A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.
Their names were Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, old friends and collaborators who’d moored in Florida for a rare one-two set at at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
Both are old, familiar faces in Tampa Bay, but never quite like this, performing back to back and occasionally sharing the stage. For one night only, Clearwater was the world’s undisputed capital of yacht rock, the half-ironic subgenre of breezy, sun-sprinkled, late-‘70s/early-‘80s soft rock -- a genre of which Loggins and McDonald are titans.
“Do y’all feel like singing a little bit tonight?” Loggins told the crowd , easing up on a stool with his acoustic. “Me too.”
But first came McDonald. All unassuming in a black tee and slacks, the 65-year-old soul man wailed each ditty like his beard depended on it, that big old baritone booming through the park. Early classics Yah Mo B There and I Keep Forgettin' pulsed and twinkled as McDonald worked sea-mist magic on his ivories, his floppy platinum mane wisping in the October breeze.
He switched from the piano for a guitar for a few songs from his new album Wide Open, which was appropriate – the album is thick and three-dimensional, and his band gave Hail Mary, Strong Enough, Beautiful Child and Half Truth a rich, fleshed-out sound. But McDonald's lung-bursting bellow was the wind propelling each song.
Loggins, by comparison, was the folksier, more pensive performer, spending most of his set’s first half seated and strumming an acoustic. He kicked up a little country-rock dust on Danny's Song and the harmonious Whenever I Call You "Friend," but like Loggins himself, the audience stayed mostly seated. At least the key-tinkling Celebrate Me Home at least got them singing softly and swaying like the palms.
Loggins started rocking again on the smoky, harmonious rev-’em-up Angry Eyes, and rode a wave of upbeat movie and MTV megahits out the door: I'm Alright, Don't Fight It, Mr. Right, Danger Zone and Footloose. If you think fans of every age didn't cut a rug during Footloose, with fireworks popping off at the final note, you are quite mistaken.
Footloose and I'm Alright are nobody's definition of jazz, which will only add fuel to the old-timers' arguments that Clearwater's biggest holiday has become jazz in name only. It's a valid point, especially with Americana stars the Avett Brothers returning on Sunday.
But keeping Loggins and McDonald off the Jazz Holiday bill would have deprived us the rare chance to see Loggins and McDonald, old friends and too-infrequent collaborators, share a stage.
Loggins dropped by McDonald's set to help sing the Doobie Brothers' swinging Minute By Minute and their Grammy-winning collaboration What a Fool Believes, which had fans dancing up to the back. He stuck around for soulful duets on Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and closer Takin' It to the Streets, swinging his arms and grinning as McDonald and his band rocked away.
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before we realized that was all we'd get.
Four songs into Loggins' set, he introduced his and McDonald's iconic duet This Is It with a caveat.
"Michael unfortunately had to race to the airport, otherwise I'd pull him out here to do it," he said. "Next time."
Yes, please, let there be a next time. One of these years, the Holiday ought to book Christopher Cross and Rupert Holmes and Robbie Dupree and Pinellas County's own Bertie Higgins, and turn this yacht of rock into an armada.
And may they also bring back McDonald and Loggins, playing a whole set together if they're willing. Beachside holidays just aren't the same without a couple of nice cool breezes.
-- Jay Cridlin