Friday, June 7, 2013

SINGING POL: U.S. Congressman Prepares to Rock Out at the San Diego County Fair

Former U.S. Rep. John Hall (center) and his band Orleans
I grew up in Iowa and still carry a bit of that Midwestern boy inside me. Once a year, I'm allowed to "let my Iowa out" and embrace my bucolic roots at the San Diego County Fair. The fair, the fourth largest in North America, is a refreshing reminder of the rural roots that so many allegedly “hip” San Diegans share. 

I never tire of watching La Jolla trendoids attend the Swifty Swine Pig Races and chow down on terminally greasy food. The vibe is pure Americana, and there's no escape. People who go to this fair dare to be square, and audiences who attend concerts at the fair's Heineken Granstand Stage will notice a striking visual juxtaposition: cow, sheep and pig barns to your right, the scenic Del Mar coastline to your left.

At this year’s fair, which runs from June 8 to July 4, the big stage will feature such acts as Train, The Steve Miller Band, Colbie Caillat, Martina McBride, Bad Company (with Paul Rodgers), REO Speedwagon and Adam Lambert. But one of the more curious grandstand acts this year is "Sail Rock," which features soft-rocking radio stalwarts Orleans, Christopher Cross, Firefall and Player. It'll be especially interesting to see Orleans, whose co-founder John Hall only recently returned to the fold after serving as a U.S. Congressman in New York from 2007 to 2011. 

Hall, who's always adeptly juggled his love for music with his political passions, helped create Orleans in 1972. The band recorded four albums in the 70's including the "Waking and Dreaming" record featuring the mildly controversial "naked" cover (above). Hall and his band enjoyed several monster hits including "Still the One," Dance With Me" and "Love Takes Time." Hall left the band in 1978 and made two solo records, "John Hall" and "Power," which featured the anti-nuclear anthem that later became the theme of the legendary No Nukes concerts, recorded by the Doobie Brothers with James Taylor. 

Orleans co-founder John Hall running for Congress
Hall's political career began in earnest when he was elected to the Ulster County (New York) Legislature in 1989. In the late 1990's, he was elected twice as trustee of the Saugerties NY Board of Education, where his fellow trustees elected him president. And then in 2006 he decided to run for Congress. 

Hall won the primary with 48 percent in a four-way race and then beat incumbent Republican Sue Kelly in the fall election. The New York Times endorsed Hall, noting he was a musician but “not a posturer or political dabbler. His platform is ambitious and coherent, with calls for universal health coverage, a return to fiscal discipline and a full-bore national effort to achieve energy independence. He blends a deep-blue idealism with a crisp command of details."

Not sure the Times ever gave Hall's pop band such a glowing review - but they should have. Orleans, which featured undeniably catchy hooks and the crisp, strong singing of Hall and Larry Hoppen, was one of the definitive vocal bands of the late 70s. 

Meanwhile, the curiously titled fair gig (Sail Rock??) also features Grammy winner Christopher Cross ("Sailing" "Ride Like the Wind"), ethereal hit makers Firefall ("You Are the Woman" "Just Remember I Love You") with cofounder Jock Bartleyand Player ("Baby Come Back") with founding member and lead singer Peter Beckett. Should be a nice evening of soft rock. And, lest you worry, I don't think Hall will be making any political speeches. But he may not be able to help himself.

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