Summer is FINALLY here and what better way to start it out than with a concert under the stars? All dressed up and ready for fun, my friend Valerie and I set off last Friday night for the debut performance of the 2011 INFINITI Summer Concert Series presented by ROLEX South Coast Plaza at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. We were excited to hear the Max Weinberg 7, featuring Bill Champlin and special guest, Mindi Abair. Weinberg was formerly the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band and went on to fame as Conan O’Brien’s bandleader. Bill Champlin started as a songwriter/musician with the group Sons of Champlin, and later spent more than 25 years with the band Chicago. Abair recently won Best International Instrumentalist at the 2011 Wave Awards in Toronto, and Best Female Artist of the Year at the 2011 Oasis Contemporary Jazz Awards.
As we stepped through the front door of Hyatt Regency Newport Beach and into the $2-million newly renovated lobby, bar and patio areas, we were pleasantly surprised by the airy, inviting and chic feel. Neutral tones, accent lighting, cozy chairs and deep sofas enticed us to stay awhile, and enjoy this open-air California beach retreat.
We met friends and indulged in food and libations at the hotel's Sol Restaurant. Before I knew it, there was a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir on the table, a nice way to start the evening! With stomachs growling, we headed for the buffet. Just crossing the threshold, our senses were awakened: the aroma, the presentation and the variety were superb. The salad bar alone provided enough options to make a complete meal. Valerie's and my favorite was the Fried Green Tomato with Roasted Corn and Shitake Mushroom Salad…YUM!! There were ample protein dishes, a couple of pastas, and plenty to satiate a vegetarian. The roasted tri-tip from the carving station was tender and flavorful! An ice cream sundae bar and warm cherry cobbler was the encore to our meal.
It was time to head into the venue for what promised to be a high-energy event. We waddled from the restaurant/bar area to the venue. Just past the ticket taker, we were welcomed by event sponsors, sharing information and offering promotional items. I couldn't help but be struck by the beauty and serenity of the hotel grounds. Located in the Back Bay of Newport Beach, this property is secluded and intimate. The landscaping is first rate and the property’s 26 acres reportedly has one of the largest varieties of palms in the area.
With no more than a minute to spare, we arrived at our seats. Future concert goers will be happy to know that there were plenty of people there to create a good vibe, but it wasn’t overcrowded and seating was no problem. This isn’t a smoky cramped theater, it’s a spacious and open outdoor amphitheater… perfect for a warm California night.
Ninety minutes of Soul, R & B, and Classic Pop Rock went by in a flash. For me, the highlights were a sizzling rendition of George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around” (written by Bill Champlin), a wonderful version of “Deep In The Heart of Texas” (with vocals and keyboard by Champlin’s son Will), and a moving tribute to recently passed saxophone great, Clarence Clemmons. The tribute Song “Ramrod” turned into a spontaneous get-up-and-dance jam (yours truly included!) with special guest saxophonist Mindi Abair contributing a rocking solo. You might remember Abair from her American Idol appearances, and if you’re a fan, you’ll be happy to know she is taking center stage on July 22nd. Get your tickets early… this show WILL sell out!
One of the great things about an intimate setting like the Hyatt is your ability to connect with the artists, both during the show and after. When the concert was over, members of the band graciously chatted with fans and posed for photographs. I got some up-close-and–personal time with both Weinberg and Abair.
The evening wasn’t over, and Valerie and I had time to wander. We chose to return to the Hyatt’s new library, lovely by day and inviting by night. There, we met two couples who have been faithfully attending the series for the past 14 years. When I queried them as to why they kept coming back, it was no surprise… they loved the combination of high-quality, remarkable and eclectic artists, showcased in a setting of natural beauty. What’s not to like?
Take summer by storm and make this series part of an amazing memory for you and someone you love. There’s plenty of music and fun in store for you every Friday night from now until September 30th! Be sure to look for me, Ren, reporting for The Place!
Here’s a list of performers and Friday night show dates for this season:
Tickets for the INFINITI Summer Concert Series can be purchased online at hyattconcerts.com or by calling the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Box Office at 949-729-6400.