John Fogerty played the Telluride Bluegrass festival on a beautiful Friday evening so unusually warm that no fleece was necessary, even before the dancing started. He was wearing that plaid shirt hanging out over black jeans and shoes. The face is that face, plus a few years. The hair, however, is eternal – Fogerty and Jackson Browne must have made deals with the devil somewhere along the way.
Fogerty was all over the stage. He probably played 10 guitars during the evening and had a running battle with his guitar tech. At one point he laid a guitar on the side of the stage and went to the other side, pretending to strum until the tech brought a new guitar. Whatever was bothering him about his guitars didn’t bother the audience one bit. He played great, living up to his billing as one of the great rock guitarists.
Fogerty’s voice is still that voice. It is loud and clear. Some younger singers (Fogerty turned 67 last month) have given up on the high notes, but Fogerty still hits them. He proved this several times during the 1 ½ hour set, but never better than when he did Pretty Woman. Roy O. would have been proud.
Fogerty’s band is impressive. The amps are turned up to 10 (I just couldn’t do the 11 gag on this piece). We cheated and sat in the “poser pit” for this show (the press and VIP viewing area). On the way in, the pit manager warned us that they were loud and suggested earplugs. He also said, “There will be dancing.” He was right on both points. It was interesting watching the band watch Fogerty for cues. He rules on stage in a manner that reminds me of Van Morrison. It seemed that Fogerty’s strongest connection on stage was with his drummer, a badass behind glass who beat the drums so hard I wondered if they might fall apart. Keyboards are great, though this is a guitar show. Fogerty is joined by joined by two guitarists who could play for anybody and a bass player who’s dialed in completely. [Apologies here for no band names. Field reporting is like this sometimes, though it would be great if Fogerty’s website had a page on his band.]
The best way to sum up Friday’s show is this: Fogerty and his amazing band played the songs, and played them well. There are so many, and now that he will do the catalogue, all the Creedence, he just finishes one and starts another before you can catch your breath. I’ve read that some shows include an entire CCR album and then a survey of the rest of the material, but given the limitations of a festival set, he just went right to the meat and potatoes on Friday night. I have to be honest, though: Going in, I thought that maybe we could write this off as a victory lap, a legacy gig, you know the drill. Two or three songs in, I knew that was bullshit. It’s not like that. As if Fogerty knew what some of us were thinking, he covered Rick Nelson’s Garden Party. It is all right now. I learned my lesson well. Fogerty doesn’t phone anything in. And on this night, he pleased us. I hope he pleased himself - it sure looked like he did.
The CCR songs are great. These are some of the cornerstones in the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll (I guess the rock ‘n’ roll foundation would have to have more than four corners for that analogy to work, but I’m not changing it. This is field reporting.) As good as those songs were on records, eight tracks, cassettes back in the day, they are so much better right here, right now. Midnight Special stands out to me as type this, but The Old Man Down The Road, Born On The Bayou and Fortunate Son (done during the encore along with Proud Mary) were also highlights. Have You Ever Seen The Rain might have been the moment of the evening as Fogerty introduced it by explaining its origins in sadness and the way its meaning has changed for him and others over the years. The crowd, which was on its feet for the entire show, really dug Centerfield as he played it with a baseball bat guitar. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play. Today.
Telluride is a big, storied stage that is rarely overshadowed by the men and women who play on it. But occasionally a show transcends even this beautiful place. It happened when David Byrne played here, for example. Friday night’s show was in that category. There was something about it, like a piñata full of really good stuff, priceless stuff, when you were expecting only a few pieces of candy. Instead of crawling around on the ground to pick it up you’re dancing as the really good stuff, the priceless stuff, is delivered to your ears, your mind and your heart. Kudos here to Planet Bluegrass for making Fogerty a part of this year's festival.
It was the kind of concert experience where you’re not sure what to do when it’s over. Your ears are ringing a bit, you’re exhausted, exhilarated, amazed. As we picked up the chairs and the tarp to begin the trek to the condo, my daughter, who’s a college senior, came walking up with that look on her face. She and her brother were completely blown away by the experience. She said she sang along and danced the entire show. Bravo, John Fogerty.
Mando Lines is on Twitter: @mando_lines. He's tweeting from Telluride Bluegrass this weekend.