Did you know that if you have no ticket to see Huey Lewis & the News when they play at the Sonoma County Fair, there are perfectly dependable other options for enjoying yourself? For example: Standing outside the Chris Beck Arena with all the other ticketless Huey Lewis fans! And let me tell you, readers, it’s just as good as watching the show from inside. I mean, Huey Lewis isn’t exactly the hunk he used to be, and there’s only a few other guys in the band still around from the classic Sports era—you wouldn’t recognize anyone else anyway! (And don’t even think about getting the Tower of Power horn section or the guys from the 49ers, either!)
What you will get is near-perfect sound, depending on the wind. Every word of “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll” will be audible! You’ll also totally be able to see the stage anyway, because the front doors to the arena will be wide open. Best of all, you’ll get the fun-loving company of the average Huey Lewis fan in the year 2011. (They wear “vintage” repro shirts that say “I Heard the News”; they fist-pump while mouthing the words to “Jacob’s Ladder”; they dance poorly, and smoke!)
But you will also recall the glory days of the band, and lament that those days are over. Forty-five painful minutes will go by while Huey Lewis & the News play mostly cover material from their new ‘soul’ record. You will start counting the times a John Deere tractor drives by outside the gates to amuse yourself, or wander down near the livestock pavilion. “Why in the world,” you will think, “don’t they scatter a hit in here? Why is he ‘getting back to his roots’ when the cool thing about Huey Lewis & the News was that they implemented elements of their roots—soul and new wave and doo-wop and Thin Lizzy—and created something greater than the sum of its parts?”
All this will go through your head while Huey tries to pull off a Joe Tex song, and you’ll be glad you didn’t buy a $40 ticket from the bored-looking teenager sitting inside the fairgrounds ticket booth… but then… what’s this? The opening strains of “Heart and Soul”?! Yes! Finally! Who cares that Huey can’t really hit the high notes anymore—it’s friggin’ “Heart and Soul!”
You will hope at this point that it’s gonna be hit after hit, and even though the flow is interrupted by more new songs and a guest singer from Vallejo, they’ll start rolling in: “I Want a New Drug,” “Do You Believe in Love?” Huey’s patter will be uninspired—he’ll make comments like “Have I plugged our new album yet?” when he’s already plugged it five times—but it’ll really get miserable when he starts with the older hits. “We wrote this song 25 years ago in Marin County,” he’ll say at one point, sounding weary, “and we never would have guessed that we’d have to play it every… single… night.” (Cue intro to “The Power of Love,” cue Huey mentally committing hari-kari.)
You will then realize that all Huey Lewis wants in life is to be in a bar band again, and then you’ll feel bad for Huey Lewis because he can never, ever go back to that. This sympathy will conflict with your resentment over his refusal to perform hit songs, and you’ll start counting the ones up he hasn’t played yet: “If This is It,” “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” “Doin’ It All for My Baby,” “Hip to be Square,” although maybe they stopped playing that last one since that horrible scene in American Psycho. You’ll sort of feel bad if that was the case. But you’ll also want “Walking on a Thin Line.”
Then you’ll remember that if someone searches your own name on YouTube, what pops up is “Walking on a Thin Line,” which leads down the inevitable path of nostalgia and how much Huey once meant to you. How seeing him in Petaluma in 1985 was your first concert ever. How your family listened to him constantly in the car. How you once entered a talent show lip-syncing “Bad is Bad.” How you once wrote that column summing up all your thoughts on Huey Lewis, and how it could have gone on five times longer. How the baby boomers like your parents needed Huey Lewis in the ’80s—he made them feel awesome for growing up and being 35 and getting married and having kids and buying houses and being domesticated. Where is the goddamned Huey Lewis for your generation, now that you’re in your 30s? Where, you’ll wonder?
But then! You’ll be snapped back into reality by the encore. “We’re going to bring out a very special guest,” Huey will declare from the distant stage, as the roller coaster rattles in the background. “Ladies and gentlemen, the bad boy is back! Mr. Mario Cippolina!”
You will then flip out, because Mario Cippolina was always your favorite, and you’d felt so bad when he ran into some trouble with drugs, and stealing remote-control cars, and you will run up to the fence that separates yourself from Mario Cippolina and you’ll jump up and down a little. They’ll play “I Know What I Like,” but then that’ll turn into the song you most wanted to hear, the song that makes the whole cold, silly, stupid evening spent outside the fence at the Sonoma County Fair completely worth it. “Workin’ for a Livin'” will sound awesome, and the smoking 52-year-olds in their “I Heard the News” T-shirts will pump their fists and sing along, and you will sing along too.
And that’ll be your night.
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.Listening to Huey Lewis Outside the Fence at the Sonoma County Fair Isn’t All That Bad