Willie Bob Cougar
Three legends at the Dell Diamond
By Jim Caligiuri,
12:15PM, Wed. Aug. 5, 2009
If there was ever a lineup made for Geezerville, this was it. Songwriting icons from three generations – Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp – each with an indelible imprint on American music, came to Round Rock last evening and delivered a sturdy version of where they stand today.
OK, it was hot. It’s August in Central Texas. What did I expect? But the Dell Diamond had a festival atmosphere. The stage was set up in center field with the infield and dugouts roped off. There were lots of oldsters, of course, but more than a few children under 14 got in free with a ticket purchase. Gen Y was represented as well, texting and playing with whatever was on their phones no matter who was on stage. Like a baseball game, there were vendors in the crowd hawking beer and nuts and cotton candy. I chose to sit in the stands behind third base, in the shade.
Brooklyn’s Wiyos took the stage at exactly 5:30 and delivered an animated, if less than impressive, half-hour set of hillbilly jazz. At this point, the foursome’s blend of Wayne Hancock and Asylum Street Spankers has been done to the point of caricature, and while they seemed to be sincere, they didn’t bring anything new to the ballpark.
Willie Nelson was up next with a scaled down version of the Family that included Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson on guitar. Limited to about an hour, he seemed rushed at times. “Crazy” merged into “Nightlife” before you knew it, and the band was unusually rough trying to keep up. But Nelson’s fans couldn’t have been disappointed – he stuffed as many of his most requested tunes into the set as he could. Following the lilting “Georgia” with a barreling take on Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia On a Fast Train” was an unexpected treat.
At first glance, John Mellencamp’s presence on the triple bill may have seemed misplaced. While a certified hit maker, he doesn’t possess the iconoclastic stature of Nelson or Dylan. With a little more rasp in his voice than usual (he claimed be sick), Mellencamp put on the most straightforward set of the night. He didn’t lean too heavily on the hits, though he opened with “Pink Houses” and closed with what he referred to as the "nostalgic" “Hurt So Good.” He took a solo break in the middle and performed an a capella version of “Cherry Bomb” and a spiritual new song, “Save Some Time to Dream,” that was righteous.
It was a little past nine when the man showed up. A full moon rose over the right field stands and the air had finally cooled a bit, although by this time the combination of daylong beer-drinking and 100 degree temperatures had the nearly sold-out crowd a little groggy. Opening with a blaring “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35” seemed a little unsettling. On guitar for that and the second tune, a stomping “This Wheel's On Fire,” Bob then moved to keyboards until set’s end. For the fifth song, Love and Theft’s “Honest With Me,” local hero and former Dylan sideman Charlie Sexton appeared on stage, where he remained for the rest of the evening.
Sexton’s presence seemed to stir something in Dylan, who appeared downright giddy as they jammed with each other, at times having the band’s regular guitarists – including Texas bluesman Denny Freeman – just lay out. Especially touching was a shadowy “Forgetful Heart” from his latest, Together Through Life, while “Highway 61” channeled the bluesy drive of ZZ Top. Those who came expecting nostalgia were disappointed, as the 11-song set concentrated on his most recent albums, but the encore, which included “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower” left everyone, including the man, heading to the exits with a smile on their face.