Bay Days music has been essentially local for a few years now so newcomers may be surprised to know that famous musicians once stormed though downtown Hampton every September.
Willie Nelson, Ruth Brown, George Clinton, Toby Keith, The Georgia Satellites, Grand Funk Railroad, Charlie Daniels Band, Third World, the Hoodoo Gurus and Tony! Toni! Toné! are among the acts that once funked, rocked or twanged at the festival.
Here are a few performances that loom large in my memory.
Hanson, Sept. 9, 2000. This show drew a much smaller crowd than anticipated. It may or may not be coincidence that Bay Days seemed to be financially wounded for the next several years, limping along with scaled-back musical programming. The band was a strange choice. Its biggest hits, "MMMBop" and "I Will Come To You," were a few years old by the time Hanson arrived at Bay Days. I've never thought of Hampton as a teen-pop town. Still, I remember lots of chiming guitars and ringing harmonies. Maybe Hanson in Hampton was a financial flop, but musically speaking, it was rock solid.
Percy Sledge, Sept. 10, 2004. I know some secrets about Percy Sledge. For one, he's a fan of Christopher Cross. "He sings like a bird," Sledge said with a dramatic flick of the wrist as we cruised from airport to hotel. On stage, Sledge acted like the same warm person I met earlier that day. He sang his own hits — including the lovely "Take Time to Know Her" from 1968 — as well as those of other artists, including The Temptations' "My Girl." If his voice lacked some of the power from decades ago, Sledge could still please a crowd. At one point, he paused to take a long swig of water. "Thirty-five years ago, that would have been Virginia corn [liquor]," he told the crowd. "Today, if I was to drink that stuff, I'd act like I'm 25 again."
Bo Diddley, Sept. 10, 2005. One of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll played Bay Days toward the end of his life. Even though he played while seated, he managed to generate some blazing intensity. "He spiced up his signature beat with weird wah-wah guitar licks and augmented his songs by ad libbing hilarious improvised lyrics," I wrote soon after. "The show wasn't always smooth, but it was almost always interesting."
Delbert McClinton, Sept. 8, 2006. The veteran soul singer called a few Hampton friends on stage with him during his Bay Days show. Ann Stephens-Cherry, formerly the spokeswoman for Hampton City Schools, sang a duet with the R&B master on his tune "Read Me My Rights." "I could die tomorrow and I'd be a happy woman," she said minutes after her big moment. "When the band started playing the intro to that song, I thought I was going to faint. Then I got caught up in the moment."
Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs, Sept. 12, 2009. Musicians from both Hornsby's band The NoiseMakers and Skaggs' group Kentucky Thunder mixed in a fascinating array of combinations. The whole affair seem relaxed and spontaneous. An early highlight was a slow, mournful version of Ralph Stanley's "The Darkest Hour." Also great was an urgent, energetic version of "Black Rats of London" which saw a smiling, accordion-squeezing Hornsby climbing atop his piano.
Here are some Facebook comments from readers:
Kevin Prichard, Norfolk: "I personally wish Bay Days brings back the A-list talent back. Seeing big names like Better Than Erza and Third Eye Blind would be great. Virginia Beach's festival is stealing a lot of Bay Days' thunder. Now, its just an excuse to come out and get drunk."
Tom Stanley, Hampton: "Loved the Hoodoo Gurus, Better Than Ezra and Hornsby shows."
Aaron Matthew Pritchett: "Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder! One of the most unique and extremely talented musicians today! Check out their jewel of an album 'Cluck Ol' Hen.' Now!"
Mitch Kirsner, Newport News: "The year that Richie Havens and Rare Earth played was outstanding and became the first shows that I ever filmed and posted to YouTube. I've posted over 2,000 local videos since then. Wish I had caught the Hooters."