Rock 'n' roll Hall of Famers Earth, Wind and Fire have earned eight Grammies. - Photo courtesy of Britt Festivals

Review: Earth, Wind and Fire are in their element at Britt

They've performed at two Super Bowls, the Grammys, and the Winter Olympics. They've been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On Thursday night, Earth, Wind and Fire came back to the Britt stage in Jacksonville.

The band's three remaining original members — Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson — headlined, accompanied by eight other musicians.

And a show it was — a little of everything — rousing music, ballads, showmanship, amazing musicianship, acrobatic choreography and interesting lighting effects. The near-capacity audience was often on its feet.

The evening got off to a rousing start with numbers like "Boogie Wonderland," "Sing a Song" and "Shining Star," followed later by the likes of "In the Stone" and "Got to Get Ya."

But there were also ballads like "I Write a Song" and "After the Love."

One of the evening's many highlights was an amazing vocal by Bailey with the song "Reasons."

The evening's repertoire featured 18 numbers in a solid performance that went past the 90-minute mark.

Bailey, lead vocals and percussion, White on bass, Ralph Johnson, vocals and percussion, were joined by the following: Gary Bias and Bobby Burns, horns; Myron McKinley, music director on keyboard; Gregory Moore and Morris O'Connor, guitar; John Paris, drums; David Whitworth, vocals and percussion, and Reggie Young, horns.

A lengthy mid-show number, "Brazilian Rhyme," gave just about everyone on stage a chance to solo.

The evening included some songs that Earth, Wind and Fire has written and/or performed for movies — "Fantasy" from the 2005 John Travolta film "Be Cool" and "September" from 1997's "Soul Food," starring Vanessa Williams. Even the popular "Shining Star" was used in a film, 1999's "Muppets From Space."

Opening for Earth, Wind and Fire was On the One, a jazz/funk/soul quartet co-founded by Ashland High and Southern Oregon University grad Jesse Molloy. The foursome offered an invigorating 40 minutes of instrumentals. Besides sax player Molloy, the band features John Staten on drums, Andy Irvine on bass and Peter Lombardo on guitar.

Molloy graduated from SOU in 2001, and is appearing in commercials for the university. He attended Britt Institute's Instrumental Jazz Camp while at Ashland High.

Earth, Wind and Fire debuted back in 1970, organized originally by Verdine's older brother Maurice White.

The concept was to abolish the lines between music genres. "Although we were basically jazz musicians, we played soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and dance music," Maurice said at the time. Thursday night's show at Britt reinforced that concept.

The band was first known as The Salty Peppers. Maurice changed it to Earth, Wind and Fire in keeping with his Sagittarian astrological chart, according to his biography.

They've won eight Grammys, four American Music Awards and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame.

This was the band's second visit to Britt, having performed here in 2002. It is currently in the midst of a west coast tour, with multiple stops in California, Nevada and Washington. The show at Britt was the only Oregon appearance on the current slate.

The Britt season continues tonight with a program called "Under the Radar Festival," starring the Wailin' Jennys, a Canadian trio that's been featured on "A Prairie Home Companion." Portland-based tunesmith Kelly Joe Phelps and singer-songwriter Krista Detor open. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and many tickets are still available.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at

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