According to the concert’s program, Robbin Thompson’s widow Vicki told his friends when discussing the tribute concert, “I don’t want it to be a task; I want this to be a gift.”
And a gift it was! Sunday afternoon to a packed house at the National, where Robbin’s family, friends, “musical co-conspirators” and fans shared what many there called an “amazing evening of respect and admiration”. Guitarist Velpo Robertson said, “It was a thing of beauty.” (see the concert’s back story here)
Robbin’s influence ranged far beyond Virginia’s borders. Musicians came from the west coast, Nashville and Chicago, as well as from around the Commonwealth. All had either written a song with or performed with Robbin over the course of the last 45 years. Robbin’s song catalog was both deep and wide.
Two who couldn’t be there sent videos. Timothy Schmit (Poco, the Eagles) co-wrote several songs with Robbin and played on almost all of his albums. Battling illness and the recent loss of his Eagle bandmate Glen Fry, Timothy sent a heartfelt message and a short musical performance from his home in California. Phil Vassar, who credits Robbin and his band with giving him the belief that he could make it as a musician, sent in his thanks “from a tour bus in parts unknown” for being an inspiration and giving young musicians like him a start.
For all at the National, especially the musicians, it was an poignant time. Vocalists Marna Bales and Leetah Stanley said that emotions ran high at the first rehearsals last week. Collectively, the musicians were able to work through it and said they were better prepared to handle them the night of the show. Still, several musicians were noticeably moved, as they told stories about their friend.
Mike McAdam (Good Humor Band) told of his first encounter with Robbin. He was still in high school and his band had a steady gig at a local teen hangout, Hullabaloos. Their booking agent wanted to add this college band, Mercy Flight, to the bill. (Their vocalist was Robbin.) OK said Mike, “But who plays first?” Mercy Flight wanted to play first and did. That’s where Robbin taught him a lesson. Mike said Mercy Flight started playing and sounded good, but when Robbin started to sing Mike turned to his band and said, “Boys, we’re in trouble.”
Throughout the almost 3-hour show, the Robbin Thompson Band (Velpo Robertson, Rico Antonelli, Audie Stanley and Eric Heiberg), joined by McAdam and percussionist Jody Boyd, anchored 2 long sets that saw 18+ guest artist interpret Robbin’s songs as their own personal goodbyes. Standout performances included Mike McAdam, Chip Miller, Steve Bassett, Michael Lille and Lewis McGhee. The SPARC Kids also performed to a video by Robbin of “A Real Fine Day.”
Long-time local music supporter Chuck Wrenn gave a shout-out to former state Senator Walter Stosch, in attendance, who spearheaded Robbin and Steve Bassett’s “Sweet Virginia Breeze” becoming Virginia’s popular state song. He also read a letter of commendation from Governor Terry McAuliffe to Vicki noting the many achievements of Robbin and how proud he was to have signed into law the official state song designation.
Proceeds from the show will be split between JAMinc and SPARC which Vicki called “two organizations that were incredibly important to Robbin.” Tthis show may not be the end, but rather a beginning based on comments in the show’s program, “This is just the start, and there is work to be done. This show marks the launch of Robbin’s legacy. Stay tuned.”
Rico summed up the experience for himself and the band, “The feeling was more like a family reunion of long separated siblings than anything else I can conjure. Absolutely exhausting, exhilarating and fulfilling.” And no, Bruce Springsteen did not make an appearance. Based on the caliber of the talent on stage and the collective response from the crowd, I doubt anybody noticed.
PHOTOS BY SKIP ROWLAND
Lewis McGehee and Michael Lille
Marna Bales, Booke Drumheller and Leetah Stanley
Velpo, Eric, Rico, Audie