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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dreaming’ Wild, the Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift lead the year in review in music

It’s been a memorable year for concerts and other music-related stories in 2023. The long-awaited film “Dreamin’ Wild,” which chronicles the unbelievable story of the Emerson brothers finally hit the big screen. The Foo Fighters opted to return to Spokane for the first time in six years and played the Spokane Arena, which was the most intimate venue on its “But Here We Are” tour. Taylor Swift played across the state in Seattle. However, many locals trekked to her Lumen Field concerts to experience the mega-star’s memorable two-night stand. There are so many highlights but the unlikely story of Donnie and Joe Emerson finally reaching celluloid is at the top of the list.

For the uninitiated, the teenage Emersons grew up in Fruitland during the 1970s.

The Emerson boys didn’t possess records or were privy to contemporary music until their father bought a Case tractor with an enclosed cab and a radio in 1977. The Emersons tuned into KJRB, which transported the siblings into another world. Donnie and Joe Emerson were inspired and learned how to play second hand instruments. The former wrote soulful, moving pop-rock as a 16-year-old. Their father, Donald Sr., mortgaged part of his farm, so his sons could make an album.

The project, “Dreamin’ Wild” slipped through the cracks of history. Donald Sr. bought his sons second-hand instruments, but it was evident that more gear was required. The Emersons, like many fledgling recording artists, seemed to be on the way to obscurity. However, a music blogger stumbled onto “Dreamin’ Wild” a generation later in a Montana thrift shop. The album was then resuscitated thanks to a New York Times article focusing on the incredibly unlikely story of a record that finally gained traction 31 years after its debut.

Director Bill Pohlad (“Love & Mercy”) was moved to make the film, which stars Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel that premiered nationally in July. “To be honest when I first heard the story, I wasn’t interested but I changed my mind,” Pohlad said. “The reason I made the film was due to how great the music Donnie created is but what really put it over the top for me was how the Emerson family relates to each other,” Pohlad said. “There is this authenticity.”

“Dreamin’ Wild,” which is ninth on Time’s top 10 films of 2023 list, is a moving and compelling work. Pohlad and Donnie Emerson hugged and cried after a private screening at the Magic Lantern, which the entire Emerson family attended in September of 2022.

“It was an emotional experience,” Donnie Emerson said. And “Dreamin’ Wild’ is one of the finest films of 2023.

The Foo Fighters concert was the biggest show to hit town since Paul McCartney kicked off his “Get Back” tour at the Spokane Arena in April 2022. The August show, in front of a capacity crowd of 12,500, was the first Spokane show by the Dave Grohl-led band since drummer Taylor Hawkins died in 2022. Drummer Josh Freese proved to be the perfect fit as he combines the muscular and the subtle.

“We’re going to play 150 songs tonight,” Grohl said. “Or at least a portion of them.”

The Foo Fighters stopped at 22 tunes. Grohl and his band showcased tracks from its latest album, “But Here We Are” and a bunch of fan favorites, such as “All My Life,” “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong.”

“We should play Spokane every year,” Grohl said. “What else do I have to do?”

If only that were the truth, since few rockers are busier than the energetic Grohl.

After Taylor Swift delivered “You Need to Calm Down” during her second show in July at Seattle’s Lumen Field, 70,000 Swifties couldn’t. Swift was just three songs into her set and the volume generated by the capacity crowd rivaled what the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man delivers on any given Sunday.

The most popular singer on the planet beamed and was taken aback by the response. An eclectic group of fans screamed, sang along and cried to Swift, who now has a staggering 12 No. 1 albums. A middle-aged woman wept uncontrollably when Travis Kelce’s better half sang “Champagne Problems.” The sensitive fan lost it when Swift belted out, “because I dropped your hand while dancing/ Left you out there standing/ Crestfallen on the landing/ Champagne problems.” So much for the misnomer that Swifties are only kiddies. The National Review posited in June that “Swift is after our daughters.” Not accurate. The crowd in Seattle was as eclectic, women, men, children, gay, Black, white, Asian, Canadian, etc., as it was boisterous.

