NORFOLK — It was old-timer's day at the ballpark on Saturday night, but you would have a hard time convincing the fans that the players were past their prime.
With Harbor Park's baseball field transformed for one night into a concert stage, the tripleheader of John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan — combined age, 201 — had a multigenerational crowd singing along, dancing around and shouting like happy kids. The five-hour show was a broad-based tour of rootsy musical styles that touched on country, folk, bluegrass, gospel, blues and straightforward rock and roll.
Ain't that Americana?
Nelson opened the show with an hourlong set that touched on all the highlights of his career and went over big with the crowd, starting with the familiar opening number "Whiskey River."
The crowd was behind Nelson from the start. When he ordered up "whiskey for my men," the crowd joyously called back "and beer for my horses!" In addition to his own songbook, Nelson drew material from throughout the back pages of country music, and it was more than appropriate to see a freight train rolling down the tracks behind Harbor Park while he belted his way through Hank Williams' "Jambalaya."
Mellencamp, the relative youngster of the gang at 57, performed a good selection of his trademark populist anthems, backed at times by his six-piece band and playing solo on some tunes, even going a cappella on the nostalgic "Cherry Bomb." Keeping with the tone of the evening, fiddler Miriam Sturm at one point filled in between songs with a quick run through "Home on the Range."
In addition to hits like "Pink Houses" and "Small Town," Mellencamp introduced a brand-new tune, "Save Some Time to Dream," which covered some of the same ground as Dylan's "Forever Young" but directed more at an adult than at a child. As though to prove he still has some kid in him, Mellencamp closed his set with a raucous rendition of his petulantly defiant "Authority Song" (vowing that "I still feel the same way today as I did when I wrote this").
On this summer's 31-show tour of minor-league ballparks, Nelson and Mellencamp have alternated in the leadoff spot, but Dylan is locked into the cleanup spot closing the show.
The tour is billed as The Bob Dylan Show.
Dylan and his razor-sharp five-piece band rocked through a set that featured selections from every stage of his groundbreaking career, many of them in imaginitive and unpredictable arrangements. He opened with a relatively faithful version of his 1966 "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35" and a surprisingly playful run through "It Ain't Me, Babe." The show had plenty of the songs from the 1960s that made him famous, but also drew heavily from his critically acclaimed discs from the past decade, highlighted by "The Levee's Gonna Break" and "Thunder on the Mountain."
About 5,000 fans came to the ballpark for the show, some settling into seats in the grandstands and others choosing to stand close to the stage, which was set up in shallow center field. Some came for Dylan, some for Nelson and some for Mellencamp, but many said they came for the rare opportunity to see all three.
Karen Turner, 42, of Virginia Beach, brought her children, Matthew, 14, and Angela, 12, to the show. Matthew said he is familiar with some of Mellencamp's songs and he could name a few of Nelson's more popular titles. But he admitted that he did not know Dylan's work.
"I've heard a lot about him, so I'm looking forward to seeing him," Matthew said. "But I don't really know what to expect."
"Expect the unexpected," his mother told him, obviously familiar with Dylan's famous penchant for onstage experimentation.
Robert Potts' T-shirt, from a Willie Nelson tour more than a decade ago, made it clear where his loyalties lay. But Potts, 54, of Hampton, said he is a fan of all three performers.
"These guys are all legends — they're part of American music."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun