The renowned Doobie Brothers, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers from San Jose, California, took it to the streets of Portsmouth, Virginia along the beautiful Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Virginia July 3rd, 2023. Everyone was ready to “listen to the music” and party during the long holiday weekend. Just after everyone settled into their seats, the Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion had to be evacuated due to an oncoming thunderstorm. However, the faithful fans checked social media minute by minute and filed back in after an hour-and-a-half delay, ready to rock. Although the seats are covered by a unique, white undulating roof, those on the uncovered lawn were willing to withstand some lingering rain to experience this second leg of The Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary Tour.
With this being a tight soundboard shoot, there were few options for capturing unique angles at this venue. There were seats flush up against all four sides of the soundboard area except for 2 awkward, short and narrow aisles, one of which was blocked. I settled into the center aisle in front of the soundboard for the first three songs, then had to cross over a row of guests to exit. My seat for reviewing the show was off to the side, and I couldn’t see the screen behind the band to include the entire concert experience in this review. These were not the best conditions for covering one of the best rock bands to grace any stage in the U.S., but it was definitely worth it.
Unfortunately, lead vocalist and one of the band’s founding members, Tom Johnston, was unable to join them due to back surgery. However, founding member Pat Simmons and Michael McDonald delivered exceptional vocals in his absence, and all the fan favorites were covered. A highlight of the night was when Williamsburg, Virginia native, Bruce Hornsby, performed brilliantly with the band later in the show.
For the first song of the night, The Doobie Brothers launched into “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” from their 1975 album, Stampede. This iconic tune, widely played in the late 1970s, resonated with me, and I recalled every word. Michael McDonald then opened “Here to Love You,” with his phenomenal skills on keys, and showcased his distinctive soulful voice. Saxophonist Marc Russo joined in, reaffirming his mastery of the instrument, and injecting this tune from 1978 with an incredible touch of jazz. (You can see the full setlist below.)
Throughout the night, the unique, soulful vocals of Michael McDonald were also showcased in the hits, “What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute,” “Takin’ It To The Streets,” and “You Belong To Me.”
From the first few notes, “Long Train Runnin’” had everyone on their feet dancing. Pat Simmons took the lead on vocals and all musicians (except for Michael McDonald) took turns with incredible instrumental solos. Touring saxophonist Marc Russo was especially impressive. I had no idea a saxophone could hit such high notes.
A personal favorite, “China Grove,” was up next. Normally sung by Tom Johnston, touring bassist John Cowan delivered an impressive performance on lead vocals while nostalgic videos of Tom and the band were showcased on the screen. The harmonies that The Doobie Brothers are well-known for, were incredible. Nearly every instrument had a signature riff in this song, and each one would be recognizable on their own today.
Immersed in an irresistible smooth but funky vibe, the band ventured into one of my childhood favorites, “Black Water.” Memories flooded back as I vividly recalled my singer/songwriter brothers, Buddy and Glenn Hudson, singing the song’s flawless harmonies during our younger years. This song is one of the many Doobie Brothers anthems that has been playing across the country for decades. It’s a testament to their songwriting and musicianship.
One of the highlights of the night was when the legendary Bruce Hornsby took Michael McDonald’s place on keys. This three-time GRAMMY® -winner was born nearby in Williamsburg, Virginia, has his own band Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, and was a touring musician with The Grateful Dead for years. A friend of the band, he performed an amazing solo on stage, then stayed on keys transitioning into one of the most iconic tracks, “Listen to the Music.” Hornsby’s touch infused the song with his awe-inspiring and distinctive style.
The Doobie Brothers’ harmonies throughout the night were perfect as usual, and the energy left generations of fans excited to hear more after nearly two hours. Their music has withstood the test of time as was evident by the packed amphitheater and incredible achievements throughout their lifetime. Spanning over 50 years, the band has produced 15 studio albums, won four GRAMMY® Awards, sold over 48 million records worldwide, and produced five Top 10 singles and 16 Top 40 hits.
Their legacy reached new heights in 2020 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. The induction ceremony included living members Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, Michael McDonald, John McFee, Tiran Porter, John Hartman, and Jeff Baxter. Additionally, drummer and vocalist Keith Knudsen and drummer Michael Hossack were honored posthumously. The Doobie Brothers are one of the most revered rock bands in history.
Tom Johnston (guitar, vocals)
Pat Simmons (guitar, vocals)
John McFee (guitars, vocals, violin, harmonica)
Michael McDonald (keys, vocals).
John Cowan (bass)
Mark Quinones (percussion & vocals)
Ed Toth (drums)
Marc Russo (saxophone)
(1) Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) (Kim Weston cover)
(2) Here to Love You
(3) Dependin’ on You
(4) Rockin’ Down the Highway
(5) Slack Key Soquel Rag
(6) South City Midnight Lady
(7) Clear as the Driven Snow
(8) It Keeps You Runnin’
(9) Eyes of Silver
(10) Minute by Minute
(11) Without You
(12) Jesus Is Just Alright
(13) What a Fool Believes (Kenny Loggins cover)
(14) Long Train Runnin’
(15) China Grove
(16) Black Water
(17) (Medley by Michael McDonald on keys and Marc Russo on sax)
(18) Takin’ It to the Streets
(19) (Solo by Bruce Hornsby on keys)
(20) Listen to the Music (with Bruce Hornsby on keys)
(21) Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan cover) (with Michael McDonald and Bruce Hornsby on keys)
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Annette Holloway is a music, promo, portrait, and event photographer. Live concert photography and band/artist photoshoots occupy much of her time. Her work has been published on numerous media outlets including Billboard, Pollstar, NBC News, Getty Images, Forbes, HM Magazine, ICON Sportswire, Loudwire, CCM Magazine, and many more. Before diving into photography full time, she was a NASA software engineer, webmaster, church youth leader, and robotics mentor. For more information about her photography, visit AnnetteHolloway.com.