Swift is also a terrific performer. Swift held court for 3 hours and 20 minutes. Her 45-song sets were filled with dramatic staging, costume changes that rival a Beyoncé concert and a pair of songs that will only be rendered once for the entire tour. For those who missed the “Eras” tour, Swift will play three shows in Vancouver, B.C., in December 2024. Those concerts are the last of a historic tour, which has shattered sales records.

After a successful show at the Fox in 2022, Peter Rivera ran it back in September at Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center. It was an evening of Rare Earth hits and more from Rivera. The north Spokane resident delivered such familiar hits as “I Just Want to Celebrate,” “Born to Wander” and “Hey Big Brother.” Some new material was sprinkled in as Rivera held court during two shows, which benefited the Gonzaga and Whitworth University music programs.

Local boy made good Myles Kennedy returned for a sold out two-night stand at Northern Quest Resort & Casino fronting Alter Bridge in March. It’s been 20 years since Kennedy joined the hard rock band. Unlike many successful singer-songwriters, Kennedy hasn’t abandoned his home town for Los Angeles.

“I’m so inspired when I’m back in Spokane,” Kennedy said. “I’m just so relaxed. Everything I need is there. For me, Spokane is the place to be.”

Natalie Merchant played a marathon 27-song show at the Fox in September but dusted off just one song from her former band, 10,000 Maniacs. “These are Days” closed the show.

Foreigner, which made its local debut in January 1980 at the Spokane Coliseum, is on its final tour. Mick Jones’ criminally underheralded band played the hits for the final time at Northern Quest in September. Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen is the reason Foreigner is calling it quits.

“It takes a lot to sing and perform these songs at a high standard,” Hansen explained. “The Foreigner songs are hard to sing at 30, let alone at 62, which is how old I am. I don’t want to go out there sucking or cheating the audience.

“I want to finish strong and with pride. I want to serve the legacy of this great band and the last thing I want to do is disappoint anybody.”

There are some 1980s tours that should be avoided, but that isn’t so for the jaunt featuring the Hooters and Rick Springfield, who played Northern Quest in September. Both veteran recording artists, who became stars during the Reagan era, still have plenty in the tank and render their hits in energetic fashion. If only rock fans could transport themselves back to April 19, 1979, when Van Halen made its debut at the Spokane Coliseum. The iconic band, which was at the height of its powers, was on its aptly titled “World Vacation” tour. Van Halen is history but the late Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, leads Mammoth, which played the Knitting Factory earlier in the month.

Van Halen has crafted two solid Mammoth albums, in which he has written each song and played every instrument. The progeny of Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli has no problem digging deep for his art.

“I put my heart and soul into writing the lyrics for each album,” Van Halen said. “I put everything I have on the table. Sometimes you go to places that aren’t easy to go to. That’s what I did on the second album in particular.

“You have to go to those places sometimes to pull stuff out that’s painful. Sometimes you have to suffer for your art a little bit.”

The unparalleled Yo-Yo Ma finally made his Spokane debut in September. The cello virtuoso, who performed at the Fox Theater, is recognized not only for his technical brilliance but also for his engaging interpretative ability.

“It was so significant having a musician of his caliber perform with us,” Spokane Symphony conductor James Lowe said

There is no one like the Paris-born and New York-raised musician.

“There is no classical artist, who is bigger,” Lowe said. “ Yo-Yo Ma has Sesame Street appeal. He’s such a great musician and has been for a very long time … It’s an honor to have such a musician perform with us but I’m also excited since Yo-Yo Ma is such a humanitarian. Yo-Yo Ma is about uniting people and he’s played such a unique role in our culture.”

Aside from music, actor-comedian Adam Sandler brought thousands to the Spokane Arena.

And ONE Spokane Stadium opened and announced shows for 2024. Spokane Arena director of entertainment Matt Meyer has a wish list of acts, which includes Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Pink, Lil Nas X and Pearl Jam.

We’ll see if any of those heavyweights makes its Spokane debut and lands on the 2024 year in review.