Labor Day is upon us and summer is almost gone. While in no hurry, I’m a big fan of fall and looking forward to the harvest festivals, pumpkin parties, costume parades and of course, Halloween. Not wanting to get ahead of myself, I did my best to stay in the moment during the past week, which turned out to be all music all the time. As the season winds down, so does the hoopla at Bethel Woods (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) and in the past few days, I attended, met with and photographed Philip Phillips, John Mayer, Florida Georgia Line, Thompson Square and Luke Bryan. With only one main stage concert (Kid Rock) left to go, I’m kinda, sorta, really okay with that. Don’t get me wrong—I love my job, enjoy the work and am always up for a good time, but at the end of the day (and by the end of the summer) I’m a little tuckered out.
Folks often remark on how lucky I am to have seats to the best shows in town and they’re right. What people don’t realize is that often, that seat remains empty, because I’m racing around, trying to get the right photo, shake hands with the talent and simultaneously make notes, in order to review the show and express my humble opinion after the lights go down. Last Tuesday, 2012 American Idol winner Phillip Phillips took to the stage amidst a packed house of (mostly female) adoring fans who were screaming and crying as if the Beatles had come to town. In an earlier interview, Phillips admitted that he gets “nervous appearing live” and that he’s “not used to all of the attention” that his instant fame, idol worship and recognition has wrought. Low key and down to earth, his performance was enjoyable and he expressed his gratitude to the fans, and to headliner John Mayer for asking him to participate in the tour that brought them both to Bethel. While hardly an expert, I was able to recognize Phillips’ abilities to play some serious guitar and his throaty, gritty approach to the vocals is (IMHO) appealing. Initially, I was flummoxed by the pairing of the two, having had little exposure to Mayer. Since I don’t live under a rock, I am aware of the fact that Mayer is a chick-magnet, has a reputation for being a “player,” has dabbled in many fields, from stand-up comedy to graphic design and has even tried his hand at writing, including a brief stint as a columnist for Esquire magazine.
That said, his forte is clearly the music and once again, shrieking, weeping females were pressed as close to the stage as possible, pleading for a glance in their direction, behaving in ways I have not observed since the “British Invasion”(britishinvasionbands.com/the-bands/). At first, I didn’t get it, but the more photos I took, even I had to admit that Mayer deservedly comes by his “pretty boy” status. Good bone structure and a pouty mouth have clearly served him well and made him a poster boy of pop music for millions of fans all over the world. Not one to rely strictly on his looks, Mayer takes his music seriously and has received praise for collaborating with some heavy hitters in the industry (Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Herbie Hancock) which upped his street-cred substantially, elevating him beyond his Ken-doll status.
And then there’s Luke Bryan. The country singer’s rise to superstar status has been so swift and meteoric that much of the world is still catching up. Bryan last appeared in Sullivan County in 2012, as the opening act for Jason Aldean and (as of five days ago) has the No. one album and single on the Billboard 200 charts with “Crash My Party,” featured here last week during his “Dirt Road Diaries” tour. Again, sex seems to be a major component for this performer, and while I appreciate the appeal that drew the fastest sell-out in the history of the venue, I’m not sure that I need to be hit over the head with it. He’s clearly a showman of epic proportions, and the crowd was wildly enthusiastic, the screaming deafening and the hysteria (at times) a bit over the top. Bryan’s swagger, while possibly justified, wasn’t quite as humble as I would have liked, but it was clear that his fans had no complaints, and I don’t believe that I’m necessarily in the demographic that Luke is trying to reach. Was he entertaining? No doubt. Was the show explosive? Absolutely. Is the man himself sincere? I wonder. I have to give credit where credit is due and tip my hat to all of these performers, who are clearly giving their audience what they want. As for me, I once saw Frank Sinatra perform... and that show had me star struck. Just sayin’.