Dylan-Mellencamp-Nelson Summer Tour Off to a Big Start

One of the most eagerly anticipated summer concert tours kicked off big-time last night when The Bob Dylan Show Featuring Bob Dylan and his Band, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson opened at the GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois.

Following Willie's typically easy-going and effortlessly crowd-pleasing lead-off set, John and his band took full control with "Pink Houses." The sun was setting on the beautiful 80-degree day, the stadium and field were packed, and John (looking cool in jeans, longsleeve shirt, black vest and shades) was clearly rocking in his first U.S. concert appearance of the year-not counting his special appearances at the Obama inauguration and Pete Seeger birthday celebration.

A slow, smoldering version of "Paper in Fire" followed, giving way to a revival of "Deep Blue Heart," the "Cuttin' Heads" duet with Trisha Yearwood that John looks to highlight on his forthcoming box set "On the Rural Route 7609." Here it was marked by Miriam Sturm's especially breathtaking violin solo. "Check It Out" came next and segued into an acoustic take on "Don't Need This Body" similar to the one on the just-released "Life Death LIVE and Freedom" and featuring John and Andy York on guitars before the rest of the band joined in for singing and handclaps. John then delivered "Small Town" by himself on acoustic guitar-to huge crowd response.

The show's short acoustic segment ended with Miriam and keyboardist Troye Kinnett (on accordion) coming in at the end of "Small Town" and leading into the traditional gospel hymn "Old Rugged Cross." This fed into a dramatic about-face, thanks to a pounding version of "Rain on the Scarecrow," followed by, for the first time in concert since 2002, "The Real Life" (another classic, incidentally, set to receive a new treatment via Joanne Woodward's moving reading on the "Rural Route" box).

Next up was "If I Die Sudden," the second song from "Life Death LIVE and Freedom," and likewise a rendition faithful to the new lalbum. John was really working the crowd hard now, and after "What If I Came Knocking," he and the band tore it up on "Crumblin' Down." Having kept talk to a minimum during his music-crammed set, he closed with "Authority Song," which he prefaced with band intros and the spoken bit where he acknowledges some people's discomfort over the years with his politics, yet recognizes that even they still relate with the song's words-which he wrote when he was 22. "Thank you very much, and goodnight," he said, and it was on to South Bend for the July 4 show-in which he and Dylan for one time only will open for Willie, who will be observing his annual Fourth of July Picnic.

Dylan fans will note that most of his 14-song set found the bard at the keyboard. New York acoustic quartet The Wiyos, meanwhile, deftly started the evening off with their eclectic mix of country blues, Western swing, jug band music and melodic pop.

The minor league baseball stadium setting allowed concert goers to stand anywhere except for most of the infield and mound. The stage, which was erected in the outfield, pointed toward homeplate and the stands surrounding the infield. The stadium was located directly across the Mississippi River from Downtown St. Louis-within sight of the famous Arch.

Prior to his set, John could be seen relaxing in a lounge chair beside his Airstream trailer in the backstage parking lot. The band was equally relaxed by the truck containing their wardrobe in the makeshift backstage area. All were enjoying the wonderful Summer afternoon and evening.

Also present were acclaimed photographer Kurt Markus and his son Ian, who are filming a documentary of John during the tour and the recording of his next album, tentatively titled "No Better Than This." The album will employ vintage equipment in approximating the legendary recordings of such blues greats as Robert Johnson. The first sessions are slated for next week in Savannah, Georgia at the first African-American church in the U.S.

Click HERE to read Mellencamp.com staff Twitters posted during the show. stltoday.com has a setlist for all three artists posted HERE.