Seattle rockers Heart back in a big way, at Puyallup Fair Monday

By Charles R. Cross

Special to The Seattle Times 

Editor's note: Charles R. Cross has co-authored a memoir, "Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll," with Ann and Nancy Wilson of the Seattle rock band Heart. The book is due from Harper Collins on Sept. 18. The Seattle Times asked Cross to share some of his inside stories in this preview of the Wilsons' appearance at Puyallup Fair.

When Heart goes onstage at the Puyallup Fair Monday, it marks the first time in a year local fans will get a chance to see Ann and Nancy Wilson perform.

But for me, the fair show is just one of many this year.

During the months I've worked with the Wilsons on our book, I witnessed hundreds of their performances. Some were concerts, but many were private, seen only by a few. Often, after a concert was over, Ann and Nancy would continue singing on their tour bus into the wee hours. Sometimes they sang Beatles tunes with their sister Lynn, who has a beautiful voice, too. But whether it was on the tour bus, or in their homes, there was rarely a day without song.

"They carry their guitars on the bus," observes Heart road manager Bill Cracknell. "During late-night drives, they will sing for hours, everything from folk songs to show tunes. I've heard them sing the entire score to 'Oklahoma.' And there's no audience for any of these performances — they do it because they love to play."

Heart last performed locally in public at the White River Amphitheatre in September 2011, opening for Def Leppard. They spent most of last year on the road with that band, on a massive world tour that took Heart to Australia for the first time. Still, being an opening band had its challenges, and Heart's set times were limited, even in their hometown.

"I thought we'd have something to aspire against," Ann Wilson recalls. "I thought we'd go out there and kick butt with our authenticity, and our flame. Sometimes that happened, but sometimes we hit it as hard as we could, and it was like Bambi meets Godzilla."

Wilson is underestimating Heart's onstage power, because at most dates of last year's tour, critics gave Heart better reviews than Def Leppard. This year Heart is touring on its own, which allows the band a longer and more diverse set.

Heart has sold more than 35 million albums, and with so many hits — from "Barracuda" to "These Dreams" — they have a lot to cover. This show also includes new songs from the recently finished new album, titled "Fanatic," out Oct. 2.

Heart's last album, "Red Velvet Car," became a Top 10 hit in 2010, so "Fanatic" is much anticipated. The new album has more of a rock tinge, but it also includes a few ballads. One of the songs, "Rock Deep (Vancouver)," was inspired by a trip the three of us took back to the spot where they wrote all the songs on the "Dreamboat Annie" album.

Heart's early musical days are also part of the four-disc box set "Strange Euphoria," which came out this summer. That box includes Heart's very first single, "Through Eyes of Glass," which for years has been an item that Seattle record collectors would pay hundreds of dollars for.

Heart has come a long way since those days, and even made the shortlist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. But both Wilson sisters suggest they haven't changed, especially in their love of music.

"When we were young, we were aimed like arrows," Nancy Wilson says. "We still are."

Heart is part of a particularly strong lineup at Puyallup this year. In addition to Heart, rock is represented by the Doobie Brothers (Sept. 19), and Train, which closes out the season (Sept. 23).

As usual, many of the acts are country. The season kicks off Friday with Willie Nelson, followed by Craig Morgan on Saturday, Martina McBride (Sept. 12), TobyMac (Sept. 13), Tim McGraw (Sept. 22), plus a few more. Pitbull is the only rap act (Sept. 21), while Enrique Iglesias will croon his pop (Sept. 16).

Seating at fair shows is either on the main floor or in the ancient grandstand which has decent sight lines but can be uncomfortable without a stadium cushion. But wherever you sit, it's an intimate place to see a concert, particularly if the weather cooperates.

In the case of Heart, know that no matter how moving the show is — and the band always pulls out extra stops in its hometown — what the touring crew may witness at the end of the night, whether on the bus or in the dressing room, is even more special: Two women whose love of music is so central to their character that the line between stage and life is forever blurred.