Jul 24, 2006

Rock & roll, Alive at Five and regional image

The Alive at Five summertime shows down in the Corning Preserve are a fixture in the local entertainment scene. Sitting by the river on a warm night, listening to live music makes for a great after-work Thursday excuse to ring up the old college pals and hook up for some fun.

The bookings, however, have been rather spotty over the years. Do we really need to waste a show on former football star Doug Flutie and his buddies playing cover tunes? Other times, it seems like a welfare program for long forgotten nostalgia acts. But about once each year, that sort of criticism is forgotten as a world class show is tee'd up to the delight of the masses -- and for yours truly.

This year's highlight was last week's performance by John Hiatt. While flying a bit under the radar of the average radio listener, Hiatt nonetheless enjoys near iconic status among tuned-in fans of roots-rock. His twenty plus years of turning out catchy tune of everyday life in the heartland and delivering them in his "I''ve got something caught in my throat" manner have made him the apparent successor to The Band as the epitome of the best in Americana twang.

As if having Hiatt on stage wasn't enough of a treat, Thursday's show saw him backed by the North Mississippi All Stars, whose brand of bluesy swap rock psychedelia has been embraced by Jam Band Nation and the music festival circuit. This pairing made the night especially fun.

After treating the large (6000+) crowd to a set of their own material, the All Stars took a short break and reappeared in the role of sidemen to their big rock star friend. From the opening wail of "Perfecty Good Guitar" through such Hiatt standards "Cry Tough," "Riding with the King", "Slow Turning" and "Drive South," this pickup band delivered the goods --- and how!

Guitarist Luther Dickinson, who looks like that mop-headed 15-year old who mows your lawn, led the way with a sonic attack that was as impressive with its diversity as it was with its ferocity. His blistering leads were matched by range of fills that cut in and out of Hiatt's famous hooks and bridges that made one forget they were basicaly watching a power trio fronted by a guy strumming an acoustic guitar. This was rock and roll at its finest, and the crowd loved it.

This is the type of quality-of-life event that make the region a decent place to be a part of. It's fun for residents and it stamps the city as being kewl to the outside world. For example, sitting next to me were two women that were in town a day early for the NOW Convention. One of them mentioned "how neat it is to have something like this going on in the middle of town."

So goes my annual trek to Alive at Five. I just wish that I had reasons to go to a few more each year. But if that one visit keeps serving up the likes of Mr. Hiatt & the NMAS, I'll be happy. Heck, I'll even stop complaining about Flutie and the nostalgia acts.

But then again: maybe not.

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