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Eagles concert provides ‘Peaceful, Easy Feeling’

Column by Jim Bishop

The stage lights came up, applause and cheers erupted, and I stared down on music legends. The Eagles had landed.

The incredibly popular band, formed in the early 1970s in Los Angeles, Calif., was in Charlottesville, Va., on its “Long Road Out of Eden” tour. Tickets, though outrageously priced, were available, the venue just one hour’s driving distance from Harrisonburg. Opportunity knocked, and I had to answer.

It felt especially good to make the excursion with daughter Sara, half my age and always ready for an adventure. I anticipated a mob scene, and it would be the early morning hours before we’d return home in the middle of a work week.

So, here we were, absorbing the sights and sounds together in the cavernous, 16,000-seat John Paul Jones area, part of the sprawling University of Virginia campus, on the eve of my 63rd birthday.

The concert was supposed to start at 8 p.m., but the hour drew nigh and nothing was happening except more people climbing steep steps and shoehorning themselves into the narrow cushioned seats with no leg room.

It appeared to me that money must not have been an issue in constructive the massive facility, completed in 2006. It helped that Paul T. Jones II, a 1976 U.Va. graduate made a $35 million commitment toward the state-of-the-art facility in honor of his father, John Paul Jones, a 1948 graduate of U.Va.’s School of Law. The arena is home to the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s and women’s basketball programs, concerts and community events.

I was taken by an amazing wrap-around graphic display with animated graphics for non-stop ads, including, of course, numerous U.Va. attractions and functions.

Ah, life in a capitalist society …

Speaking thereof, I tried not to think what we paid for tickets, and Sara and I had the cheap seats in the nosebleed section. I wondered what people shelled out for front row seating.

Tough economic times apparently weren’t stopping masses of people from standing in lines to purchase Eagles merchandise. Sara badly wanted a T-shirt or sweatshirt, but couldn’t bring herself to fork over $40 or $60 on top of what it already cost to drive there, parking and supper. I couldn’t really enjoy my five-dollar single dip ice cream cone.

At 8:15 p.m., the arena lights went out, a period of darkness ensued, spotlights drilled the huge stage, and four figures wearing dark suits cut loose with “Hold On,” from their “Long Road Out of Eden” double album. The audience went berserk.

The Eagles formed in 1971, the same year Anna and I moved from Indiana to Harrisonburg for me to take the job I remain in. While there have been some personnel changes from the early days, most notably Randy Meisner and Don Felder, two of the original members, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, have been constants.

Although together now for 37 years, the group disbanded in 1980, then got back together in 1994. (“We never really broke up. We just took a 14-year vacation,” Glenn Frey announced at their first live performance that year). From 2001 to the present, group members are Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit along with Henley and Frey.

The Eagles are one of the most successful American recording artists ever, with five number one singles, six number one albums (their “Greatest Hits, 1971-75,” is the best-selling album in U.S. history with nearly 30 million copies sold to date; I have it on vinyl) and five Grammy awards, including “record of the year” for “Hotel California” in 1977.

Ah, what a way to take it to the limit. …

The concert showcased vocal work by each band member. What a hoot to see Joe Walsh perform his self-effacing ’78 tune, “Life’s Been Good,” standing on the edge of the stage, a camera mounted on his cap projecting images of the audience onto a large overhead screen. Don Henley’s raw voice seemed tailor-made for his rendition of “The Boys of Summer” and “Dirty Laundry.”

To what does one attribute the band’s staying power? I credit well-written songs with memorable melodies, lyrics that tell stories and distinctive, soaring group harmonies. Overall, they almost sounded better live than on recordings, and from where I sit, the dazzling light show, syncopated with the music, wasn’t necessary; their presentation held up on its own.

As soon as the lights came up for intermission, about every third person pulled out their cell phones and started yakking or text-messaging. Something else: these pesky devices have replaced cigarette lighters when the arena darkens and the multitudes wave their cell phones back and forth in time to a slow, soulful number.

I was a bit disappointed that two personal favorites, “Tequila Sunrise” and “Seven Bridges Road,” weren’t in the repertoire, but it wouldn’t have been possible for the group to perform all their hits in one concert. I didn’t expect “Desperado,” another favorite, to be their encore number, but definitely a grace note to end on.

What a great way to spend about three hours on a Wednesday evening in May, soaring with Eagles. All too soon, it was back to my (lame) duck routine, this aging rocker trying his best not to quack up in navigating the long road out of Charlottesville in heavy, after-midnight traffic.

Ah, life in the fast lane …

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

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