Walking in early to the historic, gorgeous Cascade Theater, I was trying to get a sense of what Pat Benatar fans were like. Being an aspiring jazz-fusion bassist in the late 1970s, I never really followed rocker Pat or her producer/guitarist husband Neil Giraldo.
At the venue, what I assumed would be a routine concert prelude turned out to be anything BUT routine.
(Cue the screeching pre-train-wreck sound effects.)
After the crackerjack staff at the Cascade found our misplaced backstage passes, we were ushered to a “meet and greet” line. If you didn’t know, a meet and greet group is a bunch of people who usually pony up a lot of extra cash or win an opportunity to meet and greet their favorite stage-bound idol right before a show. Sounds cool, right?
Meet and greet line, against the wall.
Well, most in our group of 15 were excitedly anticipating what it would be like to get to meet Pat and Neil backstage – and many in our group eagerly held their favorite vinyl record albums and copies of Pat Benatar’s recent book, all sure to be autographed by Ms. Benatar and Mr. Giraldo.
We were told by Ms. Benatar’s handlers: “There will be no autographs. Ms. Benatar doesn’t like photos, so no pictures. No questions. No noise. No getting out of the line. No calling ‘Neil, Neil.’ He likes to be called ‘Spyder.’ Just stand in line and wait for your photograph to be taken by our house photographer.”
NO-NO, NO-NO-NO! (The lyrics from “Heartbreaker” were pounding into my brain.) So much for my chance to write a fun little review of the backstage magic most people rarely get to see.
“Next!” came the call.
(Mooooo … and I ambled forth as called.)
I nervously walked up to Mr. Giraldo for my prescribed slot to have a photo with him. But, I’ve been around celebrities most of my life. I was there for the questions and maybe a little story!
I stepped up to the photo-plate as ordered and personally welcomed Neil (doh! ‘Spyder’) to Shasta County and I mentioned he had a packed house looking forward to the show. He smiled brightly at me and just said, “thanks.” I asked him if they had done anything fun or special while they were in town. Smiling widely again he said, “no.” (Poof!)
I then started to quickly ask him what new projects he had coming up–
“NEXT!” came the interruptive call as I was ushered back into our humbled line for a photo slot with Ms. Benatar.
“No?” “Thanks?!” So much for my chance to warm up Neil Giraldo for quick interview. I waited uncomfortably for my marching orders to face Ms. Benatar.
Maybe she just had a bad day. Maybe this was the 5,000th meet-and-greet she’d had to endure this summer. Whatever it was, Ms. Benatar did not appear to be in the backstage-magic-kind-of-mood. I dutifully sank back into my herd and began to think the worst while quietly mooing my discontent. Then, right before my eyes: real magic …
I was standing in line behind a charming young mother-to-be, Ms. Nicole Schwerdt, who works at US Bank. Neil, I mean, Spyder, briskly walked by our line on his way to smartly wash up his hands after glad-handing our lot. And before I could pounce on him for that pesky question that got away, he looked at Nicole and politely said, “Hi. Excuse me for asking, are you going to have a child?” Nicole mentioned that she was about 7 months along.
Seemingly concerned, Spyder then asked if she was sitting close to any of the low-frequency producing sub-woofers. She wasn’t sure. Mr. Giraldo then asked to see her ticket. He noted that Ms. Schwerdt was just three rows in front of the booming speakers. Neil and Nicole had about a five-minute conversation about the potential effects low-frequency sound waves could have on a mother-to-be and her child. Spyder was so genuinely concerned for this mother and child that he instantly arranged with the great Cascade management and staff to order up a much better seat further from the subs and closer to the show. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing! Backstage magic: REAL MAGIC!! I mentioned to Spyder that I thought it was a really cool thing to do for Nicole and I asked why he took the time and trouble to do that. He looked at me square in the eyes and smilingly said, “I’m a father, man – and I’m a Godfather. Of course I should do that!” As a totally committed dad myself, I really started liking that guy a lot. Only after he knew the situation was safe, Spyder walked off to the calm of his dressing room with 15 pairs of beaming and admiring eyes following him as he left. I guess I really shouldn’t whine too much about my raw hide in the meet-and-greet trough. It was worth witnessing that level of humanity from a real-life rock legend named Spyder!
But what about Pat?
