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–By Chris Baptiste
“Summer nights and my radio Well that’s all we need, baby, don’tcha know? We celebrate when the gang’s all here Ah, hot summer nights, that’s my time of the year”
I don’t know about you, but the above lyric from Van Halen’s “Summer Nights” precisely sums up the sweltering months between my high school graduation and entering the world of college. Girls in bikinis, hanging out with “the gang,” getting to know my new friends Miller and Budweiser, and jamming to the new Van Halen release via cassette tape & boombox (you remember those, right?) certainly defined one of my most important – and memorable – summers. So in retrospect, there will always be a soft spot in me – a “hard rock” soft spot – for Van Halen’s 5150, their 1986 release with Sammy “Red Rocker” Hagar replacing David Lee Roth as the band’s front-man and lead singer.
Sure, I loved Diamond Dave as much as the next tanktop-wearing, pimply 17-year old – Van Halen’s first four albums are about as good as hard rock gets. But with Sammy aboard, Eddie and boys began crafting true songs. “Van Hagar” may have been a bit more polished a not nearly as tongue-in-cheek as the previous incarnation, but even in my tender young age, I recognized pure ear candy. And 5150 – from “Why Can’t This Be Love” to “Dreams” to “Best of Both Worlds” – is just that: undeniable aural pleasure. I have a feeling that the crowd that flocked to Mount Palomar Winery this past Friday night to check out the Van Halen tribute band 5150 – The Sammy Hagar Years shared my same sentiments. We were all there with the same core purpose – to hark back a bit and bear hug our youth. Maybe not to relive it – we all know that wasn’t going to happen. But on this early Fall evening underneath the Temecula stars, a slightly cool night that didn’t require a sweater or jacket as much as recommended it, all of us felt that 17-year old inside us escape, even if for just an hour or two. And really, isn’t that what rock and roll is all about?
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, concert producer and promoter Heyday Records, and President Robert Walker, is having a banner year.
5150 (comprised of Van Halen tribute legends Atomic Punks and lead vocalist Mark Huff) sounded awesome. For any tribute band worth its salt, the true test is to close one’s eyes and simply listen and ask yourself: Could you tell this wasn’t the real Van Halen? If you, like me, answered “no,” then you were in guitar riff heaven.
“Eddie’s” guitar snarled and and growled, “Alex” pounded the skins with authority, and “Michael” added his distinct melodic bottom and cresting-on-falsetto harmonies.
And then there was “Sammy” – without a doubt, the concert’s MVP. Mark Huff easily channeled Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” ‘tude and vocal prowess. You always knew what you were going to get with Sammy Hagar. Straight ahead, balls-to-the-wall rock. And Mark delivered to the very last brash and raucous note.
Their next HeyDay show will be Strangelove – The Ultimate tribute to Depeche Mode on Oct. 18, 2013 @ Longshadow Ranch Winery. Click here for ticket information.
Visit Mount Palomar Winery: http://www.mountpalomar.com/ Located: 33820 Rancho California Rd., Temecula, CA 92591 For more information on 5150 – Van Halen Tribute Band: https://www.facebook.com/pages/5150 For information on Hey Day, and future performances visit: http://heyday.com