Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
t would be extremely easy to wonder about if Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn were going the golden moldies route with a golden anniversary tour of "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," The Byrds' album that jingled and jangled country.
That's not to say that the creative juices stopped flowing long ago for McGuinn and Hillman, who have continued putting out music on their own and in other configurations over the years.
Instead, with the aptly named and always ultra cool Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives backing McGuinn and Hillman along with playing their own songs, this was one night where the past came alive, sounding just about as fresh as ever.
McGuinn's distinctive vocals may not have quite enjoyec the width and breadth of yesteryear, but he more than held his own. Hillman, who released the well-received "Bidin' My Time" last year, has aged well musically.
McGuinn and Hillman often interspersed the songs, giving them context and background. Certainly educational and informative, at times, it seemed a bit too rehearsed. McGuinn, for example, talked on The Beatles having a country sound and figured if they could, so could he. The Byrds' "Mr Spaceman" soon followed.
Hillman later told a story about a filmmaker in the California town he grew up in before playing The Byrds' "Old John Robertson."
Probably the best story, though, was the reception of The Byrds at the Grand Ole Opry. It was not positive to say the least as the hippie, long-haired band did not mesh well with conservative Nashville and was greeted with hoots and hollers. They did not make it back to the Opry. This was all a prelude to Gram Parson's "Hickory Wind," as pretty as ever.
As good as Hillman and McGuinn were, this was far from a two-man show.
Stuart, well known for being a historian of country music, and company were one ace backing band. They had their chance to shine at the start of the second set with "Country Boy Rock and Roll" and "Time Don't Wait for No One."
Stuart has always been one cool cat. The same could be said for his band, particularly lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan, who has never failed to show why he one great, animated guitarist with cool threads to boot.
The five-song encore turned into a tribute to Tom Petty, who was greatly influenced by The Byrds and a good friend of McGuinn. They started with The Byrds' "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," also a hit for Petty, and then Petty's "American Girl," Wildflowers" and "Runnin' Down a Dream." It all made good sense.
And in these rough, tough times in America, the night closed with "Turn! Turn! Turn!," really a plea for peace.
With shows like this, it would be almost cynical to consider shows like this a chance at ka-ching. In fact, the influence and beauty of The Byrds was readily apparent. "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" lives on, much to our benefit.