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Lindsey Buckingham Finds the Crossroad of Tribute and Loss At John Stewart Memorial Concert In Malibu Last Week
If I'm missing you, then soon
I'll be bringing down the moon
Turning midnight into noon to keep you here
If there was ever a way pure love for a folk singer could bring back one who has passed away, the audience Saturday, May 3rd at Peperdine's Smothers Theater in Malibu, could have brought John Stewart back to life; banjo and guitar in hand, a wry joke to tell and songs with visions of a unique and overlooked America in his voice. Unlike many tribute concerts, this one truly honored the man and his work. Through multi-media, spoken tributes, videos from the past half-century and most of all a collection of musicians who all shared the influence of this innovative folk musician and poet; a retrospective was presented encompassing, not only one man's life and art, but that of a generation and the history we have all passed through.
For the concert opening, Timothy B. Schmidt, sauntered on-stage, fresh from an Eagle's appearance at the Stagecoach Festival in the desert. His rendition of the John Stewart/John Phillips song, "Chilly Winds", set the pace for the roller-coaster of emotions to follow.
The spoken tributes included Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio, Max Kennedy whose childhood memories of John as a mishchievious brother and father figure, after his own father, Robert Kennedy's death, was both touching and funny. Video presentations of John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Rosanne Cash, all touched on various periods of a career that lasted a half a century.
The John Stewart Tribute band, including Chuck McDermott, John Hoke, Dave Crossland and the ever-present bass player, Dave Batti, weaved between their own carefully arranged covers of such Stewart classics as "Mother Country," "Armstrong", while giving able back-up to such artists as Bill Mumy, Chip Douglas and Henry Diltz. Buffy Ford-Stewart gave an enchantingly beautiful interpretation of "California Bloodlines", on banjo singing, "There's a California cowboy in my song."
One of the highlights of the evening was the rare appearance of the We Five. After two songs in tribute to John, they performed their #1 hit from 1965, Ian and Sylvia's "You Were On My Mind." The band leader, Jerry Burgan talked of his childhood knowing John, forming the We Five with Michael Stewart(John's younger brother) and the encouragement they received while Stewart was in The Kingston Trio. He introduced the hit by saying the arrangement of the song would never have come to be without John's influence.
The concert peaked with Lindsey Buckingham's delivery of John's Kingston Trio song, "Lock All The Windows". This performance was haunting and heartbreaking. If there was ever a time when you'd expect to see the smile of one lonesome picker from somewhere above, it was during this performance. Well, that's not really fair. It was one moment among many that would've made John Stewart proud. But the dynamics in voice and the haunting melody and lyrics to the song matched the moment of tribute and loss. He also inevitably covered Stewart's only top ten hit as a solo artist, "Gold," with the band and Buffy.
The surprise visit from Davy Jones of The Monkees brought a light and celebrative touch to Daydream Believer. John always jokingly feared he would go down in music history as the guy who wrote, "Daydream Believer." From the body of work, the diversity, the many chapters of his career, it is safe to say, John Stewart will be remembered for much more than this. As a musical pioneer who helped create and personify what's become known as Americana, his legacy as a poet, visionary, storyteller, songwriter, mentor and innovator in folk music is assured. This became especially apparent through the experience of love, joy, loyalty and passion demonstrated last Saturday in his old home of Malibu. This memorial concert was one for the ages.