Despite that it’s going to be 50 years since the infamous ’69 concert took place on the great meadow that is now Bethel Woods, the spirit of the place still has a free-spirited, friendly, Woodstocky feel. As K. Phillips, the folksy opener for Rob Thomas and Counting Crows, played his set on this perfect summer night there were still a lot of empty seats. But those concert-goers were here, just wandering the lawns, finishing up their tail-gating festivities, and relishing the atmosphere. Big groups of friends gathered, hugged, gave great big waves to each other across the amphitheater, and in a relaxed air, make their way to their seats. Maybe there’s still something in that air, but that’s what a Bethel Woods night is like.
K. Griffin played his final number, thanked the crowd, and the stage was cleared and set up for Rob Thomas. No stranger to these parts, Thomas is a big, big supporter of Pets Alive, the no-kill shelter in Middletown, NY; he’s donated thousands of dollars, appeared at their fundraisers and at their animal sanctuary. Even the tee-shirts sold at his “official merchandise” tent went to benefit the organization.
Rob Thomas plays guitar
The former lead singer of Matchbox Twenty took the stage in a “Woodstock” tee-shirt, and went right into his extensive vault of danceable hit songs from “Her Diamonds,” to “Lonely No More,” and the pounding and powerful “This is How a Heartbreaks.” He also added in a few from his newest release, “The Great Unknown,” alongside covers of songs that, Thomas wrote, including “Bent,” “Smooth,” and “Unwell.” Thomas is an active performer, never standing still during his set, using the microphone stand as a baton, or placing it behind him and across his shoulders, almost like an exercise routine. He could do no wrong this night as he pleads his fans to “hold tight, everything will be alright!”
And then he was gone.
After a short intermission, Counting Crows took over and just as masterful as Thomas, played their hits, and just a few lesser known ones. It was good to see Adam Duritz, lead singer and songwriter, who has struggled with mental illness, be in great form. He added freshness to the songs, as he meandered through them, and sometimes spoke the lyrics, like a storyteller. We heard “A Long December,” and “Round Here” and their other hit numbers, a few unfamiliar ones, but all crowd-pleasers. And, just when we thought they were done for the night and crew members began to take the stage, they emerged from the shadows for a rousing performance, complete with lots of audience-participation, of “The Rain King.”
In contrast to Thomas’ songs which focus on relationships, sharing burdens, being strong and staying positive, Duritz’ songs are mournful, and a real mixed bag, some are taken from literature, about the songwriting process, some are about the cyclical changes in life, and some are about failure. Deep stuff.
It’s a great combination, Rob Thomas and Counting Crows. They kept us dancing, but they also made us think. Just like in 1969.
Upcoming shows include Smokey Robinson, August 20, and Don Henley, September 10. Visit bethelwoodscenter.org.
Top photo: Adam Duritz with guitarist David Immergluck
Photo credit: Kevin Ferguson/ Courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts