There were a lot of Sammy Hagar T-shirts in the lobby of Wabash’s Eagles Theatre on a particular Friday night in mid-August, as one might expect.
There were also some that I would consider Sammy-adjacent — shirts decrying speed limits and extoling the virtues of tequila, Mexican vacations, and pound cake.
One guy even had a “Sammy for President” T-shirt. It sounds like a spoof, but it might not be a bad idea. Sammy has been successful with every business venture he’s tried — and he’s tried a lot.
Hagar fans had come from as far away as California and Georgia to attend this unusual concert from Sammy Hagar and the Circle. The recently refurbished Eagles Theatre, owned by the Honeywell Foundation, had somehow convinced Hagar to perform in a venue with only 600 seats. It is not known when Hagar last performed in a venue this small, but it may have been back when Ronnie Montrose was a more famous rock guitarist than Eddie Van Halen.
Slaking Musical Thirst
The concert was special in other ways. With COVID-19 surging across the nation, tours and shows that were supposed to signal our return to normalcy are being curtailed or canceled left and right. Fans came to this Sammy Hagar show like people stranded in the desert crawling toward what they think is water.
But it isn’t water, of course. It’s tequila.
Tickets to this show were extremely expensive, as might be guessed, yet every seat sold. The viewing suites were auctioned off for amounts that the Honeywell Foundation would not disclose.
I talked to a group from South Bend that was occupying one suite and the winning bidder on the suite was Dave Baker of the Dave Baker Agency Inc., a “manufacturer’s representative for commercial lighting and lighting controls.” Baker brought with him employees and good clients, therefore making him a truly fine example of a boss.
One of the drawbacks of the press badge I was wearing was that everyone thought I had access to Sammy.
“Send Sammy up here,” said Lisa Davis of the South Bend contingent. “I’d like to shake his hand and give him a chicken wing.”
I had to be honest with her and say I didn’t think I would even meet him. Sammy and the band minimized contact with everybody prior to the show because of COVID-19.
Davis said she was dreaming of attending Sammy’s birthday bash on Catalina Island in October (he usually celebrates in Cabo San Lucas).
“He’s going to be 74,” she said. “Can you believe that?”
This seemed to be one of the themes of the evening: People astonished and perhaps a little concerned about Sammy’s age.
Ohioan Steve Boyer said he’s been a fan of Sammy since high school, so he is not quite 74 himself. He loved Sammy and he loved Van Halen, and when the two joined forces, it was like a dream come true for him.
He bought tickets for the Wabash show for himself and his wife, Georgeann, before he found out Sammy was coming to Cleveland. Cleveland is closer to his house, but he had no regrets choosing to travel to see Sammy.
“I have always wanted to see him in a small venue,” he said.
As I scribbled away in my seat, a guy next to me asked me what I was doing. When I told him, he asked me if I was a true fan of Sammy. I answered that I was, even though that isn’t strictly true. He decided to test me and asked if I was familiar with Montrose’s eponymous debut album, although he didn’t use the word eponymous. I had to admit to him that I’d never heard the album.
The man, Dave Wilson, was incredulous.
“You have to promise me that you will go home tonight and listen to that album,” he said.
I told him I would, but I haven’t yet. I am really more of a casual fan of Sammy. I don’t think a person who uses words like eponymous can ever qualify as a hardcore fan.
Sammy didn’t perform like a 74-year-old. He’s got 20 years on me, and I sure couldn’t do what he did that night. The show was admirably loose. These are seasoned professionals, but they performed like a garage band — an improbably skilled garage band.
There were songs from every phase of Sammy’s career and a couple of Led Zeppelin tunes by way of acknowledging the career and parentage of the Circle’s drummer Jason Bonham.
Sammy had an ersatz minibar on a corner of the stage, and he mixed drinks throughout the night for people on and off stage. More often, everybody on stage just drank straight out of bottles.
The bro love between Sammy and bassist Michael Anthony was delightful to see. They couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other. At one point, Sammy shared the astonishing news that he and Anthony had gotten stranded in Fort Wayne the day before and had gotten drunk somewhere.
“I was walking down the sidewalk, and someone yelled out to me, ‘Hey Sammy! Are you performing in Fort Wayne?” Sammy recalled.
Sammy’s answer? “I don’t know.”
An unquestionable highlight of the show came when someone gave Sammy a commemorative Eagles Theatre T-shirt that also referenced Sammy’s 1987 single “Eagles Fly.”
Even though the band hadn’t rehearsed the song and it wasn’t part of their set list, they performed it. I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the theater’s renovation and renewed lease on life.