South Bend Tribune: Despite Rain, South Bend July Fourth Concert At The Cove Was A Good Time

By Andrew S. Hughes - Tribune Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND — A hard rain didn't fall, but a persistent one did for about half of Saturday's concert at Coveleski Stadium by Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp.

For the most part, the inclement weather didn't dampen the spirits of the record-breaking concert crowd of more than 8,500 people, although the audience seemed most alive and energetic during Nelson's rousing closing set, after darkness and falling temperatures chilled the air.

The eclectic acoustic quartet The Wiyos opened the concert with a fun, half-hour set of Western swing and country-blues that fit perfectly with the music of the three headliners.

Mellencamp, of course, opened with "Pink Houses" and its refrain, "Ain't that America, home of the free," while violinist Miriam Sturm and accordionist Troye Kinnett provided the fireworks in the first of several intense duet instrumental breaks during Mellencamp's spirited 10-song set.

Although his voice sounded a little rough and was hoarse by the time he got to the band's introductions at the end, Mellencamp sang well and with feeling.

Most of his set was pitched toward his hits, but Mellencamp did play two songs from his 2008 album, "Life Death Love and Freedom."

Andy York's guitar on "Don't Need This Body" had a hollow and spectral tone to it that deepened the song's dark mood, while Mellencamp's delivery made the song a celebration of life — and acknowledgment that it ends — rather than a fatalistic rumination.

York contributed a distorted, violent guitar solo to the dark, hard blues song "If I Die Sudden," while Dane Clark's snare drum sounded like gunshots on the drum break before each chorus, and Mellencamp's delivery was passionate and dramatic.

Mellencamp followed it with "What If I Came Knocking?" — hard-charging rock to overcome death, this time with another powerful solo by Sturm.

Sturm's violin solo at the beginning of "Check It Out" was soulful and yearning, while her held vibrato notes on the verses of "Rain on the Scarecrow" gave the song a doomed and haunted tone.

Mellencamp performed "Small Town" solo acoustic, which made the song more personal and less of an anthem. He drew a big laugh, too, when he added the line, "My wife (Elaine Irwin Mellencamp) was 13 when I wrote this song." Near the end of the song, Sturm and Kinnett joined Mellencamp for a short instrumental coda that led into a captivating violin-accordion rendition of "Old Rugged Cross."

Mellencamp closed with "Authority Song," featuring his youngest son, Speck, on guitar. Speck sang one chorus, but shrugged off his father's invitation on the following ones, and although he played well, he appeared nervous, but that's understandable.

Dylan got into the sprit of the Fourth of July holiday by opening his set with a short version of "Yankee Doodle."

The rest of Dylan's set, as usual, was uneven, but not as much as it has been many times in the past.

His voice was ragged, but the words were much more discernible — "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" being the big exception — than when he and Nelson played Coveleski in 2004.

In particular, he sang with conviction and clarity on "Beyond the Horizon," "Just Like a Woman" and "Thunder on the Mountain." His voice on "All Along the Watchtower" had such engagement it was almost playful — he smiled quite a bit during the concert and even laughed at least once — while the slower tempo of "Like a Rolling Stone" made his voice sound reflective and sympathetic rather than accusatory.

Dylan played guitar on the first two-and-a-half songs and then switched to harmonica — playful solo on "This Wheel's on Fire" — and organ.

Also unlike in 2004, Dylan's organ could be heard this time, although it still could have been a little louder in the mix.

He added effective, powerful burst-of-sound organ fills to the instrumental breaks on "Highway 61 Revisited," and the organ gave "All Along the Watchtower" a heavier tone than Jimi Hendrix's version — the model for Dylan's arrangement.

Dylan's organ solo on "Thunder on the Mountain" consisted mainly of vamping chords, which fit the song's groove, but his revisions to the organ part on "Like a Rolling Stone" muted the song's power.

All of Dylan's songs, however, no matter their age, were arranged in the Southern blues-rock-gospel vein of his most recent albums, which made for a monotonous sound.

Because Saturday's concert was billed as "Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic," Nelson took Dylan's clean-up position in the lineup for this one show on their tour of minor league baseball parks, and with the stage in centerfield, Nelson did what outfielders are supposed to do: make a catch. When someone threw a glow ring onstage during "Pick Up the Tempo," he quickly reached out and caught it.

Although Nelson's sister, Bobbie Nelson, and his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, each received several turns in the spotlight for some fine instrumental solos, Nelson led his band with his superb guitar playing and effective vocal phrasing.

"Blues Crying in the Rain" featured a fine blues guitar solo that then morphed in a Spanish mode that made it even bluer, a technique Nelson later used on a couple of other solos to similar effect. The solo on "Bloody Mary Morning" was exploratory and varied with interesting twists and turns, while his solo on "I Ain't Superman" was a powerful demonstration of Chuck Berry's style of playing.

Nelson's vocals also provided plenty of highlights — the wry delivery of "Me and Paul," the pain he imbued "Georgia on My Mind" with and his delivery was repentant on "Always on My Mind."

Although Bobbie Nelson's piano was intermittently inaudible during Nelson's set, his younger sister solo number, "Down Yonder," was a treat, a sprightly rag that gave way to country-blues playing that was a joy to hear, while her solos on "I've Been to Georgia on a Fast Train," "I Ain't Superman" and "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" also stood out.

Harmonica player Mickey Raphael turned in a good blues-folk solo on "I've Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" and a fun, energetic solo on Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'."

A colorful and loud 10-minute fireworks display followed Nelson's set to close the concert.

Concert At The Cove

Click HERE to read the review and HERE to view a show photo gallery on the Tribune website.

Click HERE to read about the crowd and day and click HERE to view a brief video clip of John's performance on the WSBT Channel 22 Station website.