The Breeze and Neptune Entertainment brought a line up of disco legends that drew people from all over the country and the world to ASB Baypark in Mt. Maunganui. On the back of TOTO, Jefferson Starship and Dragon playing the night before, Sounds of the Supremes, Sister Sledge, The Village People, The Pointer Sisters, Kool & the Gang and The Jacksons played a fiery stream of the 70s/80s biggest dance hits.
I arrived along with a sea of rainbow costumes, hairy chests, flair trousers and afro wigs at the 3pm opening time. The sun was shining as an extensive sound check was underway. First impressions of the venue saw two screens hugging either side of a giant stage with a third further back, and sections roughly split into seating, eating and toilets.
First up at 4pm to kick off was Sounds of the Supremes. The half full crowd was greeted with the first of many, many hits with You Keep Me Hanging On. The three piece, led by Kaaren Ragland alongside Kathy Merrick and Althea Burkhalter, looked and sounded amazing. Dressed in matching golds and blacks, their smiles beamed over the sun kissed crowd with power that only 50 years of performing could have fostered.
With a full band of fine musicians, their set continued to breathe fresh life into other hits Stop In The Name Of Love and Love Child before ending with Someday We’ll Be Together. Despite their enthusiasm, however, the crowd stayed mostly seated and scrambling for any kind of shade in the sweltering summer sun.
Next up was Sister Sledge. Joined by their sons (and nephews), the three sisters Debbie, Joni and Kim took to the stage with an energy that kept eyes glued to the stage. Opening with 1979 hit Thinking Of You, they bounded and danced around the stage with the agility of young athletes.
Joined by another great array of musicians including a master class saxophonist, the families harmonies raised hairs with their hits We Are Family, He’s the Greatest Dancer, Lost in Music and a cheeky cover of CHIC’s Good Times.
Known for their on-stage presence, the original line up of disco icons Village People performed a well choreographed set that saw the venue start to bloat. Dressed as a native American, cowboy, cop, builder, army veteran and biker gang member, the group played mega hits Macho Man, In the Navy, Go West and Y.M.C.A to the ecstatic joys of an increasingly merry (and burnt) crowd.
The Pointer Sisters were up next at 7pm. Being a huge fan of their first 1974 album That’s A Plenty, I was hoping to catch a few tracks of that record but their 80s dance hits took precedent. Led by original sister Ruth Pointer in a striking rose spotted suit, she was joined by her daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadako.
The strong connection between these three was evident in how they moved, danced and sung together, lifting the crowd out of their seats to Jump (For My Love), Fire, He’s So Shy, Slow Hand and I Am So Exited.
Next up was one of my own all time favourite groups Kool & the Gang. This was their first time ever in NZ and although the line up has changed dramatically through the years, original members bassist Robert “Kool” Bell, saxophonists Ronald Bell and Dennis Thomas, trumpeter Michael Ray and drummer George Brown remain as cool as ever.
Ripping straight into their hit Tonight, after commenting on how much they love New Zealand lamb, the pedigree of this 13 piece group was apparent off the bat.
Draped in fluorescent swirls and scales of blue, white and black, they glided and swayed as a kind of funky super-organism.
As the sun began to set to an intense purple hue, the famous horn section belted the thousands in the crowd with Get Down On It, Ladies Night, Jungle Boogie before topping a maddening set with Celebration - I don’t think I have seen so many smiles as when the crowd matched the tracks “Woo Hoos”.
Finishing up the roughly 6/7 hours of nonstop disco was the notorious Jacksons. The night had began to set in as the screens displayed psychedelic archival footage of the group in the 70s, building up to their long awaited appearance. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon took to the stage like gods - I actually saw some members of the crowd in tears.
Screams continued through out their set that included Enjoy Yourself, Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground), Can You Feel It and even older classic ABC. This was a extremely talented and well-thought out set that had the original dance moves performed the same as they did almost 50 years ago - they literally did not stop moving - with extensive yelps paying tribute to their late brother Micheal.
The Summers Day Disco was an event like no other I have attended. Seeing these acts back-to-back was an experience that I, like others there, would not have imagined of being able to see. Audiology, along with The Breeze and Neptune Entertainment, did a great job overall when it came to the sound mix, scheduling and venue layout.
But the true stars of the day were the beautiful disco crowd of all ages, sizes and creeds that boogied together in pure ecstasy, celebrating the vibrancy of the 70s thats all too lost in our mainstream music culture.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Henry Appleyard for all the images featured in this article.