The Republic: Rock & Roll Sermon Seeing Hoosier Rocker In Concert Checks Off Wish List Item

By Kirk Johannesen - The Republic

I’ve studied the Gospel of John before but always from afar, relying only on what I heard remotely.

Finally I had the opportunity to study it in person, to see and hear up close and confirm the messages I’d received previously.

In a way, you could call my trip to study the Gospel of John a pilgrimage. It was something I needed to do at least once in my lifetime.

I finally did Feb. 4, when I traveled to Bloomington to see Seymour native John Mellencamp in concert at the Indiana University Auditorium. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is touring the country to support his latest album, “Plain Spoken,” which he recorded nearby in Nashville.

My first recollection of Mellencamp was when he was known nationally as John Cougar and “Jack & Diane” was his big hit. That was the summer of 1982; I was 10.

So you could say I’ve grown up with Mellencamp. My teen, college and adult years have been spent listening to him sing about the loss of family farms, the human condition and memories of days past.

I’ve always taken pride in the fact that Mellencamp is a Hoosier, from the state in which I’ve lived all but five years of my life. When I moved to Columbus, it was cool to know his hometown was about 20 miles away.

Unfortunately, I missed seeing his performance at Columbus’ Crump Theatre on Sept. 23, 2008, the concert site for the A&E documentary focusing on Mellencamp’s southern Indiana roots. I was busy interviewing people who were going to the concert and capturing the scene outside the theater before the show.

So I couldn’t resist the chance to hear John “preach” his gospel. And, boy, even at age 63, that man is still preachin’ strong. He opened with two songs, “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man,” from his latest album before taking the packed house on a whirlwind tour of his past hits.

I must admit that I wondered what his performance would be like, because his voice on “Plain Spoken” is more gravelly than on previous albums. How would it hold up? How would the songs sound?

The answer: just fine.

Backed by Hoosier-state musicians, Mellencamp rocked the house and entertained with a little dancing and storytelling.

“Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Paper in Fire,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” were hard-charging songs that had the crowd on its feet, singing along and clapping to the beat.

However, Mellencamp also demonstrated versatility.

He performed “Jack & Diane” by himself with just an acoustic guitar, center stage and in the spotlight. That turned into one big singalong, with Mellencamp letting the audience sing large chunks of the lyrics.

One of my favorite songs of the night was “The Full Catastrophe,” from his “Mr. Go Lucky” album. It was a jazzy tune with piano accompaniment. With a spotlight fixed on Mellencamp and his soulful vocals, it made you feel as if he were singing to you in a small nightclub.

After the concert, I felt as if I had checked off an important name on my concert wish list. I did that the prior week, too, seeing Bob Seger on his “Ride Out” tour in Columbus, Ohio.

Just as with Mellencamp, I’ve been a fan of Seger for many years. And since he’s turning 70 in May, I thought this might be my last chance to see him perform live.

Seger didn’t disappoint. He can still rock with the best of them, and songs such as “Turn the Page, “Against the Wind” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” made it impossible not to be singing along and grooving.
Besides being thrilled by their performances, seeing the energy that Seger and Mellencamp displayed was impressive. It made me hope that I have that level of passion and energy in another 20 or 30 years.
If I need inspiration down the road, I can always study the Gospel of John again.