I’m the last person in the world qualified to report on concert performances. Don’t get me wrong, I listen frequently to recorded music but just have minimal interest in attending live events in actual venues. Fighting unruly crowds and breathing tainted air while catching the next great act on their next great tour just wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t see my first band in person until I was in my mid-twenties (The Who when they played at Rupp Arena), and I can probably count the number of concerts I have attended since then on the fingers of one hand.
I’m certainly no music guru. Currently I wouldn’t recognize Kanye if I saw him in Kroger and I can’t name you one single Taylor Swift song. I don’t know the difference between Adele versus Bieber and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember whether Willie Nelson is alive or dead. Let me just say that I enjoy listening to certain familiar tunes that I grew up with and I can be easily entertained with a good set of headphones by a few artists I like. But when it comes to live concerts, there are probably only two acts I would currently pay to see. One is Paul Simon and the other is John Mellencamp. Well, guess what—Mellencamp’s coming to town.
He’s actually coming to Richmond for the EKU Center for the Arts series. Believe it or not, I’ve always secretly identified with this long-haired, cigarette smoking rebel, fighting authority in America’s heartland while still professing loyalty to his hometown roots. It’s a feel-good sound with a definite bad-boy edge, somewhat similar to a midwestern version of Bruce Springsteen—only less full of himself and with a better beat.
The venue here holds about 2000 people and it’s entirely full tonight. I’m seated about 15 rows back in the center orchestra section—still a bit too cheap to spring for the premium VIP seating up close I guess. Just on looks alone, the other people here are a variable lot, a selected few coming in rather formal attire but the rest are like me dressed in jeans and a casual shirt. There are equal number of males and females, with the median age being on the sunset side of 50. The few inebriated individuals and the love birds on Cialis sitting in front of me remind me of why I don’t attend concerts.
After Carlene Carter’s 40-minute opening act, another 40-minutes goes by before Mellencamp finally comes out on stage in a white shirt, dark vest, black jacket and jeans. He’s sniffing like Donald Trump and looks like he hasn’t slept in a week. He appears wrinkled and weathered, not totally unexpected from a 65-year old exposed to the rigors of a life in rock music. At this point, he’s not totally washed up yet but his days of filling large arenas are long past and you’re not going to hear any of his stuff crack the Top 40. I know he’s a Hoosier at heart with political views leaning left of Lenin, but this dude’s music still resonates with me.
For the next 100 minutes, Mellencamp regales the audience with a progression of old and familiar melodies such as Small Town, Pink Houses, Paper in Fire and Authority Song while mixing in a few of his more recent ballads like Troubled Man. When he breaks out an acoustic, sing-along version of the little ditty about Jack and Diane, the crowd goes nuts and there’s absolutely no question that these hits from those John Cougar days are what most of his fans want to hear. Every time Mellencamp rocks out a familiar tune, knees pop and necks crane as the geriatric crowd struggles to rise to its feet. I’m most impressed by how engaged Mellencamp and the band appear throughout the evening, knowing that this performance is just another weary, non-descript stop on a long and monotonous cross country tour.
As I’m watching the performers on stage, I’m magically transported back to my wilder college days—celebrating another successful round of killer final exams with a big bag of Cheetos, a Fresca, and some Mellencamp. Or how about those rowdy Saturday nights spent in the dental school lab, waxing up a set of deluxe dentures to a Scarecrow cassette. Whether at the library or disco, chess club or night club, there’s just something about music that transcends our physical being and sucks at our cosmic souls. It speaks to us in ways that words and actions and even thoughts can never do. Music is almost spiritual in nature and yet music remains completely tangible to our senses. It is both seen and unseen–notes on a page, fingers on guitar strings, Mellencamp performing on stage. I’m giving this magical evening a five-star review. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.