Glen Campbell had barely been escorted to the front of the stage when the crowd leapt up in a pre-concert ovation.
It was a deserved gush of goodwill, a message from the Chastain Park Amphitheatre crowd that even if Campbell stumbled during his hour-ish set, it would be understood.
The country music legend is in the midst of a poignant “Goodbye Tour,” an outing prompted by his disclosure last year that he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as well as a graceful exit from an extraordinary career.
Campbell, 76, relied heavily on a trio of TelePrompTers arranged at the foot of the stage, and sometimes stopped playing his guitar mid-riff, as happened during “Galveston.” But in between were many lighthearted jokes about memory loss and much hearty chuckling from Campbell, who looked happy and sounded strong.
Backed by a six-piece band including daughter Ashley on banjo and keyboard and sons Cal and Shannon on drums and guitar, respectively, Campbell revisited many of his famous collaborations with Jimmy Webb – “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Didn’t We” among them – showcasing his tremendous ability to craft greatness out of others’ compositions.
Though Campbell occasionally veered off script, at one point unbuttoning his shirt almost completely and grinning, “It’s hot out here on the porch, ain’t it?”, the band fluidly rolled through the set list to help him stay focused.
While his familiar tenor strained on some higher notes, this wasn’t a show about perfection. Nor was it one of pity, no matter how difficult it was at times to watch Campbell perform, knowing that the memory-robbing disease will only continue to gnaw at his talents.
His musicianship might be slightly diminished, but his legacy remains intact.
Campbell appeared proud to be sharing the stage with his kids – “my baby girl,” he called Ashley after the twosome bulldozed through “Dueling Banjos,” Campbell’s guitar picking a flawless run after a rough start.
Fans of Campbell, whose resume includes a stint with the Beach Boys in the early ‘60s – filling in for Brian Wilson on tour – to playing on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” to hosting “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” variety show in the ‘60s and ‘70s, obviously wanted to hear his most cherished hits one final time.
There was the elegant “Wichita Lineman,” on which Campbell dashed off a fleet-fingered guitar run mid-song, and the fun sing-alongs “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”
But Campbell also nodded to the present with a few songs from last year’s excellent “Ghost on the Canvas” release – his 61st (!!) studio album.
“It’s Your Amazing Grace” is a marvelous country-pop tune with a killer chorus. But it was the set-closing “A Better Place,” with its haunting lyrics, that prompted misty eyes.
“Some days I’m so confused, Lord. My past gets in my way,” Campbell sang off the TelePrompTer.
Then, with a towel draped over his shoulders and a guiding hand from Ashley, Campbell gave a final wave over his shoulder as he headed into the backstage darkness.
Sharing the bill with Campbell on this date, which filled about half of Chastain, was fellow country ace Kenny Rogers.
The Georgia resident is a bit frozen-faced these days, and his warm rasp of a voice strained against some notes he can no longer reach. But what Rogers sometimes lacked in the supple vocal department, he more than compensated for with his genuine crowd interaction.
Clad in jeans and a light blue button-down shirt, quickly sweat-soaked thanks to the stifling humidity, Rogers, who turns 74 next month, was a cheerful and very, very funny host.
Whether teasing an audience member sitting close to the stage for using binoculars (“What are you trying to see, for God’s sake?”) or zeroing in on an along-for-the-ride husband, tossing $10 bills at the guy after every hit performed (the final tally was fuzzy, but lucrative), Rogers spent as much time talking to the crowd during his 75-minute set as his did singing.
But, considering he’s celebrating 50 years in the music industry, there was no shortage of hits.
A cluster of sentimental ballads, “Through the Years,” “You Decorated My Life” and “She Believes in Me,” received the medley treatment from Rogers and his eight-piece band, while “Ruby” prompted the singer to jokingly chastise the crowd for its lackluster participation.
Rogers got personal when a video screen was rolled out to show family photos of his twin 8-year-old sons, Justin and Jordan, as he sat on a stool to croon “To Me.”
The boys and Rogers’ wife, Wanda, then briefly came onstage, just long enough for one of the kids to divulge their birthday plans and for the pair to warble a few lines of “The Gambler.”
A highlight came when Rogers returned to the video reel to sing along to footage from his 1967 band, The First Edition, a prog-psychedelic rock band that scored a hit with “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Rogers delighted in mocking the song’s ridiculous lyrics – much as he also did toward the end of the show when discussing the charade of encores (he no longer leaves the stage, pretending that he might not return).
Fans clicked into participation mode for the last chunk of the show, singing the famous lines of “The Gambler,” swaying to the clip-clopping “Lucille” and pretending they were Dolly Parton for a pumped-up “Islands in the Stream.”
Maybe Rogers isn’t as potent a singer anymore, but he hasn’t lost his touch as an entertainer.
(Check out more photos from Saturday’s show in our gallery.)
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene