John Sebastian - electric guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar
During the summer of 1970, Bill Graham presented an extraordinary series of concerts at Tanglewood, the renowned classical music venue located in the scenic Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. At the time, presenting rock music in a classical venue was a surprising step to take. To many, hearing The Fillmore and Tanglewood in the same sentence equated to "when worlds collide." Much like his approach at the Fillmores, Graham's "The Fillmore at Tanglewood" series presented diverse handpicked triple bills, but with the added advantage of a beautiful open-air venue and plenty of informal lawn seating. With the Fillmore East crew providing technical support, these concerts would be hailed as a technical and artistic triumph and would entertain the largest Tanglewood audiences to date.
In a year plentiful in memorable concerts, these Tanglewood performances truly stand out. Artists like The Who, Miles Davis, Santana and Chicago all delivered inspired performances, several of which remain career-defining moments to this very day. What is less remembered, but just as enjoyable were the openers that year - The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, It's A Beautiful Day and The Voices Of East Harlem among them - which reflect the great diversity Graham embraced in his concert presentations. On the July 21st show, Graham also presented John Sebastian, performing what turned out to be a primarily solo electric set, sandwiched between outstanding performances by New Orleans' legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Chicago at the creative peak of their original lineup.
Following the dissolution of The Lovin' Spoonful, Sebastian received an unexpected kick-start to his solo career, when he became an unscheduled performer on the first day of the legendary Woodstock festival the previous summer. Two of his songs, "I Had A Dream" and "Rainbows All Over Your Blues," seemed to capture the atmosphere of that moment perfectly and his appearance in the Woodstock movie and the soundtrack album releases catapulted Sebastian into one of the most recognized singer-songwriters of 1970. Earlier that year he could be found living in a tent on The Grateful Dead's ranch, writing new songs that would eventually comprise his first solo album. As is obvious from photos of that era, Sebastian took a fancy to the Dead family's tie-dyed amplifier grilles and clothing, which he would embrace as his own colorful uniform. Following his memorable experience at Woodstock, Sebastian continued performing solo, often as an opening act for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He struck a solo deal with Reprise Records and began work on his first album, sessions for which featured the talents of Crosby, Stills, Nash and their drummer Dallas Taylor, as well as stellar musicians like Harvey Brooks, Buzzy Linhart and Buddy Emmons. This album, titled John B. Sebastian would contain much of his most memorable post-Lovin' Spoonful material and remains the most popular solo album of his career.
This Tanglewood set, recorded just shy of a year after Woodstock captures Sebastian at this time, performing spontaneously and without a planned setlist. Even on tape, Sebastian's enthusiasm is contagious and his conversational stage banter establishes a relaxed, intimate rapport with the Tanglewood audience. As this set so clearly demonstrates, Sebastian possesses the innate ability to relate to an audience on a personal level, which he often does throughout this performance. He begins the set on acoustic guitar with the snappy fingerpicking of "Lovin' You," an old Lovin Spoonful-era chestnut that immediately establishes a feel-good vibe. Surprisingly, at this early point in the set, Sebastian switches to his electric guitar which he sticks with for the remainder of the set, giving much of this material a vibrant edge not found on other live solo recordings of this era. He continues the set with two later-period Spoonful numbers, the catchy title song written for the You're A Big Boy Now movie soundtrack, followed by the poetic "She's A Lady," which reflects the more mature songwriting direction he was heading in toward the end of The Spoonful.
At this point Sebastian acknowledges that he was "blown away" by the openers, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and in honor of De De and Billie Pierce, he plays the Louisiana-flavored Lonnie Johnson number "I Found A Dream," immediately followed by his own delightful "Daydream," one of his biggest Spoonful hits. Finally dipping into the material from his new solo album, he establishes a spacey laid back groove for "Magical Connection" and then spontaneously plays "Goin' To Germany," a vintage blues he hadn't explored since his pre-Spoonful days on the Greenwich Village folk circuit. A lovely reading of "Younger Girl" follows, before Sebastian begins encouraging requests. Not surprisingly, he gets several requests for the numbers on the Woodstock album (and his solo album), "Rainbows All Over Your Blues" and "I Had A Dream." Although the latter song is truncated due to a tape change, he obliges with captivating versions of one after the other, before veering back into his distant past. Getting fixated on some classic simple chord changes from the 1950s, Sebastian pays homage to The Five Satins and The Shangri Las with a one-man doo-wop medley of "In The Still Of The Night" and "You Cheated You Lied," much to the amusement of the audience. This humorous history lesson continues with Sebastian adjusting his guitar amplifier to sound "cheap-o" and then delivers "My White Convertible," a rudimentary rock and roll number co-written with his cousin when he was 14 years old.
Bringing us back to the present, Sebastian next engages the audience with "Younger Generation," his humorous yet thought provoking rumination on the generation gap. Adjusting his amp back to the "cheap-o" setting, he next plunges into the garage rock of "4 Eyes," certainly one of the most unusual Spoonful songs in his canon. To close the set, Sebastian presents another new song from his solo album, "Red Eye Express." Essentially a good time boogie, this is a perfect closer that has the audience clapping along in rhythm as the repetitive last line of "I'm Flying" fades out as Sebastian exits the stage. Universal applause from the audience coaxes him back for an encore and he returns sporting the acoustic guitar that he only used on the first song of this set. After humorously commenting on the "The Fillmore at Tanglewood" concept, he closes his portion of the show with a wonderful performance of "Darling Be Home Soon," one of his most beloved songs and a fitting farewell to the Tanglewood audience.
-Written by Alan Bershaw