Part III - Camden
Friday, July 12, 1996
With the first cool winds of Hurricane Bertha reaching South Jersey on the morning of July 12th, the tie-died migration was in good evidence on the New Jersey Turnpike. While the picture-perfect weather of the previous day had yielded a chilly reception at Liberty State Park, this day's cold winds foretold a much warmer welcome on the Delaware River.
To the benefit of those attending concerts at the brand-new Entertainment Center, the waterfront area in Camden long ago fell upon hard times and over the years has been reduced to vast expanses of open fields, parking lots, and parks. Right on the water, overlooking the City of Philadelphia across the river, is the New Jersey State Aquarium, and next to it, the Entertainment Center. Parking, indoor and outdoor, is plentiful, and access to the city and the concert was quick and easy. The police, security, and concert staff was relaxed and helpful. In contrast to the scene at Liberty State Park, where it seemed that concertgoers were considered by police and security staff as an unpleasant lot good only for their arrest potential, we were treated as valued paying customers in Camden, and we responded in kind.
The Entertainment Center itself is a mid-sized auditorium with an open rear wall, beyond which is a medium-sized sloped lawn. Lawn chairs and blankets are available for rental. An excellent selection of micro-brew beers, as well as full bar service is available. The sound, however, is very good at the center and on the lawn, but gets muddy at the sides.
The show began at 5 PM with a blistering set by electric Hot Tuna and the day's first version of Walking Blues. The Hot Tuna fans were well represented and the whole crowd seemed to enjoy the set.Los Lobos was particularly good and had the crowd up and dancing early in its set. Like the Dead, Los Lobos can move between a wide range of music styles with credibility and expression. Their version of Cream's Politician really woke up the crowd, and they didn't stop until they got everyone involved with Bertha. In between, I saw one particularly enthusiastic head disregarding decades of musical history and inventing completely new dance steps to the band's latin and polka rhythms. As their recent album, Colossal Head, sold only modestly, I hope that the Furthur Festival experience energizes Los Lobos to the same extent that it is turning on heads to their music.
Bruce Hornsby's set provided a very different level of energy, and the crowd mainly sat out the set (appreciatively), responding mainly to Wharf Rat and Goin' Down the Road. After a fine acoustic set by Hot Tuna, Mickey Hart's Mystery Box again proved itself the most dynamic act of the evening, exploding through the venue with sound, light, and rhythm. About a minute into Where Love Goes (Sito), usual Mint Julep lead singer Julie Isaac left the stage, and without missing a beat, Debbie Longworth took over her part and the other singers reshuffled their singing roles. The Mint Juleps' singing was beautiful, as always, even without their lead voice, especially on Look Away.
With Mystery Box as a lead-in, RatDog could not hope to sustain the same level of energy, but they did a much better job than at Liberty State Park the day before. First of all, the venue was, if not intimite, at least of finite size. Secondly, the song selection was chosen more wisely. We heard a second version of Walking Blues, and not long afterward, Bruce Hornsby appeared to play accordian on Masterpiece, which was performed slowly and drew the crowd in. From that point on, Weir had the audience's attention. Tanqueray, Johnnie Johnson's signature song, went over very well, and had the rest of RatDog harmonizing on the chorus like the 50's r&b group the Clovers! (And don't be surprised if you hear Love Potion #9 before the end of the tour). After an effective Josephine (preferred 2 to 1 over Corinna), the rest of the troupe joined the stage and went into a high energy version of Midnight Hour, followed by Gimme Some Lovin', with David Hidalgo on lead and Hornsby calling the changes. The closer was Not Fade Away, with Jorma Kaukonen doing a scorching, if not especially melodic, lead. The crowd was satisfied, or exhausted, or both. As the song faded, Mickey Hart, in his familiar place behind the rear drum set, egged the crowd on and finally, standing alone on stage, waved goodbye, as everyone ventured out into the pouring rain.
A final note - no one can say that the Furthur Festival is not giving its audience their money's worth or satisfying their need to hear familiar songs. But after seven or eight hours, even the hardiest fan can be overwhelmed with musical overload or fatigue, especially with so many energy ups and downs. Next time, let's see a more well-defined Furthur show, pared down to three or four hours, properly paced so as to gradually build the crowd's energy.
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