multi-platinum sales for “Vices”.

In 1975, touring was taking a toll on the band and Michael McDonald was recruited from retired Steely Dan to step in for an ailing Johnston. McDonald’s voice became the Doobie’s new signature sound as evidenced on 1976’s “Takin’ It to the Streets” and 1978’s “What a Fool Believes”, written with Kenny Loggins and earning a grammy for Record of the Year.

The Doobies ultimately disbanded in 1981, but reformed in 1989 with a mix of old and new recruits, under the leadership of Johnston, Simmons and Hossack.

At the pre-concert reception, attended by some 150 people, which included Pavilion matriarch Mimi Levitt, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Second Selectman Shelly Kassen and a Who’s Who of area glitterati, recollections about the Doobies were rife.

Aryn Quinn, who came up from Manhattan for the show, said, “The first song I ever heard is ‘Black Water’. I remember listening to it on a small sky-blue transistor radio in bed. I was a little kid in the ‘70s and Steely Dan and the Doobies were the first rock bands I heard. The Doobies are musicians and Southern kick-ass rockers. The total package.”

Westporter Anita Parry said, “I’m from Minnesota originally and the Doobies were very big there back then. We all lived on the water so the ‘Black Water’ song was a favorite. They played at the Minnesota State Fair.”

Hyleri Katzenberg, who was surrounded by friends and husband Mark of the Katzenberg Kafe chain, exclaimed, “I’m a total Doobies fan. I’m looking to catch the sweat towel. My 30th high school reunion is this weekend and this is getting me in the vibe – it’s my kickoff to getting back to 18!”

Westporter John Stefani lived in Manila in the late 1970s and would often play a cassette tape of “The Best of the Doobie Brothers.” He said, “I would lay in bed, flipping my basketball against the ceiling, and wouldn’t stop until the entire tape was done.”

Providing an official town perspective, First Selectman Joseloff offered, “The Playhouse and the Pavilion are among the stars of Westport, particularly at nights like this that enable over 50 nights of free entertainment. The weather is cooperative… this is a fun night.”

Turnpike Shopping Center Opening Just Around the Corner

Turnpike Shopping Center Opening Just Around the Corner:
ShopRite to reopen Sept. 16; balance of complex by Oct. 1
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 7/29)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A tweak here, a tweak there, some paint here, some roof tiles there. Accent work is all that really remains to complete work on the Turnpike Shopping Center, the complex encompassing stores from 1901 to 2009 Black Rock Turnpike.

According to Larry Roberts, a managing partner at Turnpike Properties and an owner/partner of the complex, the ShopRite Supermarket half of the property is set for a Sept. 16 reopening while upgrades on the balance of the complex will be complex by the end of September.

Roberts, whose complex owner partners include Al and Ken Kleban, gave some background on the property, noting that the original lessee, going back to the mid-1970s, was First National, supermarket owners. “Then Shaw’s was assigned the lease, about 15 years ago, followed by Wakefern/ShopRite, in the summer of 2010.”

Roberts’ company (Roberts Associates) and Kleban Properties, met with Wakefern/ShopRite and extended the store’s lease. As part of the agreement, Roberts/Kleban agreed to upgrade ShopRite’s fa├žade. “We don’t do anything part way,” said Roberts. “Upgrades include resurfacing sidewalks, new facades and decorative roofing. We also expanded Webster Bank’s space, adding a drive-thru. In all, the property encompasses 110,000 square feet.”

Roberts’ group has put $2 million into the upgrade, which is mostly exterior work, while ShopRite has put in an estimated $5 million, for interior renovations. Roberts said the renovation work has gone along very smoothly. “The town has been very cooperative and is pleased with the progress,” said Turnpike Properties’ Facilities Manager Jeff Campbell, who has been onsite overseeing contractor work. “The general public is also very complimentary. People ask us more than 10 times a day when we’re going to open.”

Campbell mentioned that among improvements was the addition of recess lights and post lamps that are LED controlled. “They will provide big energy economies, using just a quarter of the power used before.”

As contract work moves down the homestretch, the following retailers continue to be open and conduct business: Party City, G.Q. Shoe Repair, J. Albert Johnson Jewelers, Audiodesign, Super Cuts, Choice Pet Supply, Eastern Mountain Sports, Webster Bank, Soccer Post, Shelton-Saxe Aesthetics, China Wok, Rehab Associates, Pearl Vision Center, Superior Cleaners, Billy’s Bakery, United States Post Office, Salon V and Tek Kwon Do Academy.

As for ShopRite, interior updates are nearly complete and shelves are already being stocked with non-perishable food items.

For more details about the project, visit

View Finder: Go Team!

View Finder: Go Team!
FLHS cheerleaders wash cars to raise funds
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 7/28)

Fairfield, CT – Standing curbside on Reef Road near the fire station with two hand-written posterboard signs saying WE CLEAN CARS, Mary-Kate O’Brien and Taylor Van Fleet flagged down passing cars and steered them toward the back of the station. The sixteen-year-olds were representing the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Varsity Cheerleading Squad, the balance of which was in the parking lot behind the station, hoses in hand.

No, not fire hoses, but the garden variety, used for watering plants or, in this case, washing down cars. For a small fee, any motorist could get their car washed between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, courtesy of the squad. All monies raised would help the team offset its expenses, including uniforms, music, choreography and travel.

While the girls sponged cars, scrubbed hubcaps and rinsed dirt off cars that came through, Coaches Jessica Young, 22, and Ashley Carolan, 21, looked on. Carolan mentioned that, in addition to this annual car wash effort, the team does a fundraiser at Stop & Shop in October, to benefit children with special needs involved in cheerleading.

The good intentions aside, it was clear the girls were having some good old soapy, sudsy, summer fun.

View Finder: Wayne from Maine

View Finder: Wayne from Maine
Kittery performer entertains moms & kids on Sherman Green
By Mike Lauterborn
(posted to 7/28)

Fairfield, CT – Wednesday July 27 marked the fourth of five scheduled Picnic Performances on downtown’s Sherman Green. Entertaining some 75 to 100 moms and children was Wayne from Maine, a duo from Kittery consisting of the Maine man himself and percussionist Jimmy James, known as the KoongaBoonga man.

As the audience, arranged on blankets and towels, looked on, the musical pair laid down “edu-tainment” designed to take listeners on an interactive musical journey to inspire the young and young-at-heart.

Sponsored by Trinity Church of Fairfield, the event also featured a face painting station, of which most children took advantage. Rainbows, sharks and other iconic symbols adorned cheeks and foreheads, lending a visual element to the audio experience.