Jul 9, 2022

Two Iconic Artists At Bethel Woods

Train, JewelBlues Traveler and Will Anderson
AM Gold Tour
Bethel Woods Center For The Arts - Bethel, NY
The announcement of this tour was a bit confusing to me when I first saw it, because it didn't seem like these three acts have a lot in common.  It was even more confusing when I saw who the headliner was.  If you had told me that TrainJewel and Blues Traveler were going on tour together, I would have figured that Train would be the opening act and either Blues Traveler or Jewel would be the headliner.

I don't dislike Train.  I'm familiar with some of their hit songs and I like them well enough, but nothing I've ever heard them do has inspired me to go out and buy one of their albums, or even steal them from Napster.  Their music has just kind of been background music to me since their arrival on the scene.  It's reasonably pleasant late 90's/early 2000's pop rock that I sometimes hear on the radio or when I'm out at a store or something that I unconsciously hum along to without really thinking too much about it.  I never would have gone out of my way to see them in concert if they were the only band that was performing, but they're on tour with two other artists who I've wanted to see in concert for a long time, so it was more than worth the price of admission and the gas to see them perform at the site of Woodstock.

Jewel is one of my favorite singers of all time.  I first saw her on 120 Minutes on MTV when I was 15 years old and the music video for Who Will Save Your Soul premiered.  I went out and bought her debut album that same week and I played it constantly.  I even had a mini poster of her hanging on the wall behind my computer back in those days.  I've also been a big fan of Blues Traveler since I was a teenager.  I am by no means qualified to speak intelligently about their massive body of work, but I will say that I've grown to love and appreciate their music more with each passing year.

In other words, this is a Blues Traveler and Jewel concert for me, and anything else is just a bonus.  But before I get into that, I've got to talk about one other bonus of going to a concert at Bethel Woods - the food.

There are a lot of food stands lined up on the way from the gates at the Bethel Woods museum and the concert stage.  I've been craving hot dogs for a little while now, so I ordered The Godzilla from Sumo Dog.  According to the menu on the stand, it's supposed to be a foot long all beef dog that's topped with spicy pork chili, togarashi cheese sauce, spicy mayo, teriyaki sauce, cabbage slaw, furikake, and kizami nori, but I'm not entirely sure if that's what I got.  Mine had jalapeno peppers, and I didn't taste any chili or teriyaki sauce, but what the hell, it was still good.

We had lawn tickets for this show, which are actually pretty decent at Bethel Woods as long as it doesn't rain.  We set up near the center of the screen just a few feet from the seating area, and the weather was absolutely perfect - not too hot, not too cold, with the sun at our backs and not a drop of rain.

The opening act was a solo singer/guitarist named Will Anderson.  I haven't really kept up with new music too much over the past 20 years, so I hadn't heard of him before this show.  He was the lead singer and co-founder of the band Parachute, who had a few hit singles from 2009 to 2013.  He performed a four song opening set that closed with Parachute's 2009 single She Is Love.  We both enjoyed his music and liked the dude.  From the stories he told in between the songs, he came across as a very relaxed, laid back kind of guy who writes songs about the experiences he's had and truly enjoys performing them.

Just to give you an idea of how out of touch I am on the music that has come out in my adult life, I've got to talk for a moment about the third song of this set.  It was called Hurricane, and it's a mellow song about a girl that he was dating who suddenly broke up with him and got engaged to another man about a month later.  As the song was playing, my wife and I both looked at each other and nodded as a way to say to each other that we agreed it was a very good song.  Somewhere towards the middle, Will Anderson began singing the lyrics "it's too late to apologize".  As soon as we heard that line, Angie and I looked at each other and said "oh yeah, I know this song!".  It was only as I started writing this that I learned that he wasn't performing the song that we were thinking of.  He was just working in a part of the chorus from a different song - the 2007 single Apologize by Timbaland and OneRepublic.  I've heard the song in passing, but I've never heard of OneRepublic, and as far as I knew, Timbaland was a brand of hiking boots.  Whoops!

Blues Traveler performed seven songs, and my only complaint is that it wasn't longer.  John Popper is an immensely talented singer, songwriter and musician who I would have happily listened to for many hours if given the opportunity.  Their set began with Carolina Blues, which is the opening track from the band's fifth studio album, Straight On Till Morning, which was released on my 17th birthday.  This was followed up with a cover of Funky Bitch by the late 70's blues legend Son Seals.  The song has been popularized during my lifetime by Phish, and Blues Traveler did an amazing job with it.  Next came one of my all time favorites: 100 Years.  It's the fourth track off of their 1990 debut album, and if you haven't heard it before, I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to give it a listen.  It's a truly beautiful song.

The fourth song they played was Run Around, which is the band's biggest mainstream hit and the song that led me to discover Blues Traveler when I saw the music video when I was fourteen years old.  It's the song that won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 1996, and I'm very happy that they played it.  You never know if a band has gotten so tired of playing their biggest hit that they decide to retire it, but John Popper sang it with the same energy and passion that I saw on television when I was a teenager.

Next came an amazing cover of The Devil Went Down To Georgia, which was slightly modified as The Devil Went Down To Woodstock, and let me tell you, hearing this song performed by Blues Traveler at the site of Woodstock was incredible!  After that, they played two more of their biggest hits: the opening track from their self-titled debut album, But Anyway, before closing the set with their satirical take on the music industry and its audience, Hook.

Jewel took the stage next with an eleven song set that was out of this world.  If you ever have the opportunity to see her perform live, please take it.  She is one of the most incredible singer/songwriters of our time, and the albums really don't do her justice.  Her voice has the raw power of Janice Joplin and a range that I didn't expect.  I've listened to her for over 25 years and I don't think I fully appreciated how incredibly talented she is until I had the chance to hear her sing live last night.

