Burlington Free Press: Dylan, Mellencamp, Nelson Light Up Fairgrounds

By Brent Hallenbeck, Free Press Staff Writer

ESSEX JUNCTION — It seems like just about every poetic, folky singer-songwriter is described as “Dylanesque” — the irony being, of course, that the one who really can’t be described as Dylanesque is Bob Dylan himself. His elusive reputation means that you never quite know which Dylan you’re getting in concert: acoustic or electric, wild or restrained, creatively sharp or practically incomprehensible.

The Bob Dylan who showed up with his band Friday at the Champlain Valley Exposition was electric, just this side of wild and mostly sharp. He concluded five hours of music before 10,000 or so fans who also heard from fellow legends John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson (combined age of the trio exceeding two centuries) and the up-and-coming Americana band The Wiyos, creating one of the most memorable nights of big-name musical fire power Vermont has ever heard.

The on-and-off drizzle Friday night was mostly on for Dylan’s set, as it was for his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who preceded him, John Mellencamp. The youngster of the bunch – he’ll be 58 in October – delighted the crowd from his opening sing-along hit, “Pink Houses.” By far the most sentimental of the trio, Mellencamp sings mellow songs about aging and feeling wistful for days gone by while alternating those moments of melancholy with the all-out rock he built his reputation on.

A solo acoustic version of the nostalgic “Small Town” soon gave way to a frenetic version with his band of one of Mellencamp’s most intense songs, “Rain on the Scarecrow.” “Crumblin’ Down” also sounded sharp (despite an awkward false start), and he demonstrated the most physical energy of the night by prowling the stage with fists pumping.

The continually reflective Mellencamp concluded his set by introducing a song he said he wrote as a 22-year-old, “Authority Song.” The tune might be a sequel to “I Fought the Law” but still has bite considering its author is now something of a rock ‘n’ roll authority figure himself.

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