BY KARYN A. POKLETAR
John Mellencamp’s professional career began in 1976. He’s a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall in 2008. He’s had multiple Grammy nominations and in addition to his indelible success, a slew of chart topping hits, 23 studio albums, two live albums, and four compilation albums. And Mellencamp is still producing!
The early 80’s saw the artist catapult to stardom with his Heartland rock, as an advocator of small town values. The entertainer is no stranger to the Good Samaritan edict. In 1985 Mellancamp helped organize the premier Farm Aid benefit festival, which continues annually to this day. It’s since raised over $60M to assist family farmers across the USA of which 80% goes directly to the farmers.
What project does one take on next, after 45 years worth of relevance, 65 singles (many in peak chart positions) and an abundance of stellar music coupled with hefty financial contributions? The answer to this question is…He’s personally sending a musical thank-you note (no pun intended) by providing a series of free, unannounced musical performances in outdoor spaces across the US. Considering Mellencamp’s incredible legacy, we should be the ones sending him “thank you” cards.
“This is not a concert. I’m just playing on the street. I’m not promoting anything. I’m not selling anything. I’m just giving back to the people who have been so good to me,” says Mellancamp of his live album The Good Samaritan Tour 2000. He expresses gratitude to ardent fans and honors industry greats who have inspired him to interpret their tunes extemporaneously. The soon to be 70-year old performer was smart to come up with something new; an arena-rock band with oodles of swag and that Midwestern thing they keep doing, is hopefully front running a touring trend that other artists will emulate to quench our thirsty ears.
Featuring twelve performances,The Good Samaritan Tour 2000 will also be part of a documentary, narrated by Academy Award winning actor Matthew McConaughey, chronicling this free tour across the East Coast and Midwest. These portable sessions include the artist on guitar, accompanied by an accordion and violinist.
The LP includes a great set list; starting off with “Small Town,” a B-side tune from the 1985 album Scarecrow, which charted at #6 on US Billboard charts. The first track opens as the live audience squeals with delight. The greeting is accompanied by the warm strumming of guitar, followed by the violin virtuosity of Mirium Sturm. Sturm has been working with Mellancamp for over 22 years, releasing thirteen of her own albums. Mellancamp imparts soulful delivery, with his signature twang and confident vocals in the chorus “No I cannot forget where it is that I come from//I cannot forget the people who love me//Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town//And people just let me be what I want to be.“ The song concludes with Mellancamp thanking his audience for their support over the decades.
The iconic American singer-songwriter Woodie Guthrie is honored with a cover of “Oklahoma Hills,” (he also wrote our unofficial National Anthem “This Land is Your Land.”) Next, the performer tracks a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” which lyricizes the confusion inherent in requisite psychological work surrounding the questions regarding what’s valuable in life and what is not. It’s three verses, no chorus and packed with archetypical meaning. Mellencamp under-sings to give a conversational style to the song, making it even more weighty. Sturm’s violin is lustrous on this cut, going raucously austere while there are vocals and assuming eloquence when featured at the fore, making this song’s starkness special.
The artist amplifies his talent on The Good Samaritan Tour with seminal ditty’s such as “The Spider and the Fly” (composed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards), as well as Donovan’s yearningly, gritty “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)” taken on with Mellencamp’s confident aplomb. Does John Melencamp know that live music universally lowers stress levels, increases social bonds and decreases pain levels? Still in the throes of the Covid era , Mellencamp, because of this live album, should be considered as a recipient of government stipend for mental health initiatives!
The set continues to impress with songs like “Street Fighting Man” (more Stones) and “Cut Across Shorty,” which is the last song ever recorded by Eddie Cochran, in March 1960, before it was also popularized by Rod Stewart. The violin featured on this album exhibits Strum’s colorful prowess and masterful talent that arena concerts can’t. The last track on the release is “Pink Houses” off of 1983’s Uh-huh. In the reoccurring chord of G major, Mellencamp slides into the chorus “Oh, but ain’t that America…”
This album is yet another example of Mellencamp’s insistent career and the hordes of fans who love his every-man artistry, creativity, and passion. On a street corner in front of thirty people, or playing a venue filled with 50,000 aficionados, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000 gets an A+ for being a super-fun concept, and as a showcase of the enduring and colossal talent that is John Mellencamp.