She began the set with two of her biggest hits, Standing Still and Hands, before playing two songs off of her new album that was just released in April.  The album is called Freewheelin' Woman, and the first two songs she played from it were Long Way Round and No More Tears.  Later in the set, she played another song from the new album called Alibis.  All three songs were fantastic, but Alibis was my favorite of the three.  I'm definitely going to have to pick up this record!

After No More Tears, she played a song from her fourth album that I wasn't too familiar with.  It's called Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone, and it's damn good!  I don't know how that one slipped under my radar.  After Alibis, she played Intuition, which has never been one of my favorite songs of hers.  I don't hate it or anything, but I always thought that it sounded more like something off of a Christina Aguilera album than a Jewel song, but it still sounded great live.

Next came You Were Meant For Me, which is one of her biggest hits from her debut album.  For this song, she brought out her ten year old son, Kase, to play the drums.  He had long blonde hair and was wearing a colorful track suit and a headband, which made me think he looked like Nick Jackson from The Young Bucks.  He did a hell of a job, and it was a very touching moment to see him performing with his mom on stage.

After this, she asked the fans what song they'd like to hear.  Apparently, somebody shouted out Pieces Of You, which is the second song off of her debut album.  Jewel joked that the words in that song might get her cancelled in 2022 (despite the fact that the sentiment is 100% non-offensive in any way, but since context is completely dead in the modern world, I can see what she means).  She said that she'd instead play another song that she wrote, but has never recorded for an album.  She said that this song might get her cancelled too, but her strategy is that if she can somehow write a song that offends everybody, the offenses might cancel each other out and it'll be alright.  The new song was called Hate Hate, and it brilliantly expresses a disdain for the intolerance and hypocrisy in the world today.  I hope that it does get released someday soon.

Finally, Jewel closed her set with two more of her biggest hits from her debut album.  First, she played Foolish Games, and finally the song that caused me to fall in love with her music when I first saw the video on 120 Minutes: Who Will Save Your Soul.  Like Blues Traveler, it was an amazing performance, and the only complaint I could possibly have is that it didn't last longer.  If Jewel and Blues Traveler ever decide to do a co-headlining tour, rest assured I will be first in line to buy tickets.

Finally, Train performed a twenty song set as the headline act.  Most of the times when I have gone to a concert to see a band perform live that I'm not overly familiar with, that band has exceeded my expectations and inspired me to dig deep into their back catalog and discover more of their work.  That was not the case with Train.  To the contrary, I came into the show with high hopes and left with the impression that Train is what you would get if Wal-Mart created a house band and promoted their own rock concerts.  They weren't bad... just artificial and borderline phony in a way that made me less interested in their music than I was before.

The highlight of their set by a wide margin was when they brought out John Popper to perform Bruises, which was interspersed with a cover of Love The One You're With, and when Jewel came out to perform Turn The Radio Up and an amazing cover of Abba's Dancing Queen.  I'm guessing that there were a lot of folks at the show who looked up the setlist ahead of time, because I would estimate that roughly twenty percent of the fans who were sitting around us on the lawn got up and left the venue after Dancing Queen ended and Jewel went backstage.

Train played all of their hits that I was familiar with, and they performed them well.  With the exception of the title track off of their new album which opened their set, I can't say that any of their new music left much of a lasting impression.  One song that did make its mark in all the wrong ways was their 2016 hit Play That Song.  I never heard it before last night, and I hope to never hear it again.  With all due respect, it's one of the dumbest songs I've ever heard in my life.

The band worked in segments of cover songs when they played their biggest hits, including The Joker during Meet Virginia, Come And Get Your Love during Hey Soul Sister, and Hey Jude during Drive By.  It worked well and they did the justice to the source material.  I wasn't as big of a fan of the second to last song of the set, which was a cover of the Aerosmith classic Dream On.  They didn't perform it badly or anything, but it was less of a cover and more of an attempt to mimic Steven Tyler.  It sounded spot on exactly the same as the song on the album, to the point where if you had told me that Pat Monahan was lip syncing to the 1973 Aerosmith record, I would have believed it without question.  Every inflection was exactly the same.  Hell, he even breathed like Tyler.  Don't get me wrong - they did an incredible job of capturing the song from the record and playing it to a live audience, but it didn't come across like a band with a distinct sound of their own doing an Aerosmith cover as much as it sounded like an American Idol contestant hitting a home run in the finals.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I would have preferred if Blues Traveler and Jewel's sets were twice as long, with Train given a six song opening set of Meet Virginia, Calling All Angels, Fifty Ways To Say Goodbye, Hey Soul Sister, Drive By and Drops Of Jupiter.  The rest of their songs were alright, but I wasn't exactly running to the merch table to buy a copy of their new album.  I know I'm coming down hard on the headliner here, but when you have two amazing artists like Blues Traveler and Jewel at the venue, and they're limited to just a handful of songs while Train rolls out the old, tired "let me hear everybody on the left, now let me hear everybody on the right" routine in between what was mostly forgettable pop rock, it leaves you with a disappointing feeling.  It's like being served a perfectly acceptable cheeseburger, all the while knowing that a filet mignon and lobster tail are just sitting around in the restaurant going to waste.  I probably would have enjoyed Train more if they were the only band that was performing, but if they were the only band that was performing, I never would have driven for two hours to see them in the first place.

Here is the full setlist of the songs that Will Anderson, Blues Traveler, Jewel and Train performed last night (click to enlarge).