Blue Sky Riders: On Tour, but “Finally Home” on January 22
Gary calls it the “45 degree angle tour”. He claims that at the start of each concert, every head in the audience is turned at 45 degrees, looking at Kenny. Why, he says, I did a show in Pennsylvania about a week and a half ago without pants, and nobody, not even the reviewers noticed. By the end of each show, he jokes, “I’m getting about a ten degree sway. I’ll take that; I’ll take that!” Replies Loggins, “They’re looking at Georgia.”
It’s hard not to look at Georgia Middleman. She is lovely – petite with dark curly hair, cream colored skin and warm red lipstick. Georgia engages the audience, relinquishing her guitar to move gracefully from stage right to left. She sways to the music, leaning into the emotion of the lyric. She sings lead and harmony vocals with equal care; plays guitar, keys and dulcimer over the course of the evening.
Like her bandmates, Georgia was a solo artist and songwriter before she became a Blue Sky Rider. She co-wrote “I’m In”, recorded by Keith Urban, and the new Kenny Chesney song “While He Still Knows Who I Am”, among many other hits. To her left stands Gary Burr, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame songwriter, former lead singer of country rock group Pure Prairie League, former vocalist/guitarist for Ringo Starr (The Roundheads). To her right, Kenny Loggins stands tall at the microphone. Rock star, Grammy winner, artist and songwriter, Loggins has had a legendary career, but insists that in this band, the Riders are on equal footing.
Blue Sky Riders was Kenny’s idea, born from a 2008 songwriting collaboration that resulted in four songs and a friendship. In the course of writing those songs, Loggins and Burr discovered that one voice was a solid complement to the other. Kenny suggested adding a third band member, a female singer/songwriter to the mix, and the addition of Georgia’s warm tone produced a vocal blend that Kenny declares “comes once in a lifetime”.
That blend has been on full display this fall during the band’s first headlining tour, a preview and warm-up prior to the national tour that will follow the release of Blue Sky Riders‘ debut album, Finally Home, on January 22. In Connecticut last week, the band played all fourteen songs from the debut album to enthusiastic, sold out crowds at Infinity Hall and Ridgefield Playhouse.
The audiences heard music that is upbeat, positive and melodic, crossing genres from country to pop rock to folk and back again. There are melody lines that speak in Loggins’ voice, and others that bear a clear Nashville imprint. There are lyrics that reflect Georgia’s optimism, Gary’s insight and Kenny’s introspection, and those lines come in succession. Nearly all of the fourteen original songs on the disc were co-written by all three songwriters and represent their combined efforts.
As he introduced the song “Another Spring”, Kenny explained that in recent years he has bicycled through the fire ravaged foothills of California, passing blackened tree stumps and fallen limbs along the way. Some months after the second fire, he was surprised to discover new, green shoots emerging from the black oak trunks and realized that life was coming back much sooner that he had expected. It was going to take another spring, but it was coming back. Said Kenny, “That’s a pretty good metaphor for a bunch of us.”
As the song began, Gary took the lead vocal in a strong, clear voice. Georgia and Kenny followed with individual lines, then all combined for the chorus: It’s probably going to take another spring. It’s alright; everything in its own time. It’s alright; even this old broken heart of mine will find a way. It’s gonna be o’kay. Delivered in a tight, three part harmony, it was a message of both hope and reassurance.
The harmony continues on stage where the Blue Sky Riders balance music with storytelling and humor. There is good natured teasing between the band members. Georgia shares a dazzling smile with the audience. Gary Burr orchestrates the comedy hour. No sooner had Kenny finished his story of spring awakening, than Gary admitted he is often asked whether his songs also come from real life experience. “Nah,” he said, “I make shit up.”
Blue Sky Riders will return to the spotlight with the January release of Finally Home, bringing solid musicianship and a generous spirit to center and both sides of the stage. Here’s looking at you, Gary.
A few more words and photos of Blue Sky Riders are available at On Tap blog.