On Sunday, Jose Feliciano lights a (figurative) fire under the new Levitt Pavilion stage.
The singer/guitarist/songwriter is a very appropriate act for the already-sold-out grand opening of the redesigned bandshell (and — be still, my heart and bladder) actual bathrooms. He’s popular, talented and a fantastic performer.
But the Weston resident — who is donating his fee back to the pavilion’s building fund — is hardly the 1st Very Big Name to appear at the Levitt. In fact, a look back at nearly 40 years of headliners reads like a Billboard Who’s Who.
Foreigner. Frankie Valli. The Doobie Brothers. Southside Johnny. Blues Traveler. Tom Jones. Don McLean. Kenny Loggins. Smokey Robinson. Roberta Flack. Tito Puente. Judy Collins. Al Hirt. Cab Calloway. Andy Williams. Ray Charles. Count Basie. Buddy Rich. All have performed benefit concerts (the only time the Levitt sells tickets, though some folks sit on Jesup Green and enjoy the concerts gratis).
Some artists did not have to travel far. In fact, they could have walked to the Levitt. Michael Bolton, Ashford & Simpson, Meatloaf, Corky Laing and Neil Sedaka are Westporters who headlined Levitt shows. Dave Brubeck lived in Wilton.
Weston’s Keith Richards made a memorable appearance at a Willie Nelson concert. (Willie drove here in his famed tour bus.) Keith ambled onstage with his guitar, said “I’ve always wanted to play with Willie,” and performed 2 memorable duets. You can’t make this stuff up.
Some of the shows were not as memorable — hey, it happens. The Drifters and Temptations may have included an actual Drifter and Tempt, but they were clearly past their sell-by date.
So were the Beach Boys, who had the misfortune of being moved to the stifling Staples fieldhouse because of bad weather.
Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the actual guys, but they too were a bit long in the tooth.
Yet those few dogs are more than overshadowed by the dozens of great shows. Not many suburban towns boast open-air, summer shows by Huey Lewis & the News, America, Dave Mason, the Four Tops, Dickey Betts, the Chieftains, Chuck Mangione, John Sebastian, Robert Goulet and Tony Bennett.
My favorite memory, though, may be Buckwheat Zydeco. It’s a long way from Louisiana to Westport, and this might have been the whitest audience he ever saw. But he and his band — with their accordion, guitar, keyboard and (my favorite) washboard — had hedge fund managers, housewives (and househusbands) dancing in the grassy aisles.
Those aisles are now re-sodded. There’s a new stage, concession stands, and (did I mention this earlier?) actual bathrooms.
On Sunday, there will also be Jose Feliciano. And the start of another 4 decades of remarkable entertainment, down by the river.
(No free tickets remain for Sunday’s Jose Feliciano concert. To join the wait list, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The lawn opens to ticket-holders at 5 pm. Click the Levitt Pavilion website to see more upcoming attractions. )