By Roger Friedman, ,
Published May 20, 2015
Former President Bill Clinton still has the music in him. On Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut, he hopped on stage and joined the Blues Brothers for a rocking concert.
Clinton came to Mohegan Sun ostensibly for two reasons: to help founding Saturday Night Live star Dan Aykroyd celebrate his 50th birthday, and to open a spectacularly renovated casino and new hotel owned by Native Americans and run by Sun International in rural Connecticut.
Sun imported dozens of celebrities and reporters for their splashy premiere. The new Mohegan Sun hotel rises out of the Connecticut horizon like a piece of wonderful modern art.
Inside, the casino/hotel/shopping mall designed by famed architect David Rockwell is like some fantastic space station from a Star Trek movie. You have to see it to believe it. Las Vegas should be so lucky.
Aykroyd had been scheduled to appear in the Mohegan's Wolf Den to put on a free Blues Brothers show with Jim Belushi for weeks. They were already planning to be joined by legendary sidemen Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn.
What Aykroyd didn't know was that his wife of 20 years, the beauteous Donna Dixon, and pal Jerry Inzerillo of Sun International were planning a surprise after-party for Aykroyd and about 200 of his closest friends.
Suddenly, Aykroyd saw his pals pouring into the Mohegan's cabaret space. On hand to celebrate his half century were former SNL colleagues Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman and Lorne Michaels, as well as current/recent stars Jimmy Fallon and Molly Shannon, actors (and romantic couple) John Cusack and Neve Campbell, a slim and blonde Roseanne Barr, plus Chris Fitzpatrick and Joey Fatone of 'N Sync (the latter danced the night away with model/actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).
On the music front, Aykroyd also wound up hosting soul legends Sam Moore and Wilson Pickett, Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, J. Geils's Peter Wolf and blues man Elvin Bishop.
Paul Shaffer, who's become indispensable at landmark music events in the New York area, led the band.
Cyndi Lauper, who'd played in the resort's convention center earlier in the evening with Cher on her farewell tour (Cher's that is, not Cyndi's), dropped by before heading to her next concert date.
Wyclef Jean and Spike Lee were also spotted hanging out in the casino, as were Brando-ish actor Justin Chambers, the gifted dramatic actress from television CCH Pounder, actress/producer Colleen Camp and eventually Ron Silver with steady (and gorgeous) lady friend Kate de Castelbajac.
It was Pickett, taking the stage during the Blues Brothers show prior to the birthday surprise, who urged Clinton to pick up the sax.
Resplendent in a pinstriped navy blue Versace suit, Wicked Pickett — whose hits include "In the Midnight Hour" and "634-5789" — pleaded during his "Land of a 1000 Dances": "Please, Mr. President, come up here!"
Clinton, who was cutting the resort's ribbon with Connecticut's Sen. Chris Dodd (D), was finally convinced. By the time he arrived on stage, Moore, Tyler and others were performing "Soul Man."
While Moore sang his famous song, Clinton blasted away with much gusto and enthusiasm. His actual musicality may not have been perfect, but his glee was most evident. The audience went crazy, giving the former president several raucous ovations.
Later, at Aykroyd's birthday party, many of the musical guests turned in impromptu jam sessions. The wildest one featured Sam Moore, who performed a heart-wrenching gospel-tinged version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long."
Suddenly Tyler, along with Valerie Simpson, appeared just beneath him on the dance floor and began trading lines of the song as if they were in a Southern Baptist church. Even the most jaded of the celebrity guests broke into a stamping soul-clapping thunder until the end of the number.
This sudden act of live and heartfelt music was in sharp contrast to Cher's show, which was going on simultaneously in the convention center.
At one point I witnessed her singing some techno song while a video projector above her played the same song, but a version which had obviously been filmed for VH1.
The video and the so-called live version were perfectly synched, meaning the latter had to have been pre-recorded as well. It had all the spontaneity and soul of spray-cheese.
And even though I like the 'N Sync guys, I thought it was interesting that in a weekend full of music jams they never once attempted to join in. It was the same as the after-party jam at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy dinner back in February. These guys must be stage-shy.
But this sideshow weirdness couldn't detract from the main event at Mohegan on Friday night, or from the place itself. Rockwellian neo-art deco touches are in every nook and cranny, from the furniture in the hotel rooms to the intricate tile-and-wood inlay work and design that recall Native American styles.
From the restrooms to the restaurants, the place is a design groupie's (that would be me) dream. You feel a little like you've landed in Albert Brooks's movie Defending Your Life. This is some kind of heaven, a contained space removed from the real world that is extremely pleasant and full of good food.
Rosie O'Donnell also turned up on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun, where she premiered her new comedy act and told me a thing or two about her immediate plans.
Rosie confided that she "had to leave" her successful talk show for the sake of her kids and her own mind. She's going to do an HBO special called The Bitch Ain't So Nice, and then tour the act around the country.
The material is very different from her talk show, so hold onto your seats. On Saturday night, when she opened for Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, Rosie told a couple of jokes so raunchy that parents were covering their kids' ears. Nevertheless, some children grew up fast Saturday night.