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Sammy Hagar Has the Cantina Crankin'

Of the Oakland Press

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Last year, Sammy Hagar experimented with a new touring concept.

Now he has it down to a science.

Call it Sammypalooza. The erstwhile Red Rocker, who's also logged time fronting Montrose and Van Halen, used the DTE Energy Music Theatre as one of the labs for his all-things-Hagar show in 2005. Sure, there's music -- three hours of rowdy rock 'n' roll, with this year's show including a set of Van Halen music by Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony, who have dubbed themselves The Other Half (brothers Edward and Alex Van Halen being the other other half).

But before the show fans can traipse through a village inspired by Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina clubs in Mexico and California, where they can play sand volleyball, sing "Sammy-oke," pose for pictures with burros, listen to Mariachi bands and drink tequila -- specifically Hagar's award-winning Cabo Wabo brew.

"It's so cool, because this is what I've been trying to do forever," says Hagar, 58. "I've been trying to talk promoters into doing this for years, and as soon as I do it, it works and I get to say 'I told ya so!' Now, how cool is that?"

The big change this year, says Hagar, is that unlike 2005's makeshift festivals he now carries three truckloads' worth of facades, fake palm trees and other accoutrements for the village -- though the burros, Mariachis and sand remain local hires.

"The fans get there early like they're supposed to," Hagar notes. "From when we open the doors to the venue to the time we shut it down, it's kind of like trying to shut down a packed bar at two o'clock, last call; everybody's going, 'No, we ain't leavin' !'

"And when I bring it up on stage to the fans in the middle of the show, 'How'd you like the village?,' It's like, 'Roooooooaaar!' It's like my new hit record."

Anthony, who favors Jack Daniels to tequila but notes that "I don't deny the virtues of Sam's drink," has certainly been impressed by what he's seen on the tour so far.

"I think it's a great thing as far as a full-day type of deal," the bassist says. "It's a lot more than a concert for these people, if you know what I mean."

The hour-long Other Half segment of the show adds to that experience as well. The idea was hatched at Hagar's annual birthday bash last October in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "Mikey was trying to play hard to get, acting like he wasn't coming, 'cause he wanted to surprise me," Hagar recalls. "All of a sudden, we bust into a Van Halen song at the show, and here comes Mikey running down the ramps and jumps on stage and I scream out of the blue -- 'Oh my God, It's the other half!'

"In the dressing room afterwards, Mike and I were laughing about 'the other half,' and I said, 'There's a reason to go out and play right there. We got a name. You have to have a name first.' "

The two have been digging deep into the Van Halen archive for these shows, digging up relative rarities such as "Good Enough" and "Humans Being." Anthony has also been "unleashed" to take a couple of bass solos during the segment.

"For me, it is like Van Halen unleashed 'cause I'm going out there and really getting down with it," Anthony, 52, explains. "We're going out and having some fun and playing songs for people that they want to hear."

It's also allowing both me to wash away some of the lingering dissatisfaction from the 2004 Van Halen reunion tour, which they say was burdened by Edward Van Halen's mercurial temperament and by other inner-band tensions -- including the Van Halen brothers' attempt to keep Anthony out of the outing, forcing him to instead take a smaller salary than the partnership split he was entitled.

"There were moments when I wanted to walk away," says Hagar, who replaced original Van Halen singer David Lee Roth in 1985 and was with the band until 1996. "It wasn't worth it for me. It was only for the fans; I hung in there strictly for the fans, because they wanted it, they needed it and we gave it to them. But it could have been done a lot better and certainly a lot cheaper."

Nevertheless, Hagar contends that "we could do it again -- on different terms. If Eddie wanted to straighten himself out and be a band again, a real band, Mike and I would be there in five minutes. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. But I don't see it happening right away."

In the meantime Hagar is happy to keep his solo career in high gear -- including the July 25 release of a new album, "Livin' it Up," which features the singles "Sam I Am" and a cover of the Staples singers' "Let Me Take You There," along with Bob Dylan's appropriate "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" (aka "Everybody Must Get Stoned").

"This is all about a lifestyle -- mine and my fans'," Hagar explains. "The show, the album...It's kind of like a manual to the way I live. 'Hey, you want to live like me? You can live like me. You don't have to be rich and famous. You just need to consolidate your time so that you can spend as much quality time doing the things you want to do.'

"And when you do that, man, life gets really, really fun."

Sammy Hagar's Livin' It Up Tour, featuring the Wabos and The Other Half, plays Saturday (July 8th) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. The Cabo Wabo Village opens at 3 p.m., with music expected to start at a

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