At around 6:00 p.m. on July 13, 2019, excitement is building in delicious anticipation from all walks of life at The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory; black folks, white folks, interracial couples, gay and lesbian couples, people in shorts and flip flops, others in three-piece suits, skin-tight dresses and stilettos—all buzzing with conversations about one man: Michael McDonald.
Michael McDonald’s co-headlining tour with Chaka Khan is to introduce his audiences and fans to new music from his 2017 album, Wide Open. It has been 17 years since we have had new music from McDonald, and it features collaborations with Branford Marsalis, Robben Ford, and Marcus Miller. Tonight’s performance features McDonald on guitar, piano, and lead vocals, we have Bernie Chiaravalle on guitar and vocals, Jacob Lowery on bass, Dan Needham on drums and percussion, Mark Douthhit on saxophone and keyboards, Pat Coil on keyboards, and Drea Rhenee’ on vocal and percussion.
As I sat outside the pavilion in this Texas heat waiting for my concert companion, I struck up some conversations with fellow McDonald fans. We discussed specific songs that we hoped he would play. Familiar statements such as “soundtrack of my childhood” and “blue-eyed soul” kept popping up. One person drove over two hours to be there, expressing that this was possibility his 24th time seeing McDonald live. He felt that due to the recent death of specific entertainers, he feels that it is still very important to come out and see aging artists before they are gone. Others shook their collective heads in approval, and then conversations delved into artists we have lost.
Upon entering the pavilion and finding our seats, the lights dimmed as his band enters the stage to thunderous applause. McDonald walks out shortly after his band, and takes a seat behind a black grand piano. McDonald welcomes us stating that it was great to be back in the great state of Texas and invites us to sing along if we know the words. We did just that! He performed his 1983 hit, ‘Ya Mo Be There’, made even more emotional given James Ingram’s recent passing. However, with the infectious groove and McDonald’s powerful voice, no one could be sad for long.
McDonald primarily remained seated behind his piano for the rest of the performance and cranks out the solo hits, including ‘I Keep Forgettin’, ‘Sweet Freedom’, and a duet of ‘On My Own’ where back-up singer Drea Rhenee’ makes the Patti LaBelle part all her own and brought the house down. McDonald also served the Doobie Brothers’ classics, ‘Here To Love You’, ‘Minute By Minute’, and ‘What A Fool Believes’. Next up is his Motown set including ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’, then bringing Chaka Khan and her crew out to end his set with ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’.
As good as McDonald’s set was, there was some speculation in the audience as to why he did not perform any of his new material from Wide Open. Some stated that he seemed ill and was very low energy. Others stated they were worried because of his age. All questions were answered when, to my surprise, back-up singer Drea Rhenee’ came and sat down in the audience (next to me!) during stage changes, preparing for Chaka Khan. Ms. Rhenee’ stated that McDonald had a cold so many changes had to be made including but not limited to performing first instead of closing and not performing any new material. Rhenee’ welcomed well-wishers, took pictures with them, answered questions then posed for a picture with me since we were sitting right next to one another—as we waited with excitement for Chaka Khan’s upcoming set!