MERIDEN — For a few moments on the Meriden Green on Saturday night, you might be forgiven if you thought it was 1984.
Meriden native Joby Rogers channeled Michael Jackson in “The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience” in front of a crowd of about 4,000 people at the most recent performance of the Twilight Concert Music Series.
The anticipation for the event was high. Meriden residents Diana Lawson and Charlotte Stringer were set up outside the bandshell nice and early, cold drinks in hand and umbrellas over head for a bit of shade.
They remember all the music, going back to Jackson’s Motown days. They’d heard good things about Rogers’ performance and were looking forward to a bit of musical time travel.
“This is my first time seeing him. It is just so exciting for me,” Lawson said.
“He was just so famous when he was alive,” Stringer said. “He was just such a big star. People really did love him.”
That love extended to Rogers, who boasts an endorsement from Jackson himself. Jackson looked at 116 applicants to be his substitution and anointed Rogers as his accepted substitute.
After years of performing as Jackson, Rogers has a following.
Meriden native Cassie Nunez drove 14 hours from her home in Newberry, South Carolina to see Rogers. “He is the best Michael Jackson impersonator. You are in for the best treat of your life. He has the best makeup, the best moves, the best costumes.”
“This is the closest she’s ever going to get to Michael. She’s a diehard fan,” said Meriden resident Nathanael Lopez Jr., a fellow alum of Platt High School who she surprised with her visit.
Nunez has seen Rogers many times, has gotten pictures and his autograph. She follows him on YouTube. However, Nunez has not yet been pulled up on stage to dance with him.
“I will get picked one of these days. My day will come,” she said.
Eight-year-old Roger Shaw of Gaylordsville wasn’t taking any chances about being noticed from the stage. He came to the concert dressed as Jackson from the video “Smooth Criminal” - white suit and fedora, blue shirt, white tie, gold sequined pants, and the iconic glittering white glove.
“He saw Michael Jackson on a Pepsi can and he immediately started YouTubing everything,” said his mom Megan Shaw. “He taught himself the Smooth Criminal dance. I think he realized he was just good at this and he just wanted to get better.”
“He moonwalks everywhere,” said his grandmother Lisa Webb.
The whole Jackson outfit costs about $300 on Amazon, so Shaw had to hold off. She did spring for the real pants.
The show started around 7:45 p.m. Flanked by a squad of dancers, Rogers captured Jackson’s electric moves and otherworldly appearance.
The song “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” kicked off the show, followed by Rogers alone on stage lip synching “Black or White.” “Smooth Criminal” drew cheers from the audience.
The music got people moving. As dusk came down the glow of people’s cell phones capturing “Jackson” cast light on the stage.
On Saturday night, Jackson didn’t die too young of a drug overdose. There were no accusations of impropriety. It was 1984 all over again and Jackson was the biggest pop star in the world. When Rogers as Jackson walked through the crowd singing “You Are Not Alone,” people flocked to embrace him.
Jackson’s dance moves were seared on the nation’s collective memory through hours of MTV air play and his voice rang in their radios for decades. Rogers channeled that cultural identity to the delight of the crowd, comprised of all ages.
For 80 minutes on the Meriden Green, Michael Jackson never left.