Words; Karen Hetherington / Pics; (C) David Thrower
There are few open air music venues more iconic than Hyde Park and on a day of promised musical delights, with soaring temperatures and plenty of sunshine I set off to my first gig in this fantastic location. Although I was afforded priority entry, accessing the site seemed reasonably quick and hassle free compared to other similar events. I was instantly impressed by the facilities and layout of the venue which hosted two stages – the Barclaycard stage and the Great Oak stage, the latter, as the name suggests was by far the grander of the two and designed to blend in with the background of the park.
The James Hunter Six kicked off the entertainment on the Great Oak Stage as revellers spilled in from various directions, soaking up the sun and the chilled out bluesy vibe while I checked out all that the venue had on offer before making my way over to the Barclaycard stage for the fantastic Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown. The Nashville rock band, who have supported acts such as Aerosmith, ZZ Top and AC/DC played a highly charged, energetic ( albeit relatively short) set which featured some mind blowing percussion towards the end which was massively well received by the decent sized crowd who had assembled to see them.
Next up for me were The Lumineers over on the Great Oak Stage. A band I had no familiarity of, I had heard great things and was therefore eager to check them out on recommendation. I was very pleasantly surprised and their set which included the tracks ‘Ho Hey’ and ‘Cleopatra’ sounded amazing, if somewhat mellower than I was expecting.
Like many other like minded individuals, and at the risk of missing other musical acts in the interim, I positioned myself as close as possible to the front of the Gold Circle barrier at the Great Oak Stage and prepared to wait patiently about an hour or so before Stevie Nicks was due to put in an appearance. As standing gigs are usually a free- for- all, I was disappointed to observe several individuals sitting on the ground right at the front of the barrier holding space for others. Not only was this considered ‘not fair game’ by me, but also extremely unsafe due to the ever expanding crowd continuously jostling for a better view.
Undoubtedly worth the wait, when rock goddess Stevie opened with Gold & Braid the audience was instantly captivated by her undeniable charisma and stage presence. Although the set comprised mostly of solo hits there were a few classic Fleetwood Mac tracks thrown in for good measure including ‘Dreams’, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Gold Dust Woman’ and this particularly passionate rendition of the final track of the Rumours album was nothing short of phenomenal. An eternal style icon, Stevie donned a striking gold shawl during the performance and indeed had several changes of attire throughout the set which seemed to be themed to suit the songs.
Stevie Nicks is an artist I’ve been waiting all my life to see and I was as enchanted with her gypsyesque style, expressive, ethereal movements and beautiful speaking voice as I was with her singing and therefore delighted in hearing the background stories to some of her songs. It seemed however that not everyone felt the same as
I heard whispers of discontent from some of those behind who just wanted Stevie to “sing more songs”.
The incredible guitar playing of Waddy Wachtel provided an interesting twist to some classic tracks such as ‘Edge of Seventeen’ and when Stevie’s set was nearing its conclusion the musicians downed instruments and departed the stage before returning with encores ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Landslide’. Although I am aware of the enduring popularity of Rhiannon (it’s always been a favourite of mine), I was surprised to hear Stevie comment that since the first performance of the track she has never performed on a stage anywhere in the world since and not played it… Landslide provided the ultimate emotive conclusion to what was an emotionally charged performance throughout with many fans reduced to tears.
I confess that when I saw Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty were playing the same bill I suspected they wouldn’t let the opportunity pass without a performance of ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ but as the set finished, the stage cleared and the crowd began to dissipate somewhat I considered it may have been wishful thinking…
Taking a breather from the cram at the front of the Great Oak Stage I wandered into the thoroughfare for some liquid refreshments and fresh air, only to realise after several minutes that I didn’t stand much chance of getting back in anywhere with a decent vantage point. Determined not to let it spoil my musical high, it was seated from a comfortable distance and mostly on the big screen that I watched the legend that is Tom Petty perform ‘Rockin Around’ as his opening offering.
Mr Petty was looking and sounding sensational as he ploughed his way through the electrifying set of his classic repertoire including ‘I Won’t Back Down’, ‘Free Fallin’ and ‘Learning to Fly’. Around the halfway mark Tom Petty took a well-deserved break for a few minutes to present the Heartbreakers and regale the crowd with some interesting tales on how he came to be in association with them all before reintroducing Stevie on stage and announcing that they were “going to do one we both know”. The opening chords of ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ were unsurprisingly rewarded with rapturous applause. Nicks and Petty, both adorning blonde locks and dark shades and who have an affiliation dating back to 1978, looked the part dueting together and I was left with a lingering feeling that I had just witnessed something extraordinary.
The second half of the set saw Tom launch into several tracks from the popular ‘Wildflowers’ album which went down a storm with the audience but it was the familiar sound of my personal favourite ‘Refugee’ which had me back on my feet, dancing and swaying to the music and with the uplifting feeling that whatever else was in store musically, everything I could have wished for had been played already.
As the sun set the full magnificence of the Great Oak Stage was a sight to behold and still Tom Petty played on, in fact he packed in an impressive 19 songs in all finishing the night with the incredible ‘American Girl’.
To conclude, the finishing act on the finishing night of British Summer Time – which is now in its fifth year was nothing short of monumental.
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty are two of the bestselling and most influential artists of our time, the longevity of their careers testament to their devotion and passion for their music which is timeless and still attracting fans of all ages.
If you’re wise you will go and see musical icons such as these any time you can – while you can. I will consider myself eternally grateful to even be within earshot of these legends. Exceptional music, company, atmosphere and location combined to make a magical evening and one it will be impossible to forget.
Experiences like these make memories forged in gold.