Don McLean at The Ryman
Shelley Ridge for Country Music News International Magazine
What is a night at The Ryman when Don McLean is on the bill? It is part history, part entertainment, and a whole lot of enjoyment. So it was this evening as well, when McLean and his knights of musical armor served up a string of red, white and blue hits on the Nashville, TN stop of his 50th celebration tour of the Billboard #1 hit “American Pie”.
It was not only the selection of songs that pointed to the celebration of the American music soul treasure, but also the backdrop on stage had a scene with elements of the album present that contributed to the festive framework. Even though the show was a tribute to an album and song forever institutionalized in American and world popular culture and art, including being in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the feel of the entire performance was laid back and casual, and some of the songs performed were spontaneous spurs-of-the-moment. The show’s opening song was Gene Vincent’s hit “Lotta Lovin” – which also was released by Don McLean on his “Chain Lightning” album. Appreciators of classic rock’n’roll/folk rock had their buckets filled this evening with up-tempo gems like the brand new upcoming release “American Boys”, “Folsom Prison Blues” and the soulful “Crying”. The latter was also a #1 hit song for McLean, and before singing it, he told us a story of how he, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison were hanging out at Johnny Cash’s house.
Most of the show presented footstompin’, bee-boppin’, sway-along music, which the audience didn’t mind at all, but during one song you could have heard a napkin drop, because it felt like Ryman held its 130 year old breath: it was during the performance of “Vincent” (or “Starry, Starry Night” as it also is known as). Neither a whisper, nor a sound could be heard from the audience as the colors of Van Gogh were painted in the air through the notes and the words. One can not help but wonder how McLean can know the post-impressionist artist so well. Are there strokes of the same artistic colors in the two? Are they children of the same era but in different centuries? Do they share the same creative soul? Either way, several moments of time and history were weaved together and that magical feeling is now infused in the walls of the Ryman forever.
So, what about “American Pie” you might ask? It had its magnificent glory moments in the show of course, and it was a symbiosis between the audience – who knew every word – and the song’s creator. The song itself has been chosen as one of the 5 greatest songs of the 20th century along with the evergreens “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Respect”, White Christmas” and “This Land Is Your Land”. If breath-taking was the description for the feeling during “Vincent”, it was quite the opposite during “American Pie”. Everyone in the crowd used their lungs to the fullest of their capacity singing along.
The audience asked for and received an encore performance. It was presented with a more intimate, living room feel, and Don McLean let his band members have their moments in the spotlight. The most innovative was when the bass player thumped a jazzy walking bass to Don McLean’s recitation of a poem he wrote. The evening concluded with a sing-along of “Midnight Special” and everyone was delighted and joyful after a show that in the beginning had some initial technical difficulties, but it was resolved and everyone lived happily ever after with a smile on their face and in their heart space.