The two-and-a-half hour midsummer night soft rock summit of pop legends and decades-long pals and collaborators Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald wasn’t billed as a “Yacht Rock” festival, but definitely could have been. Some folks in the childhood reliving, mostly middle-aged crowd sported captain’s hats to acknowledge just how hipster the term - coined sometime in the 2000s by the makers of the online video series “Yacht Rock” - has made this infectious style of music.
A sell-out crowd on the first of two nights under the stars sang along effortlessly with hit after hit because everyone grew up on them - and now it’s a “thing” that renders 32-45-year-old tunes not only timeless but ultra-cool like all retro music is when compared to anything on the pop charts today. When Loggins took the stage after a way too short five-song set by Cross, he said something like, “Christopher is the captain, but we’re all kind of trading off tonight.”
One of the venue’s great selling points for shows like these is the opportunity to hear songs we’ve heard a million times backed by the stunning Hollywood Bowl Orchestra – this night conducted by the esteemed Thomas Wilkins. The buoyant strings and horns sweeping behind Cross’ epic journey (and career-establishing hit) “Ride Like The Wind” made the tune more daring and adventurous than ever, while the orchestra’s more subtle caress of his signature Grammy-winning “Sailing” (whose vibe and title may be the inspiration behind the whole “Yacht Rock” phenomenon) took the dreamy ballad to a new level of emotional bliss.
The other highlight of Cross’ set was his Oscar-winning “Arthur’s Theme,” which he introduced by kindly reminding anyone who saw the Russell Brand remake that Dudley Moore was the best “Arthur.” The song’s lush sax solo was played by Andy Suzuki, part of an illustrious L.A. jazz ensemble (bassist David Hughes, drummer Gary Novak, pianist Mitch Forman) currently working with the artist. Though a five-song set is enough for Cross to play all the hits we have loved for nearly 40 years, this kind of band seriously deserves more stage time. Forman’s keys on a lengthy intro to and a solo during “Sailing” were truly mesmerizing. McDonald’s vocals were all over Cross’ first album, and it was exciting to get a first glimpse of the headliner playing keys and singing those familiar backing lines (“such a long way to go…”) on “Ride Like the Wind.”
Loggins’ set was definitely the highlight of the evening, taking us from the gentle acoustic graces of “Danny’s Song” (whose chorus, beginning with “Even though we ain’t got money” was fully sung by the swaying audience) and “House at Pooh Corner” through his high-octane classic soundtrack trifecta of “I’m Alright” (somewhere the gopher was dancing), the airborne “Danger Zone” (“Top Gun”) and his closer, the barnburner of the night that got everyone on their feet deliriously cutting loose to “Footloose.” Other fab moments were the ladies singing along to the holiday anthem “Celebrate Me Home,” which included a feisty Scott Bernard guitar solo and extended improvisational outro, and a playful yet mystical-minded “This Is It,” rendered energetically with its co-writer McDonald.
With his gloriously muffled vocal soulfulness parked firmly behind the piano, McDonald launched his closing set with the bang another mid-80s soundtrack favorite, the uplifting and inspirational Rod Temperton tune “Sweet Freedom,” backed by the booming brass of the orchestra. He followed with his ultra-familiar post-Doobies solo hit “I Keep Forgettin’” and then took the audience on a slight detour into more obscure territory. On a night where everyone came to rock or chill out to the hits, the singer sandwiched “On My Own,” his R&B/pop smash with Patti Labelle (whose parts were sung powerfully by backing vocalist Drea Rhenee) with a lengthy and passionate new tune (“Just Strong Enough”) from his new album Wide Open and a tender relative obscurity – “I Can Let Go Now,” sweetened majestically by the Orchestra – from his 1982 solo album debut.
With Loggins joining in the jam, McDonald closed with the indelible classics everyone was waiting patiently for, the three deliriously infectious singalongs that launched his career with the Doobie Brothers: “Minute By Minute,” “What A Fool Believes” (which McDonald and Loggins co-wrote) and the anthemic free-for-all encore, “Takin’ It To The Streets,” which featured Loggins and Rhenee sharing lead vocals on the second verse. Cross cheerfully chimed in with crisp guitar solos on these last two, wrapping the whole evening “at sea” with the same collaborative vibe that these three shared back decades before all the Yacht Rock branding set sail.