Monday, May 4, 2009

Music feature: Cook, Taylor, perfect weather made 28th SunFest special

American Idol David Cook on stage Saturday at SunFest.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

By Thom Smith

WEST PALM BEACH -- Cool breeze, Clear sky. Jubilant crowd. And David Cook headlining.

Saturday night at SunFest couldn’t have been better, even if Cook’s heart wasn’t entirely into his show. Nevertheless, the performance showed that the 2008 winner of American Idol has the goods to become America’s idol.

Unbeknownst to the audience, Cook’s family had converged on Terre Haute, Ind., where his brother Adam lay dying with a brain tumor. Backstage at SunFest, though his brother surely was on David’s mind, the budding star didn’t say much, except to tell a few SunFest officials that shortly after the show he was taking a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C. to serve as grand marshal and run in the Race for Hope, a road race to raise money for brain cancer research.

Backstage he was humble, signing autographs, posing for photos, enduring dozens of kisses from giddy women and girls. When someone remarked that the world’s smartest people are left-handed, he joked, “Well, I guess I’m the exception.”

Then, recalling his good fortune in the past year, he added, ”It’s been an incredible year, and I’ve loved it. I’m so fortunate to be here.”

Cook opened with The World I Know, Heroes and We’re Only Honest, and as fans jockeyed for a better view of their new hero, he teased, “I’ve never seen so many scantily clad women . . . I’ve never seen so many scantily clad men either. . . I’ve never seen this many people into live music all day long. It’s been a great trip.”

Midway through the set, he introduced a special fan, “the Princess of Brunei,” and asked the shy teenager to take a bow.

She was in South Beach when she heard about Cook’s concert. After a couple of phone calls, with a request that her presence not be announced, she and several friends and one very large bodyguard were in the VIP area onstage.

Word circulated that she’ll soon celebrate her 18th birthday. Don’t be surprised if Cook sings at the party.

Ed Roland, left, lead vocalist of Collective Soul,
talks with two members of Needtobreathe:
bassist Seth Bolt and lead vocalist Bear Rinehart.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

Introductions out of the way, Cook borrowed a trick from bluesman Buddy Guy and took his guitar on a stroll through the audience. A few songs later, he surprised everyone, including himself, by climbing the lighting scaffold at the side of the stage.

“I’ll probably never been allowed to do that again,” he said, then added, “I hope you guys have enjoyed tonight as much as I have.”

The show over, he paused backstage for fan pictures and autographs, signing three guitars to be auctioned at various charity events, including next year’s SunFest Coconut Ball. Two hours later, Adam Cook was dead and David was catching his plane for D.C.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now,” he said in the morning rain. “I go on the stage every night and I make noise. That’s my job, and it’s an amazing job. And I have everybody here, hopefully who voted, to thank for that.”

“I lost one today,” he said, referring to his brother, “but I’ve gained 9,000, and I will be here every year that they will have me.”

The race raised $2 million for brain cancer research.

James Taylor, right, dwarfed by his image on the Viewtron.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

As usual, SunFest offered a little bit of everything. Fan favorites among relatively new groups included Kinky, an electronic alternative group from Mexico; folky, bluesy, hip-hopping Citizen Cope; and reggae dubbers Pepper and Slightly Stoopid.

Among the more tried and true names, UB40 packed the Meyer Amphitheatre, Randy Bachman took them back to the ‘60s and ‘70s with a string of hits from The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, and then there was James Taylor, who turned 61 in March but was like a kid in a candy store.

Cook’s presence attracted fans from across the nation, the most of any performer ever,” sales director Diana Craven said Saturday night. “We’re very pleasantly surprised by the turnout. Times are tough, and we’re aware of that, but our whole idea was to get people to have a good time. It seems to be working.”

Festival fans Renee and Fred Banks, along with
Vicki Caulfield and John Ray,
celebrate their 24th year at SunFest.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

The 28th SunFest was blessed with some of the best weather in the festival’s history. No rain, not too hot. Attendance figures are weeks away, but Craven hopes turnout approached last year’s 270,000.

James Taylor’s first ever SunFest gig also helped sell tickets. Even his Thursday afternoon sound check was worth listening to. Taylor, in fact, may be more of an American idol than Cook, having had hit first hit 41 years ago. He’s won five Grammys and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

His 20-song set included chestnuts -- Every Day, You’ve Got a Friend, Mexico (He called it The Swine Flu Song) -- and tracks from Covers, his latest album covering such ‘60s hits as It’s Growing, Get a Job and Road Runner.

His fastest song was lazier than David Cook’s slowest, but both stars struck heartfelt chords with their audiences, which despite the artists’ difference in ages, seemed remarkably similar.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

TV weathermen Steve Weagle, left, of NBC affiliate WPTV,
and Mike Lyons, of ABC affiliate WPBF, taking in SunFest.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

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