1Don McLean has always loved early rock and roll. He showed this love Friday night at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. He showed it by performing the music of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash. He showed it by writing songs like the rockabilly bouncer "American Boys Invented Rock N' Roll." And he showed it in the lyrics of his biggest hit, "American Pie," which lamented the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper and delivered a commentary on the music and musicians of the 1950s and 1960s.
This tour celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the release of "American Pie" - the album and the single. McLean's set included only three songs from that album. He sang the haunting "Crossroads," accompanied only by the beautiful piano playing of Tony Migliore. He played my personal favourite, "Vincent," which I count among the most beautiful songs ever written. He closed the set with an extended rendition of "American Pie" and had no trouble encouraging the audience to sing along.
The concert was not long - less than 90 minutes - but it was entertaining. McLean sang and played guitar like he still enjoys it. He noted that some performers do not like to play their hits. "They should not be in show business," he insisted as he played his hits.
In between songs, McLean told stories and engaged the audience with self-deprecation. He admitted he could not hit the high notes when performing The Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You," but he was not far off the peak range of his younger days. At 77, he still sounds great and still enjoys touring.
The evening contained a mix of originals and covers. We enjoyed a rousing version of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," a mournful rendition of Orbison's "Crying," and a rocking performance of Presley's "Little Sister."
I was 11 years old when someone in my family bought a 45RPM record of "American Pie." The song was so long it had to be split between the two sides. I memorized all the words, and we sang them on our car trips. In college, I bought a vinyl copy of the "American Pie" LP and played it until it wore out. But I had never seen Don McLean perform live until tonight. It took fifty years, and it was worth the wait.