It’s hard to figure out who had more fun the last time Peter Rivera performed his Motown hits with a full symphony: the original singer/drummer for Rare Earth or all of the student musicians from Whitworth and Gonzaga.
But the coolest part for all of the musicians on stage for that special show last year is that it’s happening again. Twice. Rivera will perform with a full orchestra Sept. 29 and 30 at Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center, along with a symphony built completely of local college students.
The special two-concert series is presented by The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages events series. Just like last year’s concerts, the proceeds will go to music scholarship funds at Whitworth and Gonzaga.
“I’m sitting down now trying to figure this out,” Rivera said. “I enjoyed how everything went last year at the Fox, but we’re going to make it a little different this time. I don’t want to do a carbon copy of what we did that night.”
Count on five or six of the Spokane resident’s Rare Earth hits, such as “I Just Want to Celebrate,” “Born to Wander” and “Hey Big Brother.” But Rivera will preview some new material.
“I’ve written some fresh stuff that’s just beautiful,” Rivera said. “I want to take some artistic chances. I’m excited about this show since I believe we’ll be stronger this year.”
Rivera, 79, will toss in a new track, “Hear Me Pray.”
“I’m adding some material that is pertinent to what’s going on today with me,” Rivera said.
That’s not all that’s new with the concert, which will be a multimedia event. There will be video screens with interviews with Rivera, and never-before-seen photos and videos detailing the history and chart success of his songs. There are even elements reminiscent of the old VH1 show, “Pop-Up Video.”
It’s a mixture of classic songs and the stories behind them being performed by a full symphony, with a healthy dose of music history layered on top.
“We’ll be adding a lot of stuff we didn’t have time to put into the show last year,” longtime collaborator Dave Cebert said. “We’re adding another dimension. I hate to mention Taylor Swift, but you look at her as an example with video. It adds another dimension to the show.
“We’re adding video and the new song. ‘Hear Me Pray,’ which is close to Peter’s heart.”
Rivera will be flanked by the same band that performed with him last year: saxophonist Dave Fague, guitarist Dave Brasch, bassist Dave Hutchenson, keyboardist Danny McCollim and vocalists Tracia Brasch and Tara Brasch. Rivera will also be joined by his R&B Orchestra, which features professional musicians and students from Gonzaga and Whitworth universities.
“That’s a good thing since a lot of those musicians are familiar with the material,” Cebert said.
Then there’s the money raised from ticket sales that directly benefits the university’s music programs.
“It’s a great reason to come out to the event,” Rivera said. “You get a concert, which features terrific young musicians from the area, which benefits the schools. It’s going to be a special event.”
A difference between the upcoming show and last year’s event is that Rivera will try to absorb the show in a different manner.
“I don’t remember things from the concert like you think I would have, because I was so inside the songs,” Rivera said. “So I didn’t really have a chance to listen to the strings since I was working out the mathematics of the songs singing and playing. But I’m going to try to listen to what’s going on around me this time.
“The one thing that I’m sure will be the same is that it will be like last time, which was such a humbling experience that I’ll never forget.”
Rivera was taken aback by the lack of a generation gap. Many of the college musicians took selfies with Rivera after the show. “It was such a special night,” Rivera said. “I’m glad we’re doing it again.”
It’s just the start of a special initiative. Later this year, Rivera and Northwest Passages will be detailing a plan to take this unique show to universities around the country, with the proceeds from those shows going directly to the music departments at those schools.
“I’m at an amazing place in my life,” Rivera said. “I have an opportunity to give back.”