Seymour Music Writer Blog: Mellencamp Intimate Experience

Mellencamp & Gill: 2 intimate experiences
By journalismrookie

It’s not too often you go to a concert and feel close to the artist. Yeah, you may enjoy yourself, clapping, cheering and singing along. But most of the time, you’re just one of many sitting out there in the audience, while the singer sings one song after another, not saying much in between. But with two concerts I attended this week, it’s a different story.

John Mellencamp’s concert Tuesday at the Crump Theatre in downtown Columbus was the most intimate concert I’ve ever been to. And after talking to a few people afterwards about the show, they felt the same way. Mellencamp last performed at the Crump on Oct. 4, 1976. That was when he was known as Johnny Cougar, and the performance followed his show at the Seymour National Guard Armory. So in this area was where his career began. It was only fitting to return there as A&E was filming the concert to insert in its new series “Back Where We Started” for the Biography Channel. To John, this was a historic event because it’s where his career kicked off. To the spectators, it was a historic event because they were a part of this intimate setting.

What made it that way was how personal Mellencamp was throughout the show. After beginning the show with two classics, “Pink Houses” and “Paper In Fire,” following with a new song “My Sweet Love” and then another classic, “Check It Out,” Mellencamp went through an acoustic set. That’s when it became personal. It was just him, his guitar and the audience.

First was “Minutes to Memories.” “When this song was written, I was 32 years old,” Mellencamp told the audience. He wrote the song with fellow Seymour native George Green on the lawn of Indiana University in Bloomington. The song presents a straightforward message with one line reading “You are young and you are the future, so suck it up, tough it out and be the best you can.”

Next, Mellencamp played some old songs, several of which he hadn’t played in 30 years. “I Need a Lover” was the first one, then as he strummed his guitar searching for the right melody, he began singing “To M.G. (Wherever She May Be)” and two others which he stopped in the middle and admitted he couldn’t remember the words. “I’m going to play one more I don’t know, then I’m going to go back to the regular show,” Mellencamp joked. “Longest Days” and “Small Town” were the two other acoustic numbers. The first one is from his July release, “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” He told the story of his 100-year-old grandmother from Seymour. He had returned to Seymour to see her when she was dying. She suffered from dementia. Mellencamp said she told him to lay down with her, and she began praying and saying “Me and Buddy are ready” (she called John “Buddy”). Then, John replied, “No, I’m not ready.” But one line she told him before she died was the inspiration to the song: “Buddy, life is short, even in its longest days.”

At the end of “Small Town,” John’s amazing band members rejoined him onstage for the rest of the evening. But first, he was talking about returning to the Crump, admitting he barely remembered playing there 30 years ago because he’s played about 50,000 shows since then. His worst show, he recalled, was in 1977 in Liverpool, England. It was a time when the Beatles were popular, and it was an exciting time for music. John and his crew carried all their stuff down many flights of stairs in the run-down venue in which they were playing. Upon finally reaching the stage, he looked out and there were only three people in the audience. And for his best show, John said, “I’m still trying to do that one.”

His band then resonated sound and John belted out “Rain on the Scarecrow” and two new songs, “Troubled Land” and “If I Die Sudden.” Then, he asked the audience if they were ready, and he went into “Crumblin’ Down,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Jack and Diane” and ending the night with his 13-year-old son, Speck, joining the band on guitar with “Authority Song.”

Before his last song, Mellencamp told people in the audience that he hoped they have peace in their lives and achieve all their dreams. He said he was fortunate to come from a small town like Seymour and do what he does for a living. By touring all over, he said it’s given him a “broad vision of the world.” “Don’t give up, even in this crazy world,” he said, and to never give up “because life goes on.” What an inspiring message at the end of one of the best shows I’ve seen (and probably one of the best shows for many others there). Since Mellencamp’s last appearance at the Crump, he has sold 40 million albums, he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has had 12 Grammy nominations, among other things. Pretty amazing, I think, for a guy from small-town Indiana.

Also, another highlight of the night was the opening act for Mellencamp, the Debuteens and Musicmen from Columbus North High School. They had a great opportunity to sing three of Mellencamp’s songs a cappella: “Our Country,” “Peaceful World” and “Your Life Is Now.” I was extremely impressed, as I’m sure many others were, too.

The next night, my mom and I went to “An Evening with Vince Gill” at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington. Fifty-one-year-old Gill has had a successful career, spanning nearly 30 years. This was also a special performance. It was just Gill and three band members in a relaxed atmosphere. It wasn’t your typical concert, with people on their feet the entire night. But sometimes, I think, it’s good to just sit down, relax and enjoy the music. That’s what Gill said he was aiming for with this specific tour.

He played several of his hits as well as newer songs from his four-CD, 43-song release in 2006. He did songs he wanted to do, but he also asked the audience several times what they wanted to hear. Among the audience selections was “Go Rest High on that Mountain,” a sombering, moving song he said was written about his late brother, who suffered a bad wreck at age 21 and had been drinking. He was in a coma for months, but he pulled out of it before dying several years later.

He also sang a song, “Buttermilk John,” which was a tribute to a steel guitar player he used to have in his band. I would say, though, that the most humorous stories of the night came when he was talking about his father. Gill said his father supported him through the hard times when he was trying to make a music career. Then, when he finally reached the top of his career, and he had many hits, was host of a country music awards show, among other things, that’s when his father became a critic, he said. Gill’s fame was something new for his father to take in.

Growing up watching “The Porter Wagoner Show” with his father, Gill enjoyed those times. But many years later when Dolly Parton asked Gill to provide vocals on her hit, “I Will Always Love You,” Gill quickly took up on the offer. Parton was a staple on Porter Wagoner’s show for many years, and the audience adored her, including Gill’s father. Many years later when Gill talked about Wagoner’s songs, his father said he didn’t know any of them. Gill told him they had been watching the show all those years, and he didn’t understand why he didn’t know the songs. Come to find out, it wasn’t Wagoner he was watching–it was Dolly.

When Gill was asked by Dolly to sing the song on TV with her, Gill called his father up in the early-morning hours and told him the news. His father said, “Really?” That’s when his father drove the 8-hour trip from Columbus, Ohio, to Nashville, Tenn., to get the chance to meet Dolly backstage. His father was the most excited he had ever been, Gill said, with the biggest smile on his face. All his father wanted was a picture of him and Dolly together. But the best part was yet to come. When Gill got the photo processed, he looked at it and laughed. His father was standing there with the biggest grin on his face, not looking straight at the camera, but at Dolly’s…um…”assets.” (I think you know what I mean…). I just thought that was a really funny story, one of several Gill spoke of his father.

These are some of the reasons why these two shows were not your “typical” concerts. It was good to experience something like this and truly feel a part of it. If you ever get a chance to do something like this, I really recommend it. For those who were there, it’s something to remember forever. I’m just grateful I was one of them.

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