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Huey Lewis at Freedom Hill: Not square, just hip

Huey Lewis and the News open the 2013 concert season at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights

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STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. – "Rock and soul."  Those are the two words Huey Lewis used to describe Detroit – a place where fans hold him close in their hearts, on their stereos and nowadays in their MP3 players.

Huey Lewis and the News took the stage Tuesday night at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre for the grand reopening of the venue.  Freedom Hill hasn't seen this kind of electricity since before it closed in 2009.

Now Freedom Hill is back – and so is Huey Lewis – although by listening to him you'd quickly realize he hasn't gone anywhere. Sitting in the seats was like stepping back into a time machine (Back to the Future reference intended) and picking up right where we left off in 1983 with the mega-hit album Sports. I have to tell you – it felt great! 

I'm not a music reviewer by trade – but an event observer.  I love sitting in the crowd watching the audience react to what's happening on stage.   I've been to a lot of concerts (more than I can put into print) and to a lot of venues (some not worth putting into print) but there is something to be said about the quaintness of Freedom Hill.  You can almost hear every toe tap, hand clap and off-key chorus belted out by the audience. 

Yep, this crowd loved Huey.  I found myself singing at the top of my lungs (apologies to my boyfriend and the folks around me) and dancing in my seat.  I forgot that I am 40(ahem)something and was seemingly transported back to my high school days.

I have been to countless throw-back concerts and walked out muttering, "Wow! So-and-so looks bad" or "Ugh. I can never un-hear those sounds."  Not the case with Huey. 

I don't know what it is about him – but he hypnotizes you so you HAVE to sing along.  Sitting quietly is not an option. He is smack dab in the middle of a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Sports album.  At Freedom Hill he performed the entire collection – front and back, start to finish.  It was an album that had one hit after another – one song was better than the next.  No matter how much time passes in between "listenings" you remember every single word to every single song. I dare you to listen to "Heart of Rock & Roll" or "I Want a New Drug" and not chair dance. 

Despite Tuesday being Freedom Hill's first show in years it was like going home again.   Sure, there were some glitches – the ticket office was backed up a bit and some of the employees didn't have answers to ALL of my questions – but we all remember our first day on the job, right? I'm sure after the opening night jitters all of the bumps in the road will be patched. 

I was able to go backstage after the concert to talk with Huey for a minute (and I mean minute).  I had it in my head that he was going to be the kind of guy you could just run up and hug – he always seemed huggable to me. I don't like preparing questions in advance - that's not my style.  Anybody who knows me realizes I'm a conversation starter and not a conversation planner.  You never know what is going to fall out of my mouth – it is a blessing and a curse – it has helped me land some of the best (and worst) interviews you can imagine.

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By the time Huey was ready to talk, it was late and all of us looked pretty tired. Huey turned to me and said "Shoot 'em at me."  I dove right in.  More than once during his performance he mentioned Harpo's in Detroit so I took the opportunity to tell him I was a "Harpo's girl" – remembering the days when Harpo's in Detroit was THE place for 70s and 80s.  Huey looked me in the eye (behind those trademark sunglasses) and grinned.  I asked him where Michigan ranked in his list of favorite places to play.  I have a pretty good gut and don't think he was feeding me a line when he said Detroit is toward the top of his list. "For some reason my music resonates with people in Detroit.  I know we're at Freedom Hill – not really the city of Detroit – but these are Detroit fans.  They're great fans.  They're loyal fans. They embraced us in our early days.  We are a band out of San Francisco – but Detroit and Cleveland embraced us early on." I asked him the first thing that went through his mind when he was asked to be the christening act for the new Freedom Hill. "I was thrilled.  I knew I was heading back to Detroit and I was thrilled."

You know what, Huey?  I'm thrilled, too.  I've always known it is hip to be square.  The fact is, Huey isn't square at all – he's just pretty darn hip after all these years.