Say what you will about John Fogerty, the man knows how to construct a musical hook. As snippets of his most famous songs played back-to-back over the sound system prior to his onstage arrival at Nashville’s Starwood Amphitheater, it became abundantly clear that his immediately-identifiable guitar riffs are etched into America’s collective consciousness.
Even if you can’t remember the words to any of the songs Fogerty has written and recorded during his lengthy career, you’re likely to recall the signature riffs of “Green River,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Fortunate Son,” “Up Around the Bend” and “Centerfield.” And those are only five of the 26 titles Fogerty played during his Tuesday night (July 25) concert with Willie Nelson.
While other singers might choose to warm up with less demanding material, Fogerty began his show with a fearless performance of “Travelin’ Band.” Backed by a five-piece band that included powerhouse drummer Kenny Aronoff and Nashville-based guitarist-vocalist Billy Burnette, Fogerty’s set hit the highlights of his solo career and his work as leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Constantly jumping up and down and running from one side of the stage to the other, Fogerty refused to act his age — 61 — as he sang and played classics such as “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary,” “Hey Tonight,” “Down on the Corner,” “Sweet Hitchhiker,” “Old Man Down the Road” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”
One of the more interesting moments came during Fogerty’s solo acoustic version of one of his newer songs, the anti-war “Déjà Vu (All Over Again).” A few people in the audience expressed their disapproval orally and by walking out, but the song got a favorable response by the rest of the fans who live in the red state of Tennessee.
Nelson, who opened the concert, returned onstage during Fogerty’s set for a duet on “Jambalaya,” a song Fogerty included in his 1973 album, The Blue Ridge Rangers. While it wasn’t the musical highlight of the evening, it’s not too often that you get to see these two guys work together.
For the second consecutive summer, Nelson has served as the opening act for significant artists traveling through Nashville, but his band was much more energized than they were last year at Bob Dylan’s concert at Greer Stadium. Part of the energy came from a slightly expanded band that included Nelson’s son, Micah, on percussion alongside longtime drummer Paul English and English’s brother, Billy.
Nelson’s 90-minute show was essentially the same one he’s been doing for years, opening with “Whiskey River” and including a medley of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and Night Life,” three of the greatest country songs ever written by Nelson — or anybody else, for that matter. His solo version of “Beer for My Horses,” his hit duet with Toby Keith, continues to be one of the crowd favorites, too.
But even if he’s using a well-established set list, Nelson’s live shows always maintain a high level of vitality simply because he never performs the songs exactly the same way from night to night. Indeed, with his penchant for singing behind or ahead of the beat, his band should be commended for providing the foundation that allows him to experiment with his vocal phrasing.
Another of Nelson’s sons, Lucas, provided electric guitar work to his father’s songs and also garnered a strong crowd response with his version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” And as always, harmonica player Mickey Raphael accentuated the mood of “Blue Skies,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “All of Me,” three songs from Nelson’s 1978 album of pop music standards, Stardust.
John Fogerty’s tour with Willie Nelson continues Wednesday (July 26) in Birmingham, Ala., before heading to North Carolina for weekend performances in Charlotte and Raleigh.