Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason and his Unplugged Trio literally stopped "Traffic" downtown on a sultry Saturday night, wowing a crowd of hundreds with a performance at the Levitt Pavilion's temporary Jesup Green stage. The show also attracted impromptu fans lining a perimeter fence around the green, while others listened from nearby restaurants and porches.
Mason, 67, a founding member of the late-1960s band Traffic and a 2004 inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was joined by longtime drummer/friend Alvino Bennett and guitarist Jason Roller in the acoustic group, currently touring the U.S. The show was a ticketed event, preceded by a VIP cocktail hour, helping underwrite the Levitt's summer-long series of 50 free concerts.
"Welcome to the return of Dave Mason, a perennial favorite," Carleigh Welsh, the Levitt's marketing director, told the crowd. Mason last performed at the Levitt in 2008, with a full band.
"It's nice to be here, even though I'm dying in this heat," Mason said of the evening's stifling 90-degree temperatures and pea-soup-thick humidity. "Actually, I'm happy to be anywhere after all these years."
It has been 52 years since Mason first started playing guitar in Worcester, England, where "they make Lea & Perrins sauce and Morgans (motorcars)," said Mason.
The legendary musician's first band was Deep Feeling, which he formed at age 15 with drummer Jim Capaldi. That morphed into the Hellions and eventually Traffic. They were joined by horn player Chris Wood and keyboard/guitarist Steve Winwood. The group stayed together on and off from 1967 to 1974, before parting to pursue other projects.
"Robert Plant grew up 12 miles away, and John Bonham 14 miles away," said Mason about his British birthplace. "I met Steve at the Elbow Room. We hung out for a year and then started traveling. It's only myself and Winwood now from the original band." Wood died in 1983 after a long illness and Capaldi died in 2005 from stomach cancer.
To his late bandmates, Mason dedicated the song "How Do I Get to Heaven?" Other songs in the evening's set included rock classics like "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Feelin' Alright" (which Mason wrote but Joe Cocker made popular), Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower," "Every Woman" (a favorite of Bob Dylan) and "Let It Go, Let It Flow."
But Mason also promoted his group's latest music, with the cautionary note, "Music is one of the best buys you can make. Ten dollars for something that will last a long time. I hope you're buying; most people are stealing, but they call it file sharing."
Mason, who once sported long locks but is now bald, lamented, "My hair's gone, the waist is gone, but the voice and the memories are still here."
"There aren't old songs. There are just good songs and bad songs," he added. "When you start making music, there are three things you have to remember: the song, the song, the song. Songs are the soundtracks of our lives."
Among fans in the audience, Fairfielder Bob MacGuffie said, "I've seen Dave more than any other act over 40 years, in New York, Long Island, Cape Cod and Miami. He is a foundation of rock and roll."
Westporter Jim Corgel, said, "If Dave Mason is within 50 miles, we're there."