Kissimmee, FL (12/31/20)
New Year’s Eve is normally everyone’s favorite time for revelry. Throngs of people find their way to parties and venues featuring top entertainment. But with the world in the vice like grips of a pandemic, New Year’s Eve in 2020 seemed destined to be one of finding the best program on tv or just plain hiding under the covers. For the lucky few that were able to snatch up tickets, Promenade at Sunset Walk in Kissimmee, Florida would be playing host to one of the very few events throughout the United States that would allow people to rock in the new year. Who would be there to complete the party? None other than Robin Zander the voice of the iconic rock band Cheap Trick, and multi-platinum recording artist Collective Soul.
With a highly contagious disease riddling the world, the question is how do you pull off a feat such as holding a concert while allowing people to attend. Most importantly you need to find an outdoor venue that would be perfectly suited to holding a concert in these trying times. Too big, and the place will seem empty with a socially distanced correct sized crowd, too small and you won’t be able to keep people the required distance away from each other. Promenade at Sunset Walk fit the bill beautifully. Featuring an outdoor entertainment area as well as casual and fine dining plus retail spots all within minutes of Orlando, no one could have picked a better venue. Prior to entry, everyone was required to get a temperature check, use hand sanitizer and was even given a face mask emblazoned with Happy New Year. With plenty of areas designed to only hold a set amount of people in front of the stage, things were made as safe as possible for everyone in attendance.
By 9:30 the crowd was primed to have a great time and staring at the stage in disbelief that they were indeed actually out at a concert. Finally, it was time for the show to start. Robin Zander made his way on stage. Dressed in all black right down to the bolero hat on his head while holding his Takamine twelve string guitar. He looked every bit the cool as a cucumber rock star. On stage he was flanked by a younger man and woman, who he introduced as his son Robin Taylor Zander and his daughter Robin Sailor Zander. Obviously, he has passed his prodigious talent onto his kids. He led off the night with “I Can’t Take It”. With just Robin and his son on their acoustic guitars as well as his daughter singing back up, the song sounded great. To hear it being played acoustic gave it a whole different feel, which would be the tone for a portion of his set. He followed it up with “Borderline”, “Voices” and “Lookout”. When he got to “California Man”, he had that same up-tempo energy that the original had, and boy did the crowd respond to it. Robin also let his kids have some time to shine. His daughter Sailor showcased her beautiful voice on “Ghost Town”, and his son Taylor played piano and sung along with his father on “The Distance”. As his part of the show was nearing the end, Robin saved the best for last. When the first notes of “The Flame” were played, that’s when the audience really started the sing along. If there is one song that has made Cheap Trick and of course Robin Zander’s career, it was their massive hit “I Want You To Want Me”. From the the moment he played the first chords of this instantly recognizable song, it became the biggest sing along anywhere around. If there is one song that could possibly top that to close out the night, it would be “Surrender”. From the front of the crowd to the back, all you could hear were people singing “mommies alright, daddies alight, they just seem a little weird”. Now that is how you get a New Year’s Eve celebration started.
All eyes were on the stage and no one was willing to move from the spot they had staked out all evening. With so many hit songs and platinum albums under their belts, this event would have sold out whether it was a regular concert or the New Years Eve party of tonight. While this may have been a smaller crowd than usual due to Covid related restrictions, they certainly let out a huge cheer that belayed their size when the guys in Collective Soul took the stage. As always, lead singer Ed Roland was decked out in a stylish outfit. Tonight, it was suit pants, and a jacket covered in flowers with a white t-shirt underneath and sporting some blue tinted glasses. As cool as he looked, from the moment he launched into “Let The Love Grow”, a newly penned song, he sounded far cooler. His smooth voice sounds just as fresh today, as it did when the band first broke back in the early nineties.
Without giving the audience a chance to catch their breath, they launched into the first of many fan favorites “Why, Pt. 2”. They followed that up with a powerhouse version of “Heavy”. While Lead guitarist Jesse Triplett was ripping off one fiery lick after another, Ed Roland had his favorite stage dance partner in hand, his mic stand. The night when on with hit after hit. They played “Gel”, “December”, and “Precious Declaration” all in a row, leaving all of their fans breathless from singing and cheering.
After a rousing version of “AYTA (Are You The Answer)” Ed walked past his brother Dean Roland, who is also the bands rhythm guitarist, and sat behind a piano set off to one side of the stage. As he looked out into the audience he asked if there was any first responders in the audience. As hands shot up, he gut up from behind his piano, walked to the edge of the stage thanked them all as he applauded their service. He finally made his way back to his piano as the band launched into “Shine”.
With acoustic guitar in hand, Ed Roland led the band in another new song “La Di Da”. As things were getting close to midnight the band was able to sneak in one more song. Written and released far before the pandemic, “Run” was a very fitting choice to be included in the nights show. Starting off with the lyrics “Are these times contagious”, it definitely strikes a chord with the times we are in.
As the song ended, the band put their instruments down, and the countdown to midnight, and the new year began. When the crowd hit one, the cheers of happy new year began. Of course, fireworks went off and confetti rained down on everyone. With the fireworks off to the side of the audience instead of behind the stage, even the band was able to enjoy that part of the show.
Thankfully, the party didn’t end with the fireworks. Instruments were retrieved, and Collective Soul played “The One I Love” by fellow Georgia band R.E.M. If there was one song that summed up how everyone was feeling right now, it was “Better Now”. Perfectly placed in the set, with 2020 behind everyone and all the people soaking in the joy of live music; as the first line said “ Oh, I’m newly calibrated and all shiny and clean” and that fit the moment to a tee.
As all good things must come to an end, so did this party. After fifteen songs, fireworks, and confetti there was time for one final song. With all that has gone on in this past year the only logical choice would be “The World I Know”. For the final four minutes of the night, it was a sea of people soaking this up and singing along. As the song came to an end, the band hugged and admired the joy they brought to all of their fans.
New Years are about new beginnings. With all that the world has endured over the past year, a new beginning was sorely needed. While the vaccine on the horizon is the beginning of hope for our health, what about our soul? Live music is the best shot for that, and who better to deliver that then Collective Soul. Tonight’s flawless performance will hopefully carry everyone through to their next concert and better times.
Promenade AT Sunset Walk: