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Bob Dylan concert review – Wahconah Park, Pittsfield, MA June 23, 2005

June 23, 2005; concert review by

The setlist for Bob Dylan’s June 23 concert in Pittsfield’s worn green wooden Wahconah Park (built in 1919) was old, with 9 songs from 1967 and earlier, and the playing was more jazz blues than blues rock, reflecting the presence of newcomers Denny Freeman (guitar) and Donny Herron (steel guitars, banjo, fiddle, mandolin), who joined Dylan’s band in March 2005. Bob Dylan at Amazon.com

Together with lead guitarist Stu Kimball (joined June 2004), their leads and solos, rooted in a raft of genres, provided apt accompaniment to Mr. Dylan, whose singing was strong and varied, whose keyboard playing was high in the mix, and whose center stage harmonica solos included some that made him resemble a wooing suitor.

Knowing Bob Dylan’s lyrics is not a requirement to enjoying his shows, but it’ll give you a leg up. The best way to learn them is to listen to the albums. You’re not going to learn them at the shows, where they take on an extra-literal dimension, with Dylan often treating lines of lyric as if they were strings on a guitar.

A big, broad rendition of “Drifter’s Escape” (John Wesley Harding ’67) that gave everybody in the band time to get limber was the opener, followed by “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which had the band laying low while Dylan sang, intoned, and crooned the beatnik-crazy lyric all the way down to the penultimate stanza,

“Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost”

after which Herron let loose a wailing steel guitar riff that sent the band off on a rollicking ride that Dylan finally whistled to a stop with a center stage bended-knee harmonica coda.

That was the first of three songs from Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and the next on this setlist comes from Bringing It All Back Home (April, 1965), a rendition of “It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” that was worth the price of admission all by itself. While the band took their stellar turns weaving the melody and waxing the groove, Dylan kept his focus square on the audience, leaning over the keyboard to deliver the song that contains the line that always gets a loud response, “But even the president of the United States/Sometimes must have/To stand naked.”

Bass player and musical director Tony Garnier and drummer George Recile underpin the whole operation with masterly playing, adding accents, embellishment, and punctuation in all the right spots. Garnier, a fellow Minnisotan, has been on Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour since its second year, 1989; Recile, from New Orleans, has been Dylan’s drummer since 2001 (which frequently, but not tonight, requires being the object of Dylan’s silly dumb-drummer jokes).

An interesting bit of business at the Pittsfield concert was Garnier reaching up and slapping one of Recile’s cymbals, to signal the start of “Chimes of Freedom,” from the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which, in a multi-layered acoustic rendition, was one of the show’s most affecting numbers.

What a piece of writing that song is! From the opening lines,

“Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing…

to the closing verse,

“Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse.”

The first of 2 encores came from that album, too, “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Dylan opening and closing it on harmonica. The Turtles had a huge hit with it in 1965, and the genius of Dylan the composer can be glimpsed by scanning the range of artists who have covered the song: Hugo Montenegro, Nancy Sinatra, Flatt & Scruggs, Sebastian Cabot, Glenn Campbell, The Mike Curb Congregation, Duane Eddy, and Johnny Cash, to name just a few!

The only song that didn’t seem to work this night was the set-closing “Summer Days,” (Love and Theft ’01) which sounded earnest but fatigued. The other 2 songs from Highway 61 Revisited were the title song, given a thundering reading an hour into the show and “Like A Rolling Stone,” the grand finale, the song so grand it has its own biography! (Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, by Griel Marcus)

See also? our story about Bob Dylan’s performance as Joan Baez’s unannounced guest at her 1963 Pittsfield Boy’s Club concert.

June 23, 2005 setlist: All song lyrics available on: bobdylan.com.

1. Drifter’s Escape (John Wesley Harding ’67)
2. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)
3. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Bringing It All Back Home ’65)
4. Moonlight (Love and Theft ’01)
5. Down Along The Cove (John Wesley Harding ’67)
6. Girl Of The North Country (acoustic) (The Freewheelin Bob Dylan ’63)
7. High Water (For Charley Patton) (Love and Theft ’01)
8. Every Grain Of Sand (ShotOfLove ’81)
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)
10. Blind Willie McTell (The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 ’91(recorded ’83))
11. Chimes Of Freedom (Another Side of Bob Dylan ’64)
12. Summer Days (Love and Theft ’01)
(encore)
13. It Ain’t Me, Babe (Another Side of Bob Dylan ’64)
14. Like A Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited ’65)

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Bob Dylan concert review – Saratoga, NY Aug. 17, 2008

Aug. 17, 2008; concert review by

Bob Dylan concert Aug. 17, 2008 at SPACDesolation Row, that crazy poem, is perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying song in all of Bob Dylan’s songbook. It was first released in 1965 on Highway 61 Revisted and that studio version seems to be a perfectly realized work of art. You’re hooked from the opening lines; Dylan’s quiet, clean guitar introducing a melody that within seconds has you expecting something, it feels ominous, and you are swept along by the ambling bass.

The sound is so compelling that you don’t notice how nutty the lyric is; rather the neatly-knit lines drown one’s sensibility with slug after slug of sensual imagery.

By the time we’re half-way through the song, by the fifth verse, not only have we been introduced to an improbable cast of characters, including:

  • the blind commissioner,
  • the tight-rope walker,
  • the riot squad,
  • Cinderella,
  • Romeo,
  • the hunchback of Notre Dame,
  • Cain,
  • Abel,
  • the Good Samaritan,
  • Ophelia,
  • Noah,
  • and Einstein,

but Dylan’s singing has become a mnemonic pattern buttressed by his own insistent guitar strumming that lopes along atop rumbling waves of bass notes, all accented by sweet little mandolin-sounding riffs that lurk just beneath the surface.

I am confident that if I awoke some day totally ignorant of the English language, I still could be amazed by the power and beauty of Desolation Row.

Most of the tricks in the poet’s bag are designed to get your attention; after all he has given you a piece of his art and left you alone to ponder it.

Bob Dylan is not limited to the poet’s bag. They’ve got onomotopaeia, synechtoche, rhyme, meter, and consonance, etc. Bob Dylan’s got all that PLUS a fantastic collection of fancy western hats and suits and a half-dozen musicians on retainer so that it seems natural for him to give a hundred shows a year where he presents fifteen or sixteen of his songs, some of which could stand alone on the page and have a poem’s way with you.

And if you’re a faithful fan, sometimes you get lucky and catch such a show as the one August 17, 2008 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Sometimes wildly lucky, like you’ve been singled out as a special beneficiary.

I’d been anticipating the trip to SPAC all the rainy Berkshires’ summer and that morning rifled through my collection to find the CD with a dozen versions of Desolation Row bootlegged by anonymous BobCats accross the decades. Couldn’t find it.

If memory were a better friend than it is, I could’ve retreived a few versions I’ve been present for: last June at Pines Theatre in Northampton, or the summer before at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, or even 2002 at Newport.

Perhaps it was his cognizance of the fickleness of memory that impelled Bob Dylan to give the unforgettable Desolation Row the reading he did at Saratoga. It began familiar enough, in the fourth slot of a setlist that already contained a stunning rendition of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, another song from 1965 that hardly ever gets performed.

To digress just a bit, hearing … Baby Blue recalled the comment 2 hours earlier by Glen Hansard of the Swell Season who enthused about being on a bill with Bob Dylan, one of his personal Holy Trinity along with Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison. The connection is that one of my favorite Dylan covers is the one of Baby Blue done by Van Morrison and Them.

So Dylan and his superb band get in to a bright and lively Desolation Row, have the audience bobbing and weaving along, when, way before the time the door-knob broke, he suddenly morphs into a nursery school teacher and starts singing the song as clearly as he can in a melodic yet metronomic manner.

I got the feeling that, although there was affection for the audience, it was colored not a little by frustration that they’re not quite ready for the show.

The beautiful thing of it is that you can get an idea of how this version sounded by listening to the original studio cut. On it, each verse has two places where the lyric gets special emphasis, in the middle and at the end, where it changes from narrative to exhortation.

At this show, after following that pattern for the first five verses, Dylan goes for all exhortation (and also repeats a few couplets, intentionally or not).

This is his genius, to fashion fresh art on the spot, to the delight of old fans who now can feel more assured as well as to new ones, who would not think, to look at him, that he was famous long ago…

P.S. At SPAC, that was Donnie Herron playing electric mandolin (not violin)!

Setlist (thanks to Bill Pagel at BobLinks):

1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (Bob on keyboard)
2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob on keyboard)
3. Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on electric mandolin)
4. Desolation Row (Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on electric mandolin)
5. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Bob on keyboard and harp)
6. Million Miles (Bob on keyboard and harp)
7. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) (Bob on keyboard)
8. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
9. I Believe In You (Bob on keyboard)
10. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on banjo)
11. When The Deal Goes Down (Bob on keyboard)
12. Thunder On The Moutain (Bob on keyboard)
13. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob on keyboard and harp)
(encore)
14. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
15. Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on violin)

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Bob Dylan concert review – Troy, NY Feb. 22, 1999

Feb. 22, 1999; concert review by

The concert Bob Dylan gave at R.P.I.’s Houston Fieldhouse in Troy, NY was the best of the eight that I’ve attended (except for the two Rolling Thunder Revue shows I attended in 1975), for three reasons: the singing, the set list, the musicianship. Thanks to the never-ending tour, gone is the overwhemling BIG DEAL aspect of a concert of his, so that you’re able to just focus on the show, rather than remain dumb-struck at the prospect of being in the same room with the demigod from Hibbing.

After opening the show with Gotta Serve Somebody and Million Miles, and one of Dylan’s few remarks to the audience “Thanks everybody, that was a song called Million Miles,” the band raced into a hot, fast Maggie’s Farm. As he would throughout the night, Dylan picked lines, phrases and other fragments from the song, and almost turned them into micro-songs, making them stand apart, and seem like something brand new.

This is a trick available only to Dylan, because a phrase like “but she says she’s twenty-four,” bland by itself, begins to take on motto status when Dylan croons it out over the frenetic, jangling rock ‘n roll song that set the tone for the gig. Despite the immense energy of the number, the band and Dylan remained almost stoic all through it. The contrast between the aural and the ocular experience was sharp.

Tears of Rage was given the full melancholic treatment, in the most positive sense, and again the Dylan effect: making trite lines like “what kind of love is this/it goes from bad to worse” seem elegaic. The sidemen harmonized nicely, but I was clear-headed enough to notice that the harmonies weren’t coming from Manuel, Danko, Helms, and Hudson.

Whatever wistfulness lingered was blown away by Silvio, which I hadn’t realized was such a great tune. The three guys with guitars huddled together a few times, as if spraying the audience with bullets, and Dylan added several grimace-notes with his face.

Masters of War was the coup de grace. The appearance and demeanor was of the quintessential, cool, professional musicans giving the people their money’s worth, without getting too excited about the whole thing, because it’s just another day’s work. But thanks to the material and Dylan’s deliberate delivery, the effect was stunning.

Other bright spots: Tangled up in Blue, done in Dylan’s best imitation-Dylan voice; The Times They Are a-Changin given an almost martial introduction; Dylan’s footwork – a little Fred Astaire, a little Marcel Marceau; another riposte: “Everybody’s been too kind – you really are too kind”; brilliant, throbbing Highway 61 Revisited; the two closing songs, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, and Not Fade Away, sent everybody home refreshed in the knowledge that rock ‘n roll is all about romance, nothing more, nothing less.

Setlist (thanks to Bill Pagel at BobLinks):

  • 1.Gotta Serve Somebody
  • 2.Million Miles
  • 3.Maggie’s Farm
  • 4.Tears Of Rage
  • 5.Silvio
  • 6.Masters Of War (acoustic)
  • 7.Boots Of Spanish Leather (acoustic)
  • 8.Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic)
  • 9.The Times They Are A-Changin’ (acoustic)
  • 10.Cold Irons Bound
  • 11.I Shall Be Released
  • 12.Highway 61 Revisited (encore)
  • 13.Love Sick
  • 14.To Be Alone With You
  • 15.Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (acoustic)
  • 16.Not Fade Away
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Review of Arlo Guthrie concerts in Pittsfield and Springfield, MA

Nov. 16 and 17 concerts reviewed by Dave Conlin Read. Photos by Jamie Goldenberg.
See more photos from the Colonial Theatre concert.

Arlo Guthrie concert the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MAArlo Guthrie’s 1967 mega-hit “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” had no bigger fan when it came out than me, then a freshman in college. By the summer of 1969, I’d dropped out and was ordered to report to the South Boston Navy yard to be “injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.” I, too, was informed that I was unfit to serve.

Present for a live broadcast of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Revisited” at the Guthrie Center in Housatonic ten or so years ago, I marvelled at how well Guthrie had updated it, to include Richard Nixon and the mysterious gap in the Watergate Tapes.

Hearing it on successive nights, Nov. 16th at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and then at Symphony Hall in Springfield, was a bit of a drag, however, and it was apparent that Guthrie has had enough, too. In fact, he announced that he’d just made a deal to play the Colonial every year around Thanksgiving, adding that “the 50th anniversary is probably the next time you’ll hear (it).”

Removing it from the setlist will make room for more of Guthrie’s exquisite treatment of other people’s songs, and for him to play more of his own affecting and timely work, such as his Hurricane Katrina lament, “In Times Like These.”

Arlo Guthrie concert the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MAThat is the title song on his recent release which was recorded live with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, directed by John Nardolillo, who conducted the Springfield Symphony for the Nov. 17th concert.

A highlight of both concerts was the version of “St. James Infirmary” (also on the new CD) that Guthrie learned from his father Woody‘s sidekick Cisco Houston. The solo version is superb, his rich voice and deft guitar play cast a spell on the audience. The orchestral version, with some especially nice trombone and clarinet riffs, carried everybody all the way to the Big Easy.

Both nights Guthrie played “My Peace,” a recently discoverd lyric of Woody Guthrie‘s that he wrote music for; a simple, sweet song, and a poignant collaboration that defies death.

Arlo and ragtime

Another new element both nights was an unnamed ragtime tune played on the concert grand piano that he wrote forty years ago. It had none of the flash you may expect from ragtime; instead it had a restraint and a sneaky complexity to it that was very satisfying.

Guthrie’s guitar mastery was best displayed Friday when he played “St. Louis Tickle,” a rag that he learned from Dave Van Ronk, “an old friend” who he said he’d been missing. He said that until he heard Van Ronk do it, he thought ragtime could only be played on piano. (Read more about Van Ronk and ragtime in our 1999 interview with Dave Van Ronk – and see a YouTube clip of him playing “Cocaine.”)

Lead Belly, Steve Goodman

One of the most mind-blowing things that you’ll ever hear Arlo Guthrie say is that his first memory is of standing next to another of his father’s friends, Lead Belly, the great musician who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease in NYC in 1949.

Friday’s set included a teriffic rendition of Lead Belly’s “Alabama Bound” and Saturday’s show closed with an orchestrated, audience sing-along of Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene.”

Steve Goodman‘s “City of New Orleans,” also on the new CD, is always a concert highlight, another example of Guthrie’s nimble piano playing. We were at the benefit concert Guthrie put on in Worthington, MA in 1975, where we heard Steve Goodman and Guthrie’s brand new band Shenandoah. Here’s a link to Rising Son Records, where you can see a video of “The Motorcycle Song” from that show, another song he played in Pittsfield.

Where’d the name “Arlo” come from?

If you ever wondered how he got his name, you can find out in an interview we did with Arlo Guthrie at the Guthrie Center in 1998.

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Photos of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA

Photos from Arlo Guthrie‘s Nov. 16, 2007 concert at The colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA. Read our review of this concert and Arlo’s concert with the Springfield Symphony the following night.

Photos by Jamie Goldenberg, copyright BerkshireLinks.com.

Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.
Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Nov. 16, 2007.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.Photo of Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA.

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Arlo Guthrie and the Springfield Symphony

(Washington, Mass.) Please come and join Arlo Guthrie and guest director-conductor, John Nardolillo, as they perform with the Springfield Symphony, Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 8 p.m. Go to springfieldsymphony.org for ticket purchase and more information.
Arlo Guthrie
Last year’s show sold out. The Republican reported that “Arlo Guthrie and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra took a sold-out house in Springfield Symphony Hall on a homespun, heartfelt musical journey…This score is one of the most challenging in the standard symphonic literature, demanding intense concentration, scrupulous rhythmic precision, and the most highly skilled, expressive wind soloists to bring it to life. Precision is particularly important …with only one rehearsal to prepare Guthrie’s two sets as well as “Appalachian Spring,” it was a singular miracle that the Springfield Symphony undertook the complete suite and performed it flawlessly.”

Arlo Guthrie’s latest CD In Times Like These (Rising Son Records #1126) with the University of Kentucky Orchestra debuted at #2 across the country on the three Folk DJ-L Charts – CD, Artist and Song (“In Times Like These”). It quickly surpassed the “Best of” collection at Amazon.com, which gives it a five star rating. Arlo’s recordings are expressive and reflect the impact of hearing him live. The critics are resounding in their praise:

“[Arlo] sings favorite originals and traditional gems, set to elegant, simply woven arrangements by Oxford University choirmaster James Burton.” – The Boston Globe

“This recording demonstrates the deep beauty of [Arlo’s] work, simultaneously witty and emotional.” – Creative Loafing

“[Arlo] captures the country’s cultural climate and references commercialism and division in the new title track.” – The Oklahoman

“Guthrie and co-producer George Massenburg have the elements in line to make the most of Burton’s arrangements, which underscore and add dimension without drawing attention to themselves.” – No Depression

“… the beauty of In Times Like These comes from a keen song selection and an immensely close communication with UK Symphony director-conductor John Nardolillo.” – Lexington Herald

“All the songs are performed and arranged precisely but the mischievous spirit of Guthrie imbues all of them with its own sense of identity.” – www.Americana-uk.com

Don’t miss the beauty and depth of Arlo’s music with a full symphony nor the fun and pertinence of Arlo’s stories.

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Arlo Guthrie — Solo Reunion Tour —Together at Last

Berkshires’ resident Arlo Guthrie brings his “Solo Reunion Tour —Together at Last” to the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA on Friday, November 16th at 8PM.

Arlo GuthrieArlo Guthrie

About this performance, the 60 year old Guthrie had this to say, “it’s coming up to 50 years of life on the road and I’d love to have a chance to do it like I did with nothing but a couple of guitars and a harmonica.”

Son of the legendary Woody Guthrie, Arlo skyrocketed to fame in 1967 with the hilarious song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” which had something to do with Thanksgiving in Stockbridge, MA.

Ever wonder how he came to be named “Arlo?” He tells the story in this 1998 interview with Arlo Guthrie.

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Blind Boys of Alabama & Holmes Brothers at the Mahaiwe PAC

February 10, 2002 performance; by Dave Read

The Holmes Brothers
The Holmes Brothers, Photo: Kurt "Doc" Huot
The Blind Boys of Alabama and The Holmes Brothers inaugurated the W.E.B. DuBois concert series with thrilling shows in the Mahaiwe Theatre on February 10, 2002. Whether or not the town of Great Barrington ever decides to embrace the memory of its native son DuBois, it owes kudos to Club Helsinki for producing a concert that moved the town to the epicenter of the Gospel and Rhythm and Blues world, if only for one evening. NB: Blind Boys of Alabama on the Mahaiwe’s March 2012 schedule.)

When you enter the Mahaiwe, the slick of modernity slips away and you’re in a place with no straight lines, no shiny surfaces, almost no separation between the performing space and the audience. It’s small enough for whispers, but big enough to hold a whole lotta music; and it has electricity too, which was put to good use by The Holmes Brothers, three masterful blues rockers whose express purpose is to “make a joyful noise to the rock of their salvation.”

Led by Wendell Holmes’s raspy ecstatic vocals and fanciful electric piano, kicked along by the sharp drumming of Popsy Dixon and throbbing bass of Sherman Holmes, who also harmonize to such effect that you’re thinking there must be a choir offstage, the Holmes Brothers opened with King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens Away, setting the tone for an evening of music that would reach unimaginable heights.

That song was one of several they played from “Speaking in Tongues,” widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2001. After three numbers at the keyboard, Wendell played electric guita the rest of the way, delivering a little country twang, some straight ahead rock, and some searing, eccentric riffs of his own creation.

On the third tune, “one from our youth, called “Precious Lord,” Popsy Dixon stepped away from his drumkit, donned his sports jacket, and took the vocal lead with a haunting voice and a penetrating gaze.

Wendell’s big brother Sherman also contributed nicely to the verbal mix in addition to maintaining a tastefully varied electric pulse throughout, especially on “Thank You Jesus,” where he and Wendell swapped lines back and forth.

The oddest thing of the night was that during intermission, while the Holmes Brothers were mingling and signing autographs in the crowded lobby, I was rueing the fate of the group that had to follow such an exciting and satisfying set. I soon learned though, that relative to a performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama, there is no opening act, everything theretofore is prologue.

Mahaiwe PAC schedules concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama
Mahaiwe PAC schedules concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama
Their performance centered on their latest release, the Grammy-nominated “Spirit of the Century.” “Run On For a Long Time” was the energetic opener, with leader Clarence Fountain belting out the verses and the others harmonizing on the chorus over a driving rhythm section. About sixty minutes later, Fountain introduced the a capella finale: “One mo’- one mo’- the Rolling Stones cut it, but it wasn’t a Rolling Stones song, it’s my song. Listen as I tell you… ‘This May Be The Last Time’…”

Fountain was an entertaining leader throughout, displaying an impish side when he would rise from his usual seated position, shrug his jacket off one shoulder, put his hand on his hip and mimic an Elvis move or two. He delighted in mentioning Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and reminded the audience to watch the group on the upcoming Grammy telecast. Introducing one number, he said, “I didn’t come all the way from Alabama looking for Jesus, I brought Him along.”

twenty minutes of ecstatic singing

The most stunning part of this astounding concert was Jimmy Carter’s twenty minutes of ecstatic singing, testifying, and witnessing among the audience, having been guided down from the stage by one of the sighted band members. It was a breathtaking, spellbinding performance by Carter, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lateshow bandleader Paul Shaffer. His facial expressions showed the range of human emotions and his singing included holding a single note for what seemed to be as long as some entire pop tunes.

Meanwhile, the other Blind Boys were fully engaged with him in their own vocal ecstasy and the band was rocking ever more fervently, and loud enough to get the attention of sinners many miles away. Another highlight was the group’s Amazing Grace, set to the tune of House of the Rising Sun. (The popular arrangement of House of the Rising Sun has been credited to Dave Van Ronk, who passed away the day of this concert. Here is our 1999interview with Dave Van Ronk.)

The evening began with a presentation in celebration of the life and work of Great Barrington native W.E.B. DuBois by children from the Jubilee School of Philadelphia, an alternative community school that grew out of a neighborhood reading program. In addition to reading their own tributes and poems, as well as some Langston Hughes poetry, the students talked about their own social studies research project; DuBois is recognized as a founder of sociology for his study of urban blacks in Philadelphia in 1896 and 1897. The children ended their presentation with a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.