It was one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions.
I'd heard an announcement on the radio for Hippie Fest the day before.
It'd been a tough couple of months. What better way to unwind than to escape into the '60s and '70s, and reminisce with Eric Burdon of the Animals, Terry Sylvester of the Hollies, Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Denny Laine of the Moody Blues, Melanie, Country Joe McDonald and some of the original members of Iron Butterfly?
The venue was perfect: Cypress Gardens' outdoor theater. For an extra 15 bucks you can get reserved seats so, as my husband put it, we could count the wrinkles on Denny Laine's face from where we were sitting.
No one was more excited about Hippie Fest than my 11-year-old son, Ian. He didn't glance twice at the Cypress Gardens thrill rides in his eagerness to get to the concert.
I can't sing or play a note but I love music, and I've exposed my son to an eclectic assortment of musical styles. He was still in diapers when he saw Springsteen for the first time. Our playlists include such diverse selections as Zydeco, classical, Broadway, Gregorian chants, Merle Haggard, The Clash, Etta James, Tom Jones and Elvis Costello.
After seeing the film, "Forrest Gump," my son developed a special fascination with the Vietnam era.
I introduced him to the sounds of Woodstock, and, just as I did at that age, he got a kick out of Country Joe and the Fish's war protest songs and was captivated when the clearly overwhelmed Max Yasgur got up on stage and welcomed 450,000 people onto his Sullivan County, N.Y., farm on Aug. 15, 1969, in a shaky voice.
We explored the Internet so he could view John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Mary Ann Vecchio crouched over the bullet-ridden body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State.
And when he saw the Vietnam veterans reverently run their fingers over the engraved names of fallen friends at the Vietnam War Moving Memorial, he realized this wasn't ancient history; the war was still impacting people today.
To my son's delight, Country Joe, who served as emcee of Hippie Fest, sang his signature "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag."
Seeing and hearing Joey Molland was like stepping back in time. The guy hadn't aged a day and he sounded exactly like the original recordings as he belted out the classics he'd written: "Baby Blue," "Day After Day" and "No Matter What."
There I was, sitting a few feet away, thinking, "Wow, this is the guy who played with John Lennon on the "Imagine" album." I whispered to my husband, "It's almost surreal."
I'd introduced my son to both of Eric Burdon's bands, the Animals and War, so he was familiar with "House of the Rising Sun," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "Boom Boom."
Burdon didn't disappoint us. He did them all, and more. Even so, my son was confused.
"Is that really Eric Burdon?" he asked, skeptically. We assured him it was.
"But he's fat and old," my son declared.
Yeah, that even happens to rock stars, we told him.
Iron Butterfly hit the stage for the finale with the band's classic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I whispered to Ian that he was about to hear the longest rock song in music history.
"How long?" he asked.
"Seventeen minutes," I said, recalling my music trivia. Ian groaned.
It was interesting to watch the song performed live because, when original Iron Butterfly drummer Ron Bushy began his solo, lead singer and keyboardist Martin Gerschwitz and original bass guitarist Lee Dorman actually left the stage (original lead guitarist Eric Brann died in 2003). You could see them off to the side, chatting and drinking bottled water while Bushy played with the gusto of a 20-year-old.
After the show, I spotted Gerschwitz standing in front of the stage and couldn't resist approaching him. (I am a reporter, after all). Before long, I'd cajoled him into summoning his fellow band members to autograph my son's Hippie Fest hat.
Silly me, I figured the kid would be thrilled to have the names of the members of a defunct '60s rock 'n' roll band scrawled all over his new baseball cap. However, when I turned around and handed it to him, he had that look on his face that told me he was about to cry, "Daaad! The Iron Butterfly ruined my hat!" I quickly averted an embarrassing moment by suggesting we keep this hat as a souvenir and have dad buy him another hat to wear.
While I had the band's ear, I couldn't pass up the chance to get the real story behind the origins of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I'd heard rumors about the song being based on an LSD hallucination or Hindu prayer. To my disappointment, it was nothing quite so dramatic.
Evidently, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is what "In the Garden of Eden" sounds like after consuming a gallon of cheap red wine. After hearing then-lead singer Doug Ingle slur the words, Bushy thought it was catchy and wrote it down that way, and rock's first heavy-metal classic was born in 1968.
While Iron Butterfly was being so accommodating, I decided to press my luck. I'd just purchased the new Eric Burdon DVD/CD, "Athens Traffic."
"Could you do me a favor and take this backstage and have Eric sign it for me?" I asked Gerschwitz.
"Sorry, he's already left, but I played on that CD. I'll sign it for you," Gerschwitz said.
I must have looked doubtful because he began flipping through the discography on the CD until he came to his photo and showed it to me.
"See, there I am, playing the violin," he said.
"Sure, I'd love to have your autograph," I assured him. "It's just as good as Eric's. No, it's better. You're a very nice man."
For a second there, I thought he was going to hug me. I was a bit taken aback. I'd never had anyone ask to give me their autograph before.
Footnote: I checked out Gerschwitz and, in addition to being a really nice guy, I discovered he's an accomplished musician who's played with a plethora of rockers over the years. The big surprise was discovering he played keyboards for Percy Sledge on one of my all-time favorites: "When a Man Loves a Woma