Last Saturday night, I attended a concert by two legendary Motown groups, The Four Tops and The Temptations. The concert was at the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The day of the performance, it rained heavily. As we moved closer to showtime, we began to wonder if we should even venture outside into the inclement weather. We were also irked that the amphitheater had not made the decision to cancel the show.
“Listen, if these groups, in which two of the original members are now in their 80s, are willing and able to perform, we can get a little wet to go see them,” I said to my life partner and two friends, who were going with me.
I pulled out a leopard rain jacket in my closet that my dear friend Michelle had gifted me and was ready to rock and “roar.”
After a few setbacks and delays, we finally made it to the theatre, a bit wet and ruffled, and a half hour late. Thankfully, the staff had moved our “outdoor” seating to under the theater’s roof.
Duke Fakir, who is 81, is the last original member of the Four Tops, and the opening act, clearly revealed that his energy does not lack. The band played all of their classic hits, including “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” and “Baby I Need Your Love.” The crowd sang and danced along; it was as if we didn’t have seats under us.
The Temptations took the stage next, and they performed their greatest hits, including “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and “Just My Imagination.”
Otis Williams, the founder and last surviving original member of the group, at 81 years old was still smooth and powerful after playing with the group for 63 years. The other original band members had tragic endings that included dying by illness, suicide and succumbing to alcoholism as well as drug addition.
Otis and Duke had been through many difficulties in their lives, but they never gave up and because of their tenacity, I was up off my seat, transported in a time machine that cut through orbits of sorrow, heartache and PTSD, only to transport me back to the late 1960s. I remembered feeling the soft cashmere texture under my kid’s bare feet from a white carpet imprinted with lime green leaves at my parent’s colonial. A prominent attorney had replaced the carpet in his house with a new one. He then gifted the old carpet to my proud Ukrainian-born immigrant father, who worked as his landscaper every Saturday after a full week of working his day job. The carpet represented my father’s hard work and determination and was a symbol of his hope for a better future for his family.
Next to my bare, young feet in the hallway, I visualized Brother Paul’s shiny black shoes gleaming in the florescent light. The two of us were dancing to my mom’s console stereo blaring Motown hits. He held up his finely manicured hands for me to admire. I glowed in his pride that beamed from his face knowing he was probably the only kid in our neighborhood who would take the train into New York City to do something so unconventional. But he didn’t care. He dared to be different.
Twisting our hips from side to side, shaking our shoulders, clapping our hands and pounding our feet into the lime green ivy imprinted white carpet, my ten-year-older brother who introduced me to Motown music gave me a newfound freedom. I was freed from the punishing God our family raised us with. I was freed from the bullies at school who made it known that I was not allowed to breathe the same oxygen as them. Freed from teachers who rarely, if every spoke my Americanized name. And I was freed from sitting on a branch of our big oak tree, contemplating a final leap from a world that opened up the way.
Motown music was a means to connect with my brother and to feel like I belonged somewhere. It saved me and gave me faith like nothing else ever did, and that’s how I felt again at the performance last Saturday night.
Otis paused during his performance to address the audience. He told us that he and his band were not the stars. We were. We were the ones who kept them going. He proceeded to thank us for coming out to see them even in the rain. All I wanted to do was yell back at him and say, “And you, you, young fellow in spirit, have kept me going. You truly are a star, a humble one at that. You let it roar.”
As he started singing and dancing, I twisted my hips and shook my body over and over, while revolving flash backs wrapped around me.
By the end of The Temptations’ performance, it stopped raining and the air turned crisp and pure. It felt like anything was possible at any age, under any circumstances, if you never give up on your dreams. We bounced down the street, singing along to the Temptations’ songs, free. With my leopard jacket hugging my body in its warmth and music reverberating in my head, I felt convinced that anything and everything were possible.