Chicago Theatre Review
John Mellencamp at Ravinia
Heartland Rock at Ravinia with John Mellencamp
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy winner John Mellencamp brought his unique brand of heartland rock to a lively packed crowd Sunday evening at Ravinia.
John rose to fame in the 1980s as John Cougar, a name giving to him by management. Believing his name John Mellencamp wouldn’t sell, they renamed him John Cougar, thinking it sounded cooler and would catch on. John resented this and once he got enough clout with the music industry he changed his name from John Cougar to John Cougar Mellencamp to finally; just John Mellencamp. John was a fan favorite of the then famous MTV in the 1980s,, who at one time only played music videos, remember? He released his breakthrough album in 1982 American Fool with 2 massive hits “Hurts So Good” and the number 1 hit “Jack & Diane.” To date he has had 22 Top 40 hits, many of which went Top 10 and holds the record for a solo artist with 7 number ones on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Winning one Grammy Award of 13 nominations for “Hurts so Good”. With his new album “Sad Clowns and Hillbillies” John has put out a total of 21 albums of original material. John other interests are painting and acting. He was a founding member of the Farm Aid organization in 1985 with Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Farm aid has raised over $50 million to help save and promote family farms.
John set the tone by opening the show with the bluesy “Lawless Times” from his Plain Spoken album. He brought a tight 6 piece band featuring fiddle and accordion to capture his heartland sound. John played electric and acoustic guitars throughout the night. At one point he put away his guitar, stuck out his chest and strutted around the stage while performing “Pop Singer.”
His voice was in great shape, full of attitude and grit. His stage presence was hard ass and in your face , or as John put it in his little ditty about Jack & Diane, he did his best James Dean.
My personal favorites of the night were “Small Town”, “Pop Singer”, “Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Authority Song” and “Crumblin’ Down”. Mellencamp and company played with passion throughout the night. They let up a bit on “Paper and Fire”; lacking the intensity it needed to make its point. John Mellencamp is an American treasure “from the heartland”. I recommend you checkout this master story teller with an attitude from Bloomington, Indiana.
Opening the show was Carlene Carter from the legendary Carter Family, daughter of June Carter Cash. She played a solo set mainly on acoustic guitar, jumping to piano on a couple songs. She sounded eerily like her mother. She told some interesting stories between songs. One story in particular was when her mother told her if she wanted to make it in the business “she needs to write some songs”. And that she did. Carlene collaborated on John’s new album, singing throughout. She also co-wrote 2 songs on the album. John said it was a perfect fit, their voices just clicked. She also joined John onstage for a couple tunes which was also a highlight. I believe Carlene was the perfect choice to open the show.
Another great show at Ravinia with great friends, great music and a bucket of KFC. Now that’s what I call living!
Reviewed by Terry Giardina