Woog’s World / Stars who played the Levitt Pavilion
Updated 2:14 pm, Thursday, August 31, 2017
It’s a legendary list: Willie Nelson. Tony Bennett. Roberta Flack. Chuck Berry. Tom Jones. Frankie Valli. The Doobie Brothers. The Beach Boys. Blues Traveler. Smokey Robinson. America. Foreigner. Nile Rodgers.
If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ever builds a new wing, it could be called “Stars Who Played the Levitt Pavilion.”
All those heroes and more — remember Keith Richards’ cameo during the Willie Nelson concert? — have headlined the Levitt’s annual fundraising gala.
But none of them wowed the crowd the way John Fogerty did last week. Over and over again, as the audience — largely folks who were (or could have been) at Woodstock, with a smattering of those who know “Centerfield” only because they heard it played at a baseball game — streamed out of the show, they said, “That was the best Levitt show ever!”
Part of it was Fogerty himself. At 72 years old, he’s a veteran of a torrid string of hits with Creedence Clearwater Revival, then a bitter split with the band (which included his brother). He weathered a long legal battle in which he could not perform any CCR songs — even though he wrote most of the monster hits himself. He then went solo, but had long stretches of inactivity.
He’s also a veteran himself (not of Vietnam — he served with the Army, stateside). Some of his best songs are antiwar. But Fogerty is a longtime veterans’ activist, and the only unfamiliar song he performed last week honored them. It was also one of the evening’s high points.
There were many. Fogerty’s voice remains strong; his guitar playing, unparalleled. (He’s been named to two Rolling Stone Top 100 lists: Greatest Guitarists at number 40, and Greatest Singers, at 72.) For nearly two hours he ripped through an astonishing set list. Every CCR hit was there — and there are many. He stopped only for a couple of stories, and a few introductions.
It’s good he introduced his band. Drummer Kenny Aronoff took two solos that would have made Ginger Baker or Keith Moon gasp. The rest of the time, he merely pounded his drum kit into submission.
Fogerty’s keyboard player had his own solo, a full-tilt boogie excursion that reminded the crowd that — even though Creedence was a California band — their hearts were rooted firmly in the bayou near New Orleans.
Halfway through the show, Fogerty motioned to his youngest guitarist. He’d stood off to the side, complementing the star nicely. I thought to myself, how great is it that this kid is so into CCR’s music.
“I want to introduce my son Shane,” Fogerty said. Then father and son played proudly — and brilliantly — on several numbers, including a very up-tempo “Lodi.” John Fogerty may be a rock ‘n’ god, but on stage in Westport, he was also a very proud dad.
The concert did plenty of things. It entertained a sell-out crowd. It brought us back a few years — okay, a few decades — to a time when music was, well, the best it’s ever been.
The concert raised a nice chunk of change for the Levitt. This once-a-year ticketed event pays for over 50 free nights of music and other entertainment, every summer. We don’t get John Fogerty every night. But the kids’ musicians, jazz bands, tribute bands, brass bands, country bands, acoustic artists, chamber quartets and every other act that plays the Levitt are top quality. And you can’t beat the price of admission for them.
Yet the John Fogerty concert did something else. It showed off the Levitt Pavilion to out-of-towners making their first trip there. It did the same to a number of Westporters who themselves had never visited, or remembered only the bug-infested, no-amenities, wet mud summers of yore.
Those days are long gone. After renovation three years ago, the Levitt is one of Westport’s true town jewels. With its new landscaping (including a riverwalk that winds all the way around, offering stunning views) as well as a wide, well-lit stage; a high-tech sound system; a handsome entryway; a concession stand, and (this is key) actual bathrooms, it’s now a venue to truly enjoy, rather than tolerate.
The Levitt Pavilion runs on a shoestring. The tiny staff works year-round to book acts, promote them, keep the facility looking fresh, and (of course) pick up trash after each show. They do it because they believe in their mission. And because — more and more — audiences appreciate what they do.
Listening to John Fogerty last week — or any other show — is a true Westport treat. It’s amazing what can be done with what — back around the time Creedence Clearwater Revival was first rehearsing “Susie Q” — was once our town dump.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com