Several generations of musical talent came together onstage last Saturday for a memorable evening of folk, blues, alt-country and psych rock at the Americanarama Festival of Music, which was finishing up the final weekend of its U.S. tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, California.
Roots rocker (and relative youngster) Ryan Bingham opened the show, setting the tone for the evening with his alt-country sound and husky voice reminiscent of headliner Bob Dylan. Next up was My Morning Jacket, starting off big (and not just the hair) with the title track to its latest album, 2011′s Circuital. For the sublime “Wonderful,” frontman Jim James paired up with a guest performer, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith. And for the Jackson Browne cover “Late for the Sky,” the band was joined by another surprise guest – Browne himself, who also stuck around for Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.” Bingham then returned to the stage to join in on a cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It.”
Thus was the rhyme and reason established for the Fest: to give artists from different eras and genres a chance to perform current material and classics side by side – and to celebrate the music itself.
Wilco’s turn onstage offered some personal favorites, including “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and the beautiful “Impossible Germany” with its great instrumental break performed to perfection. In the most bizarre (but quite enthusiastically received) guest appearance of the night, Nancy Sinatra took to the stage to perform Cher’s “Bang Bang (He Shot Me Down)” and her own trademark “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
Bingham’s fiddle player Richard Bowden added sweet strings to “Forget the Flowers” and a cover of Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid.” Then Browne came back to join frontman Jeff Tweedy for “California Stars,” and Bingham returned to join in on “Casino Queen.”
My Morning Jacket joined in a jamming great cover of “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young – a singer who would also have been welcome in this multigenerational line-up. Coincidentally, the current issue of Rolling Stone has a feature on “The 50 Greatest Live Acts Now,” which ranks MMJ and Wilco #10 and #12 respectively, and with good reason. I’d have been happy listening to them all night.
Finally, it was Dylan’s turn to take the stage. Unfortunately, his voice was pretty raspy and nigh impossible to understand. The band sounded great – and Dylan contributed some choice harmonica licks – but the blues arrangements of standards like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “All Along the Watchtower” were difficult to appreciate. Then again, I’m not a Dylan-o-phile, whereas most of the audience responded enthusiastically.
Near the end of the evening, Tweedy, James and Bingham joined Dylan for an awesome cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” and it was so good it made me wish there’d been a lot more of that sort of collaboration. Nevertheless, it was a memorable evening that paid tribute to the legends of the past while providing a splendid showcase for the current crop of talent which is, without a doubt, extraordinary.