Earth, Wind & Fire at Wolf Trap by Audrey Thornton

The musical high priests of ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ Earth, Wind & Fire played June 4, 2013 to a sold-out audience in The Filene Center at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia.

Spanning the musical genres of soul, jazz fusion, R&B, funk, disco, and rock, Earth, Wind & Fire (popularly known as EWF) are considered by top music critics and fans alike to be one of the most successful bands of the twentieth century. Over a forty-plus year career, founder Maurice White and the EWF band have earned six Grammys and four American Music Awards; been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame; received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and sold over 90 million albums worldwide. And those are just the highlights.

ARTIST LINEUP: Philip Bailey; (Vocals, Conga, Percussion, Kalimba); Verdine White (Bass); Ralph Johnson (Drums, Percussion, Vocals); B. David Whitworth (Percussion, Vocals); Greg “G-Mo” Moore (Rhythm Guitar, Vocals); Myron McKinley (Keyboards); Morris O’Connor (Lead Guitar); Philip Bailey, Jr. (Vocals); and John Paris (Drums). The Horn section included veteran performers Reggie Young (Trombone); Gary Bias (Saxophone); and Bobby Burns. Jr (Trumpet).

Of the band’s early formative years (1969-1973), only members Philip Bailey, Verdine White, and Ralph Johnson remain. Sadly, Parkinson’s Disease forced Maurice White to stop touring in 1994, making only occasional appearances. Needless to say, no EWF concert is complete without Philip Bailey’s stellar signature falsetto voice piercing the air, completely electrifying everyone present. And to fill the vocal gap left by White’s retirement, Bailey then switched to the vocal part originally sung by White, which showed off his vocal prowess and versatility to a wildly rapt, hand clapping, foot stomping, dancing in the aisles, whistling, shouting crowd of EWF lovers. Bailey was capably supported on vocals by B. David Whitworth, Greg Moore, and none other than his own son, Philip Bailey Jr., clear evidence of musical gifts being passed from father to son. On many levels, the concert from beginning to end was all that and so very much more.

Earth, Wind & Fire:  Philip Bailey, Verdine White, and Ralph Johnson. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.
Earth, Wind & Fire: Verdine White, Philip Bailey, and Ralph Johnson. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Sellout crowds are the norm for EWF. Looking back over forty-plus years one must wonder what is the magic ingredient that has kept them going so long? It’s not a single ingredient but a variety of things, each as vital a component as the rich, fertile soil, sun and water which yield a beautiful, flowering plant or tree in due season. The lineup of songs was absolutely perfect and included many audience favorites: “Sing A Song;” “Shining Star;” “Can’t Hide Love;” “After the Love is Gone;” “Let’s Groove;” “That’s the Way of the World;” “September;” and my two personal all-time favorites “Reasons” and “Head to the Sky.”

Not surprisingly, the origin of the group’s name comes from Maurice White’s astrological sign, the elemental quality of Fire, Earth and Air which speaks to his lifelong and oft stated desire to provide a ‘cosmic wave of peace, love and other happy vibrations to audiences.’ EWF accomplishes that with an on-stage persona I would describe as humanistic— a concern with the needs, well-being, and interests of people representative of what all races of people most desire, a message of universal love and harmony, without assailing listeners’ spiritual beliefs. Looking out over the crowd, I was astonished at the diverse racial mix, seemingly every culture was there, and even more amazed by the apparent age span of over 7,000 loyal fans. As many gray-haired or balding were there as were young, a testimony to the timeless appeal of EWF’s musical message.

Recalling my first EWF concert—San Francisco 1973—nearly forty years ago and the band’s unforgettable performance complete with futuristic costumes, pyrotechnics, constantly pulsating music and youthful, lithe bodies moving and swaying on stage was part joy and part nostalgia. Time has passed for us all, but EWF’s message of universal harmony, in both a musical and cultural sense lives on and Maurice White’s goal of offering music as medicine is secure.

As Maurice White reflected on EWF’s official website, “I wanted to create a library of music that would stand the test of time. ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ is the key component of our work. Expanding awareness and uplifting spirits is so important in this day. People are looking for more. I hope our music can give them some encouragement and peace.”

Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.

Earth, Wind & Fire’s website.

Earth, Wind & Fire played one night only on June 4, 2013 at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap – 1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future performances and Information: Call 1 (877) WOLFTRAP – (877) 965-3872), or check their calendar of events.


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