Chi-Lites Kick Off SummerStage Season At Queensbridge Park
In spite of the blazing heatwave, the group pulled a thick crowd of fans to the free concert. Organized by the City Parks Foundation, and presented by AT&T, SummerStage provides Queens’ residents with free arts productions that promote music, dance, theater and film.
This night was all about music to make you dance. The stage was set up on the south side of the park, just below the Queensboro Bridge and while children ran around chasing dragonflies, there was a lot of dancing going on once the members of The Chi-Lites appeared.
With the sun going down over the river, The Chi-Lites arrived on stage, shuffling out in bright blue zoot suits and white hats. They opened with “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People”, its 1971 anthem. Comprised of singers Frank Reed, Fred Simon, Tara Thompson, (and backing vocalist Diana Simon), the sole original member of the group, Marshall Thompson, waved at the audience and acted as the master of ceremonies. Thompson, who will be 70 in August, still moved smoothly as he did 40 years ago.
Backed by a tight four-piece band, they danced to “Lonely Man”.
Reed, who has been with the group for 26 years, brought his falsetto to many songs, notably “I Want To Pay You Back For Lovin’ Me” and the swinging funk love song, “Stoned Out Of My Mind”. The group mixed it up, moving from hits to covers, including a Temptations medley of “Since I Lost My Baby” and “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”, and an excellent cover of R. Kelly’s recently-released “Share My Love”.
It’s been 30 years since they last had a hit on the charts, but The Chi-Lites’ legacy is strong, having been covered and sampled by artists such as Paul Young, M.C. Hammer, Paul Wall, Beyoncé and Jay Z. Although Thompson mentioned this, it was soon clear that the crowd was more interested in hearing the group’s two biggest hits. He played the melodica as they sang “Oh Girl”, before calling in “Have You Seen Her?” The crowd was so excited, Thompson started a conga line, dancing into the crowd and bringing people onstage. People were then encouraged to take turns singing, karaoke style; though this quickly turned into something similar to Showtime At The Apollo as the crowd gleefully booed the bad ones.
They closed with “Inner City Blues”, before Thompson moved to a merchandise table to sign autographs. The Chi-Lites brought soul to SummerStage and it was excellent: as one audience member said, “I would have paid to see that.”
Since it began 27 years ago, more than six million people have attended SummerStage. The festival in Queens runs until August 9.
Visit www.SummerStage.org for festival information.