By Mark T. Gould

"Of Horseshoes, Heroes and History"
“In the beginning, not so long ago
There wee five country rockers
I saw the very first show
And I jumped up with the crowd
To give a standing hand
Livin, livin’ in the band.”

Backstage at the S. Prestley Blake Theater at City Stage in Springfield, Massachusetts, an exhausted, yet healthy and happy Poco guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire Paul Cotton sat sprawled on a chair, accepting congratulations and well-wishes from fans after a stunning performance last month.

“Man, I gotta sit for a bit,” the 65-year-old, not so secret Poco weapon smiled and laughed toward a friend. “It’s been a long day, and that was some show out there.”

Indeed, it was. In an ever fast-paced world, to say you’ve done something for 40 minutes is quite rare, but when you’ve set the pace for a genre of popular music for 40 years, as Poco has, with blazing country rock records and incendiary live performances like the one in Springfield, well, you get to sit back, take a rest and take it all in.

Capturing it all, though, takes some doing, as this extraordinary band takes the road this summer to celebrate its 40th anniversary of rising out of the ashes of the Buffalo Springfield in the summer of 1968, the brain child of founding members Richie Furay, Jim Messina, and Rusty Young, whose collective vision paved the way for the merger of country and rock and roll music.

“Has it really been 40 years?” Young joked before the Springfield show, “I thought we just got started. Seriously, this has just been an amazing ride, with some great memories, fantastic fans, our ‘Poco Nuts’, and just a lot of fun.”

The fun can get muted at times, though, like early in the day of the Springfield show, when the band flew in via the red-eye following two stunning sets in Colorado the evening before, to a dawn pick-up in Hartford, through a limo breakdown on the way to the show, and, consequently, very, very little sleep.

That might be easy to do when you’re the star of “American Idol,” but it’s much more difficult to weather when you reach the age of these guys, for whom satisfying their fans and their audience has always been of utmost importance.

However, as worn out as they may have been, it, as always, never showed in their interaction with fans and friends before and after the show, and their weariness certainly didn’t rear its head during a jaw-dropping performance, kicked off when Young threw out any semblance of a set list, and Poco performed such rare chestnuts as “Just For Me and You;” “Ride The Country,” which has only been played a handful of times since, gulp, 1974; and an encore of “Honky Tonk Downstairs,” a seldom-played country weeper from their second album.

Add those to their standard repertoire of hits like “Crazy Love,” “Heart of the Night,” “Indian Summer,” “Keep on Tryin’,” and a host of others, and there’s proof positive why this monumental performance generated a lengthy standing ovation at the end of the show.

But, come to think of it, that’s been a common reaction at the almost four decades of Poco shows for a band that has always, always puts its audience first, and done things it’s own way, which is to say, at least to this long-time fan, the right, not to mention the only, way.

The core of the band remains strong with the incomparable Young’s playing on steel guitar, mandolin and guitar setting the mood, alongside Cotton’s vastly underrated singing and guitar playing. With them is Jack Sundrud, whose less than enviable task is to follow Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit in the band’s bass-playing pantheon. Listening to the emotion of his songs and his singing makes it clear that he may well be the best of the three. On drums, George Lawrence creates a more rocking and rhythmic sound, tweaking the Poco dynamic set by original drummer George Grantham, who was felled by an on-stage stroke the last time the band played in Springfield.

“I remember the feeling not so long ago
The kids came dancin’,
Their hearts were romancin’
The music was live Poco…
Do you remember then,
How the music made you feel,
When it all began”

Less than 24 hours after the end of that glorious, one for the ages Poco show, and only about 60 miles away, one of the band’s co-founders, Richie Furay, was just about to start a sound check before his show at the FTC Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Furay, now 64 (although he still looks at least a decade younger than he is) and recently recuperated from double hip replacement and knee surgery, was admittedly tired from a series of several back-to-back dates on his first full-band tour of the East Coast in many years, in support of his terrific, new double live album (see review elsewhere in this issue) and he was justifiably concerned about losing his voice. Nonetheless, before the show, he greeted long time fans and friends with the friendly, earnest rapport and genuine smile that makes him one of the truly ‘nice guys’ in his business.

“I am so pleased that you came out tonight,” Furay told the crowd as he took the stage. “We’re going to take you on a journey through 40 years of music.”

And, what music it is. Starting with his years in the Buffalo Springfield, through Poco, the Souther Hillman Furay Band and his both secular and non-secular solo work, Furay gives witness to the legacy of Poco, and his, influence on popular music.

Seemingly energized by a crowd that gave him standing ovation after standing ovation (much like his former band mates had the night before), Furay’s strong voice (yes, it never gave out) still retains that boyish and innocent charm and wonder that makes his work all the more special.

Soaked in sweat from a breathtaking almost two-hour show, Furay appeared upbeat afterward.

“All right, “he said. “We made it.”

That might be a fitting epitaph for Furay and Young’s dream, and the influence of their work with Poco, casting a giant shadow to this day on both country and rock music, even after a mind-boggling 40 years.

Just think about that for a minute. Poco has been performing for 40 years. And, as this weekend pointed out, both from their performance in Springfield and their co-founder’s own show just a few miles away in Fairfield, they still give it their all, and put a smile, and a warmth, on every fan’s face.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Long live Poco!