09.26.2008 - As Columbus, Indiana Mayor Fred Armstrong noted in proclaiming Sept. 23 John Mellencamp Day, the first—and last—time John Mellencamp played the 700-seat Crump Theatre in Columbus, Indiana was on Oct. 4, 1976, when the then Johnny Cougar was supporting his debut album “Chestnut Street Incident.”
Mellencamp returned to “Chestnut Street” in his career-encompassing Sept. 23 concert at the Crump, which was lensed for the forthcoming “Back Where We Started” documentary-style special on Mellencamp’s formative years being produced for the Bio Channel. He offered a fragment of the album’s titletrack—admittedly about as much as he could remember—along with other early fare like “Taxi Dancer” and “I Need a Lover,” all of which were performed solo acoustic. His performance of “To M.G. (Wherever She May Be)” from 1980's “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” was dedicated to the high school flame he wrote it for—who lives in Columbus and happened to be in the audience.
Other old Mellencamp classmates and pals were present, as were family members—most notably young son Speck, whom Mellencamp said was auditioning for the band when he came out to play guitar on show closer “Authority Song.” Past band members were also on hand and included guitarist Dave Parman, who now teaches at Vincennes University—which Mellencamp attended—and bass player Ferd, who laughingly declined Mellencamp’s mid-show invitation to come up and play.
The old Crump itself showed every bit its age. Built in 1874, the dilapidated music hall-turned-movie theater, while modernized in the 1940s, required re-bolting some of the seats to the floor—and the installation of a fire escape to get it up to code. While Mellencamp didn’t recall much about his preceding concert experience there, he did recount he vivid memories of he and a friend riding their Honda 305 Scramblers to Columbus and seeing “Easy Rider” at the Crump, and chuckled at his memory of how they "really tore up Columbus that night" after being inspired by the movie. And in between “Small Town” and “Rain On the Scarecrow” he was reminded of the worst show he ever played, the famed Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1977: Excited to play the Beatles legendary stomping ground, he found the place to be a dump where only three people showed up to see him.
His return to the Crump, however, was SRO. The street outside was closed off at 7 p.m., and for the many fans unable to secure tickets, Mellencamp provided a TV monitor and speakers for outdoor viewing. He and Elaine also came out to sign autographs prior to receiving the mayoral proclamation.
Recognizing the accomplishments of “one of our own Hoosiers,” Mayor Armstrong ran through Mellencamp’s career highlights and lauded him both for choosing to make Indiana his home and his “tremendous contributions to the institutions and people of our great state.”
Mellencamp was preceded on stage by the Debuteens and Music Men--a 24-voice high school choir from Columbus North High who performed three Mellencamp songs a cappella, much to the approval of the singer-songwriter watching from the wings. Other highlights of Mellencamp’s set included an especially rocking version of “Paper and Fire” and “Longest Days,” the latter song enlivened by Mellencamp’s charming story about visiting his now-deceased 100-year old grandma. It was very hot in the small theater with all the TV and lighting equipment in use, but by all accounts Mellencamp’s sweaty performance was hotter still.
“Back Where We Started” is set to air in December and will feature as many as six of the Crump performances together with numerous interviews of people who were part of Mellencamp’s early career.