Aplscruf's Music, Art, and Literature Blog

John (Cougar) Mellencamp at The Gorge 5.14.1999

John Mellencamp

The Gorge Amphitheatre

May 14, 1999

Son Volt Opened

I attended yet another awesome concert at The Gorge.  Tickets for John went on sale sometime in March or early April, and at the time I debated about going.  I knew Tom Petty was also touring [ended up missing Tom’s Echo tour–bummer], and I wasn’t sure we could afford both shows.  The initial sale date came and went; P and I were still discussing what our plans would be for May 14.  We decided to wait and see if any reserved tickets came back from promoters right before the actual concert date.  That turned out to be a smart move.

A week and a half before the concert, we started calling Ticketmaster and checking the website for reserved seats.  Nothing in the reserved section was available.  I started getting nervous because I had already told my boss we wanted to go, and she made special arrangements to reschedule a CPR training class just for me.  Thursday, a week before the show, we tried again.  No luck.  The next day at work things were slow, so I decided to look on the website.  Bingo!  Reserved tickets, Row 20, Section B (in the middle), seats 5-6.  I purchased them on the spot.

P’s parents agreed to watch our son the night of the concert.  Luckily they were planning to be at their Cle Elum house, so it was easy for us to leave him there and continue on our way.  His cousins would also be there, so he didn’t mind our leaving at all.  We left their house about 5:00 to allow ample time to park, pick up our will-call tickets and get a bite to eat.

On the way through Ellensburg, we got a little anxious.  The wind had picked up, and the clouds looked ominous.  After we turned left at Vantage, we realized the clouds were not drifting east; the sky was blue and gorgeous.  Since we were a little early, we were able to cruise right in to the giant parking lot.  Well, I wouldn’t call it a parking lot, but a hay-field that had recently been harvested and was flat enough for parking.

We arrived at the Will-Call ticket window.  I thought for sure we would have to wait in line for our tickets, but we were the second group there.  There was a crowd of very angry and somewhat inebriated people hanging around near the ticket window.  Aerosmith, who was supposed to play the next night, canceled due to two members of their band coming down with pneumonia.  This one guy said he had paid $600 to fly out here, only to have to turn around and go home.   I never thought about that before; if we had to fly to get to Eastern Washington, rent a car, and get a hotel, it could be a very costly trip.  Another drunk ex-hippie sat on the ground and howled, “I wanna see Aerosmith!  I wanna see Aerosmith!”  We wondered if we would encounter a drunken riot before the night was over.

After we checked in and started our walk down to the amphitheatre, I looked up at the beautiful sky.  There were a few fluffy clouds, but when the sun came out, it was so warm.  I could see the Columbia River down below us, so far away.  Since the check-in went smoothly, we decided to try the beer garden and get something to eat.

The beer garden was a maze.  First we had to pass by the well-built ID checkers.  Then we had to walk down a fenced corridor to a ticket booth.  We were only allowed two tickets apiece.  The drinks were $5.00 so we only purchased two tickets total.  We then had to take our tickets to another booth and stand in line for the beer or wine.  We could not return for more tickets; we would have to move forward to the beer/wine booth area.  We cannot drink the beer/wine there, but must continue through another door to the drinking area, which is fenced around a large square of grass.  We must then finish our drink in this enclosed space (I felt like a steer waiting on the mounds of manure in Ellensburg before the butchering).  After we finished, we could not go back for more, but must continue through another gate, opened by another burly guy.  If we wanted more, we must repeat the above process.  What a fiasco just for a plastic cup of wine!

We were hungry and fed up with the drinking process, so we purchased some Mexican food (if you can call a quesadilla with La Victoria salsa dumped on it Mexican food).  We sat at a picnic table and chatted.  A mediocre rock band was playing close by to entertain the guests.

We decided to make one last bathroom run, then made our way to our cool reserved seats.  Security was tight at the entrances.  They didn’t want any of the general admission riff-raffs squatting a seat.  We were about 20 minutes early, so we sat back and relaxed, watched the people, and watched the sun set.  It was getting pretty chilly by 8:00.

