Driving to Virginia two Sundays ago (that’s why Jukebox was on vacation on Thursday, July 19), many cars passed us heading home from Camp Bisco.
Some were proudly blatant, bearing window signs proclaiming, “We car-pooled to Camp Bisco” or pledging loyalty to bands that played the festival in Mariaville. Nearly as obvious were other cars in that southbound parade, bulging with camping gear and happy but tired-looking young people.
As I caught up with events here by reading through a pile of Gazettes since getting home last Sunday, I was sorry to see that as late as Tuesday, July 17, we were still reporting on unfortunate fallout from the event — in drug arrests, injuries and car crashes. At first, I wondered whether those problems happened at a comparable level to what’s typical in a city of the same size over a similar period.
While I haven’t attended any Camp Bisco festivals as it has grown over the past 11 seasons, I recall the Gathering of the Vibes shows I reviewed there years ago to be well-organized and well run, including security. I can’t remember a more stringent entry point, apart from airports. T-shirt-clad biker-looking staffers directed us to exit our cars, then inspected them closely for weapons, glass containers and drugs. It was so thorough and uncompromising that I was surprised at the level of drug abuse indicated by arrests and hospitalizations at this year’s Camp Bisco.
Of course, different concert promoting organizations have presented various festivals in Mariaville over time, but the facility and its staff seemed capable. I think the best Allman Brothers show I’ve seen since the original lineup happened there at Gathering of the Vibes, plus outstanding shows by the Roots and the current version of the Meters.
The, uh, vibe wasn’t quite as mellow as at JazzFest in New Orleans, my current gold standard, but it was always comfortable and felt safe everywhere to move around and listen.
What’s different now? Different drugs, different behaviors, different kids? I don’t have an answer but I do have a hope that fans can enjoy shows there without hurting themselves or anyone else.
Reading through a week of Gazettes I’d missed on vacation, I found the sad news of other music-related deaths.
But before I get to that, let me tell you about meeting up with longtime Grateful Dead publicist and biographer Dennis McNally before a Ratdog (Bob Weir’s band) show at the Palace years ago. As we talked, Dennis took a phone call, agreed to a meeting and led me down to a restaurant on Broadway where we met Tom Davis waiting at the bar. One of the original writers on Saturday Night Live, Tom had single-handedly persuaded producer Lorne Michaels to book the Dead to play the show just before “Shakedown Street” hit in 1978. Tom and his SNL writing and performing partner Al Franken (now Sen. Franken, D.-Minn.) also hosted a Dead concert simulcast back in the day. Dennis introduced us and we talked books. In awe of Dennis’ Dead book, “A Long Strange Trip,” Tom was writing his memoirs and wanted tips on publishing. Dennis happily obliged until he had to go back to the Palace and deal with reporters there, so Tom and I kept talking until showtime. We hit it off, jumped around in the same row during that pretty hot show, had a friendly time and parted promising to get in touch; he lived in Hudson. We emailed and phone messaged a few times but never met up or lifted a glass together again. Nonetheless, I was saddened to hear Tom died last Thursday at home in Kingston, of cancer at 59.
MORE PEOPLE WHO DIED
(THANKS, JIM CARROLL)
Kitty Wells also died recently, a country music pioneer who toured for 70 years, recorded for nearly 30 and expanded the role of women in a formerly macho man’s world. Wells’ recording of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” (by J.D. Miller) was perhaps the first major hit from a woman’s point of view, the first chart-topping single by a woman. Wells paved the way for Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Brenda Lee and all others who followed her; she topped the polls as No. 1 female country singer from 1953 until Wynette displaced her. Hailed as the Queen of Country Music, Wells carried her unique musical vision through tireless touring into her early 80s. She was 92.
Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, who co-wrote “Smoke on the Water” and other hits, also died recently, at 71 of cancer.
Less famous but arguably more productive, bassist Robert Kreinar — credited on many dozens of hits as Bob Babbitt — died on the same day as Kitty Wells. While James Jamerson was the best-known Motown Records bassist in the legendary but anonymous Funk Brothers, Babbitt played on such Motor City classics as “The Tears of a Clown,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Inner City Blues,” “Ball of Confusion” and many more. He continued his successful career as a member of the MFSB studio crew on many Philadelphia International Records hits including “The Rubberband Man.” Babbitt also played with Jimi Hendrix, Gladys Knight, Phil Collins and too many others to mention here. He was 74.
The Gazette also reported some good news while I was away enjoying family, fun and sun on Virginia’s eastern shore. At least, I hope it’s good news: The Who are going on tour to perform “Quadrophenia,” the ambitious 1973 album that became their 1979 film. No, no local date, yet. As of now, the 37-show tour ends in Providence on Feb. 26, basically making up for a 1979 show that Mayor Buddy Cianci (who resigned twice after felony convictions) canceled for safety reasons after the Who’s tragic Cincinnati show.
Anyone still holding a ticket for the canceled 1979 show (top ticket: $14) can use it for admission to the Feb. 26 show (top ticket: $127.50).
This promises to be a stronger concert experience than Roger Waters’ (similarly themed) “The Wall” that played the Times Union Center here recently. The Who has better music, more star power and the performers will be in view at all times.