“It feels like the ‘60s in here,” one older gentleman told me early on. “I love it!” While the concert wasn’t quite reminiscent of that era, the vibe inside Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall — on a night billed as “The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show” — certainly recalled its communal, peace-and-love spirit.
It didn’t matter that it was at least forty years later (and on a Monday) once the Counting Crows took the stage with Augustana and Michael Franti & Spearhead, together opening with Van Morrison’s “Caravan,” the Moondance classic invoking the welcome spirit of a gospel revival.
Perhaps being in the company of such talented musicians encouraged them to give their best or maybe it was just a good night to catch the Counting Crows in concert. Whatever the reason, the band — in particular Adam Duritz, who despite dealing with an injured (and at one point, bloody) knee, scrambled about the stage like a precocious kid on a jungle gym — delivered in spades. They brought the crowd to its feet with a double shot of “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” and “Accidentally In Love,” the latter, according to Duritz, being somewhat of a live rarity these days. Digging in deep on “Ghost Train,” they sounded strikingly heavy and aggressive. They bristled with guitar-laden edge on “Catapult” and “Have You Seen Me Lately?” while on “Hanginaround” they got downright rambunctious, bringing all of the musicians back on stage to jam. And they extended “Rain King” in the encore to include “With A Little Help From My Friends,” capping off one of the most fun concerts of the summer.
While the Counting Crows likely drew the wider share of the audience, no one act served as the headliner. Rather, each band performed (either alone or as one giant group) throughout the nearly four-hour-long concert, at times trading verses on each other’s songs or on classics by other artists.
The Crows and Augustana teamed up for two of the night’s most resonant covers, first with a ragged-yet-inspired version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” and then later with what Duritz called “just about the most beautiful song ever written,” Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.”
Augustana showed promise on their original material — particularly with “Twenty Years” and their breakout hit, “Boston” — yet they didn’t make enough of an impression to earn new fans like they could have done before such a diverse audience.
Anyone who wasn’t familiar with Michael Franti & Spearhead before this night, however, no doubt knew and — based on the exuberant response he drew from the audience en masse — hit up iTunes for his reggae-drenched tunes shortly thereafter. Franti was on fire, kicking out the jams on “A Little Bit of Riddim” and “Say Hey (I Love You),” both tracks from his most recent album, All Rebel Rockers. As she is on the recordings, vocalist Cherine Anderson was present, complementing Franti’s infectious energy with a bundle of her own. Other highlights that Franti offered up included a throbbing, seemingly impromptu take on “Billie Jean” (with a thriller of a bass groove) and “I Got Love For You,” a slow-to-build rhythm with a message he’d written as a dedication to his adult son.
On a night underscored by camaraderie among artists and the common ground that music occupies for all of us, everyone — singers, musicians, and audience — ultimately joined together to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” bringing the show to a most-fitting conclusion.