About 8:10 Son Volt opened.  Son Volt sounds like a mix between REM, the Knack and Whiskeytown.  I really enjoyed their music, but was anxious for John to get on stage.  We were also anxious about who would be sitting around us.  At the Rod Stewart concert last year [1998], a bunch of drunk girls sat behind us and were pushing their seats into the backs of our legs so they had room to dance.  Then, one girl decided she was too drunk to walk to the bathrooms, so she peed right behind us!  What a nightmare; it practically ruined our experience.   This time, though, the crowd was very mellow.  We were so relieved.  There were some high fivin’ white guys a couple of rows in front who seemed pretty rowdy, but then I also saw them sharing a bottle of Pepsi…most likely rum and Pepsi!  They were just having a good time, though.  After Son Volt, we made one more bathroom run, and came back just in time to see the roadies checking the mikes.  The lights went out and everyone roared; the concert would begin any minute!

I didn’t know what to expect.  I saw John in a recent interview talking about touring again, and he didn’t seem too enthusiastic.  He was ready to settle down with his new family.  He was on his third marriage; the other two had failed due to his constant traveling.  He decided he wanted to make this one work, and I thought to myself, this might be my last opportunity to see him.  He comes off as a bit surly in interviews, and I wondered how he would behave on stage.  I wondered if he would sing his old songs or play his most recent work that received lukewarm reviews.

Finally, we could see silhouettes of the band enter the stage.  The lights flashed on, and again, the audience roared!  The set included a very monochromatic color scheme; everything was either gray or white.  All of the members wore black.  John looked good and fit in black slacks, a black button shirt with white embroidery down each side.  He had a white t-shirt on underneath.  The rest of the band included:  a buff man on keys, an anorexic woman on electric violin, a bass guitar player and a woman, Pat Peterson, on bongos and maracas who has been with him on tour for 20 years.  there was a rhythm guitar, a lead guitar, and a young-looking drummer.

His first song of the night, “I’m On My Way” was off his new album.  I wondered what would be next.  His new album is more pop and pretty mellow.  Well, I was pleasantly surprised with his set list.  It was basically John Cougar/John Mellancamp’s Greatest Hits, with a few new songs added, but only those that were fast and fun.  the second song he played was “Jack and Diane”.  The audience went crazy.  His band was so energetic, too.  They would dance and sway to the music.  John would join in and dance and pose.  He eventually took his outer shirt off and rocked his t-shirt.  During “The Authority Song” he rolled up his right sleeve to show off tattoos on his shoulder and forearm.  I couldn’t tell what they were from our seats.

During “Hurts So Good” he pointed down to the front row and motioned at someone to come up on stage.  I thought, “Oh, great, he’s probably pulling up some cute chick from the front row to make her day, etc. ”  Well, to my surprise, he pulled up a big college boy up on stage and motioned him to sing a solo of “Hurts So Good”!  John handed over the mike; the guy was totally excited!  I didn’t see it, but P said when the guy started to sing, John was moving to stand next to him and put his arm around him, but the guy flung his arm back, not realizing John was right there, and popped John in the forehead!  John fell back and feigned dizziness to tease him.  Anyway, the college student belted out the rest of the song to the audience’s amusement and delight.

The band was so good.  The fiddle player, although painfully skinny, was very talented and truly enhanced his music, especially the new stuff.  The bongo player also sang backup and  even got to jump in on a few occasions and take over the mike, which really got the audience moving.  She was very energetic and had a unique voice.  The guitarists had a couple of short solos, but mainly did their best in keeping the songs clean and true to the original recordings.  We were so close, the bass and drums seemed to thump the rhythm right into our chests.

Other songs included:

Fruit Trader

Your Life is Now

Lonely Ol’ Night

Walls (Crumblin’ Down)

Small Town

Pink Houses

Rain on the Scarecrow

Wild Night (Van Morrison cover)

R.O.C.K. in the USA

We had an absolute blast at this concert.  It’s up there in my favorite concert list.  They kept the music clean, his voice sounded great, and the intense energy never wavered.  We were on our feet for almost two hours of pure entertainment.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | 1999, John Mellencamp, Music, The Gorge Amphitheatre | , , | Leave a comment