Buffered by great supporting acts, John Mellencamp entertains his “Mellenheads” in Forest Hills, Queens.
When you trek out to a show in Queens, half of the fun is the surprises that greet you at every turn: the humidity that envelops you, the comfortable turf to sink your toes into, the nice IPAs they have on draft, the tennis history that graces the stadium, the fireflies that guide you along the way, and, in this case, the tuxedos.
Buffered by his supporting acts, including a stellar band donning tuxedos, John Mellencamp took the stage in front of his eager fans on Tuesday July 11th at Forest Hill Stadium in Queens.
The Sad Clowns and Hillbillies tour supports Mellencamp’s new album of the same name and while the album contributors provide some of the tour’s opening acts, the songs from the album themselves did not necessarily provide the defining moments. Die-hard Mellencamp fans, with their iPhones capturing every moment, were left questioning the opening tracks. “I haven’t recognized any of these tracks yet,” a fan remarked after the first four tunes.
Carlene Carter is credited on five tracks on Mellencamp’s new album and on all five, she provides sparks and energy. Her performance was no different here. Both Carlene’s solo set and her support to John provided summertime harmony magic.
Carlene Carter-Cash, it is worth mentioning, is a physical representation of a rock family tree: her mother is June Carter of Carter Family fame, and her stepfather is Johnny Cash. There’s something about recognizing family greatness that struck a nerve in Queens. As she spoke about her famous relatives and the music that runs through her veins, applause and shouts rained down from the stadium.
Fans had the pleasure of Carlene Carter as an opening act, followed by songwriting legend Emmylou Harris. Both came to sing with Mellencamp together, providing a lovely and piercing trio of voices in the summer sky. Harris’s twitter handle is EmmylouSongbird, and truly, she lives up to that songbird title. This evening, she stretched her wings with her Red Dirt Boys. If you closed your eyes, breathed in the humidity, absorbed the heat, and ignored the smell of stale mozzarella sticks, you just might have been transported somewhere else. It was something close to magic, and for Mellenheads, it truly came back only once: an acoustic version of Jack and Diane.
During the evening, Mellencamp’s backup band stole the show, displaying an impressive array of electric guitar, harmonica, and violin skills. But this time, Mellencamp, now solo donned a guitar and shared, “I was 25 years old when I wrote this song.” As he started, the fans that were previously mystified by the new songs enthused with relief: “This one I know!” They sang along as Mellencamp crooned:
Jack he sits back, collects his thoughts for a moment
Scratches his head, and does his best James Dean
Well, now then, there, Diane, we ought to run off to the city
As the evening ended, and Mellenheads indeed ran off to the city after their evening in Queens, John’s vocals and lyrics perhaps rolling through their heads, the scene counters Mellencamp’s lyrics of “I ain’t got no friends.” Because here’s a stadium in Forest Hills full of them.