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Friday, July 12, 2013

Watch the River Flow

Last Saturday night at the Americanarama Festival at Riverbend in Cincinnati the crowd milled, ebbing and flowing from their seats to the concession stands. Richard Thompson Electric Trio, Wilco and My Morning Jacket were all on the roster. Culminating in Bob Dylan's performance.

A young crowd, Millenials and Gen X’ers and younger, had come for the first three performances. The rest of us—baby boomers--were there to hear the one who had, to borrow loosely from Joan Baez, "burst on the scene already a legend" a half century ago.
We had arrived a little too late to hear Richard Thompson. And learned Thompson had started playing before the scheduled time.

My Morning Jacket was deafeningly loud with lyrics indistinguishable in the cacophony of noise. The younger set in the crowd appeared delighted with the music and danced throughout MMJacket’s performance.

I know I sound like my parents did many decades ago when we boomers, or should I make that Geezers, first started listening to rock & roll. But, in truth, my ears hurt. Maybe the tolerance for loud music fades with age. Or maybe some of us just don’t like our thoughts totally slammed by sound.

In any event, Wilco’s performance was much more enjoyable and melodious to my ears. As a result of the slightly less deafening sound Wilco was producing, a number of the younger members of the crowd repeatedly urged the performers to crank up the sound. Jeff Tweedy, lead singer for Wilco, replied, very nicely, to those in the crowd asking for more volume: “You’re just deaf from My Morning Jacket's performance”. And Wilco was not going to compete in the category of loudness.

The crowd settled down. And as our ears recovered, at least those of us oldsters who still had any hearing left, enjoyed the lyrics and melodies from the spirited performers. To the crowd’s delight, Richard Thompson joined Wilco on stage for a few songs, including one of the highlights, "California Stars". 

Two young men next to us, maybe a bit older than Millenials, but not by much, had been among those complaining at first as to Wilco's lack of deafening qualities. Now that Wilco had ended, one young man told his companion in a grudging voice he was ready to go but would stay for one song in Dylan’s set. His companion agreed to the plan.

As in most concerts, the main act was last. But I got to wondering: did this order of performance really make any sense? Here it was almost 9:30, the time many of the oldsters who had come to see Dylan were likely ready to call it a night. Why didn't the producers start with a group like Wilco and then follow with Dylan?  Us old-timers could head home, having a lovely evening of music, and still make it to our beds at a reasonable time. The youngsters who had come for the loudest group, My Morning Jacket, likely would still be raring to go throughout the concert.

In any event, it was almost 9:30 when the sun dipped below the horizon. A cool breeze suddenly blew in from the Ohio River. The stage went dark. And a powerful acoustical sound hit the crowd as the same time as the cool breeze. The crowd as one jumped up to get a glimpse of the darkened stage. When the lights came on, Dylan, clad in dark pants and a white jacket, with the rest of his band in all black, lit into "Things Have Changed". The crowd went wild.

Dylan once again demonstrated why he's an enduring icon. Dylan and his back-up band, including Charlie Sexton on lead guitar after Duke Robillard’s unexpected departure less than a week earlier, performed for an hour and a half, with Dylan singing, playing keyboard or harmonica. Dylan had promptly removed his white hat and played with his mop of gray curls uncovered for most of the show. The highlights were “Blind Willy McTell”, “Early Roman Kings” and “Love Sick”. 

The two young men next to us were still there at concert’s end. I suppose the concert schedule was well thought out after all, offering something for everyone.