At this point you may well ask, but what about the show, for crying out loud?! Well, after the photo round-up at the Cascade Corral, we were instructed to walk to the back of the theater and wait in the dark to be seated. While waiting to be ushered forth I got the chance to quietly and quickly chat with the effervescent James Mazzotta of Enjoy Magazine fame. After going through that backstage gauntlet I felt much safer hanging out with James. I asked him the pedestrian question: if he liked Pat Benatar. He said to me that the first record (45 RPM single) he ever bought was when he was in the fifth grade and that it was Pat Benatar’s, “We Live for Love.” Wow. He was an equally enthused fan of Pat Benatar … just like the hundreds of others I was about to meet. In a BIG way!
During the first power-chorded assaults, we struggled to dig out her lyrics, which seemed quite sunk in the mix. Yet, I can’t remember too many times when I saw a standing ovation after the first song. Clearly, this was a loyal Benatar crowd. But that was just the beginning of where Ms. Pat Benatar’s real magic lies. It’s with her fans. And especially when she’s interacting with them!
After the sound snapped into lock step during the second song with Pat, she received thunderous appreciation from the sold-out house. I could see Ms. Benatar tapping into a new energy and wanting to reciprocate to her seemingly newfound Shasta County friends. Pat let loose, “Cause we’re feeling pretty good right now, we’re going to pretty much play everything for you tonight!”
Opening up the night further with their sharp-shooting songs like “Shadows of the Night” and “In the Heat of the Night,” they seemed to really rally the fans. Then Pat gave a heartfelt tribute to our troops and veterans by offering up a song called, “Invincible”:
“This bloody road remains a mystery
This sudden darkness fills the air
What are we waiting for? Won’t anybody help us?
What are we waiting for?
We can’t afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It’s a do or die situation – we will be invincible.”
Pat then reminisced. “We used to write observational songs about someone else’s pain … Once in a while, a personal one sneaks through. This one is called ‘Promises in the Dark.'” The crowd fell in love all over again.
The Cascade ushers were like secret service agents on steroids, trying in vain to keep everyone respectful of the mandate: No Pictures! Respecting the protocol and the hard working volunteers of the Cascade, I was probably the only person in the theater NOT taking pictures. Then … it happened! Pat and Neil asked the loving crowd to pull out their cell phones and light em’ up! “Go ahead and take pictures. We don’t care.” Pat and Spyder went on and asked the crowd to hold up their cell phones and cameras and sway their little liberal lights to the music under Spyder’s conduction. Our secret service ushers seemed to welcome the break.
Their acoustic set was really fun and included some storytelling, book-promoting and cool trivia facts about the band’s history. In keeping with their promise, as long as there are children being abused they will keep singing “Hell is for Children.” That tradition and tribute has been ongoing for many years now. From 8 to 80, the multigenerational Benatar Army was growing.
It was really fun to watch Pat and Spyder, her husband for over almost 30 years, romantically build each other up while sharing heartwarming stories of their rich professional artistry of more than 30 years. With only an occasional electronic loop thrown in here and there, the music was absolutely flawless, polished and unexpectedly huge for a three-piece band with a singer. The bassist, Mick Mahan, was rock-solid — and probably sent Nicole into an early labor in spite of Spyder’s gallant intervention. The drummer, Myron Grombacher, was an absolute ANIMAL! What a colorful, heart-stopping, meter-master player he was! Wow!!
The real star of the night was the Pat Benatar Army! It was a mutual jam the whole night long. The crowd sang along and Pat loved it.
All Fired Up
Shadows of the Night
Promises in the Dark
You Better Run – Acoustic
I Don’t Want to be Your Friend – Acoustic
We Belong – Acoustic
Hell is For Children
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Love is a Battlefield
Let’s Stay Together
In this reviewer’s freshly humbled opinion, Pat Benatar’s performance at the Cascade Theater truly proved that her exceptional vocal range is as intact and powerful as ever – and reminiscent of her dynamic “Crimes of Passion” album. How the heck a tiny, five-foot-nothing, 57-year-old chick can sound like she is 12 feet tall and 19 years old can only be explained with a word: Magic.
For more info on this love story, check out the fan club website.
Alan Ernesto Phillips is a proud son of Shasta County, a proud father of two daughters, and a local musician. He is a parenting educator, chemical-dependency counselor, victim-awareness counselor and developmental-asset builder and trainer. He also is a Clio and Telly award-winning filmmaker who produced and directed political campaigns for congressmen, senators, governors and one president (Ronald Reagan). His clients also included Coca-Cola, NIKE, CBS News and NOVA documentaries. He is a current board member and public affairs officer for the Northern California Hispanic Latino Coalition.
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