Under blue stage lighting inside the Rose Bowl on July 5th, musician Sarah Borges raised her aluminum can and made a toast:

“Let’s all have a nice cheers to a good rest of the summer and people being nice to each other and themselves. Let’s try that for fun.”

Following those words of goodwill, Borges launched into the super-catchy song “Daniel Lee” — heard sometimes on the Outlaw Country station on Sirius XM — and continued with a stream of hot rockers with her four-piece band, giving the humid summer night a run for its money.

The crowd cheered enthusiastically after each tune, and attendees within the intimate space laughed heartily at Borges’ playful and ever-present sense of humor, which at times veered into racy sexual realms.


Image by Sal Nudo.

The band, out on tour to support Borges’ latest album, Together Alone, had a rare day off on the Fourth of July, according to the singer, and was “so refreshed” for the Urbana performance. “That means all of the songs are going to be even better than they were at the last show,” she told the crowd.

And they were indeed entertaining. Borges wasn’t shy about her issues with overdoing things over the years as she introduced the song “Wouldn’t Know You,” sung in part with her boyfriend, bassist Keith Voegele, who contributed excellent backing vocals while wearing cool sunglasses.

“It’s a story about your friend who has fifteen beers instead of ten,” Borges said about the song. “Maybe he smokes five joints instead of just the regular two. Maybe just goes a little too far sometimes. Doesn’t know when to quit, and it is starting to show on their face. That’s right, folks. I am the living example of this song.”

Video by Sal Nudo.

Perhaps the most surprising portion of the concert was the number of songs described and sung by guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who sounds like Neil Young. His lively tunes, which included a swingy version of “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones, matched the hard-driving, rugged tunefulness of the Borges-sung compositions.

Image by Sal Nudo.

The highlight of the night (at least for me) was the booming drum intro in between the songs “Lucky Rocks” and the crowd-pleasing “Tendency to Riot,” played by the lean drumming machine Kenny Soule.   

Image by Sal Nudo.

The band ended the show with the slow and psychedelic-sounding title track from Borges’ latest album, followed by the rollicking encore tune, “It Comes to Me Naturally” by NRBQ.

“Any time you get the opportunity to take it apart, put it back together, and see what they did – and then you can steal it all,” Borges said about playing the song by NRBQ, one of her favorite bands.

Borges informed the crowd she had played at the Rose Bowl before, noting the missing rail around the stage that was covered in roses. She called the former rail an “invisible line that the audience couldn’t cross.” Borges joked she was fearful of “stage rushers” rushing the stage since the rail was gone, but a few seconds later said such a thing wouldn’t be so bad: “That’d be great, actually. I mean, I think that would be a thrill.”

That kind of camaraderie throughout the night was welcome after the shooting tragedy in Highland Park the day before. Perhaps Borges and her band will visit Urbana-Champaign again, and maybe the words from her heartfelt toast will one day come true.

Top image by Sal Nudo.