Old Reliables

Rock and rockers of a certain age help Harley-Davidson celebrate its 100th anniversary

August 19, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

If stodgy National Public Radio were to stage a pop/rock fest, it probably would resemble the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Open Road Tour that took place in Baltimore over the weekend.

Over three days, the acts that played at Pimlico Race Course included a few has-beens (Hootie & the Blowfish; Billy Idol), several golden oldies (Bob Dylan; The Neville Brothers), a cookie-cutter alt-rock band (Default) and Ted Nugent, a rocker who's sometimes more well-remembered for his foul mouth than his latest hits - popular in the mid-'70s.

The sounds at the racetrack - with the exception of bluegrass diva Alison Krauss and her band, Union Station - weren't groundbreaking by any measure, much less remotely contemporary.

But the show was significant in that it encapsulated the essence of the Harley spirit - rebellion.

In a world currently dominated by Britney Spears and other pre-fab popsters, thousands of Harley riders gathered in Baltimore to snub the establishment and the MTV generation as they tossed back beers and cheered on their rocking faves of yore.

"Music today is not music," sniffed Larry LaForce, 38, a Creedence Clearwater Revival enthusiast who arrived clad in a black Harley bandanna, cap and T-shirt. "Today's artists are people who come on the scene, have a hit and then they're gone.

"These," he said proudly of the festival's musical lineup, "are bands that have had hit records over and over again."

Creedence Clearwater Revisited ranked high among fans who braved the sweltering heat to check out the festival. The group was formed in 1995 by the bassist and drummer of the original Creedence Clearwater Revival. The aim was to perform the old group's hits from the late '60s.

It may be hard to imagine CCR songs performed as adroitly as lead singer and songwriter John Fogerty managed. But as the nouveau band tore through hits like "Proud Mary" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" it was clear that the crowds were responding to more than just the great tunes and solid lyrics.

Lead singer John Tristao, whose voice is a dead ringer for Fogerty's, proved an adept substitute. By the time the group closed with "Up Around the Bend" the crowd had been won over. And interjections in between songs like "Are you drunk yet?" and displays of machismo like chest-bumping played well to the tattooed biker crowd.

Bob Dylan proved an even bigger hit, drawing perhaps 5,000 fans mid-Sunday afternoon - a considerable feat since it was so hot even the hardcore bikers weren't wearing leather. (Except for the handful of leather bikini tops and halter blouses that were spotted.)

Against a backdrop featuring a wide azure sky, a mountain range and a romantic open road, Dylan treated fans to songs spanning the decades. Switching between acoustic and electric sounds, Dylan jammed with his band and had the crowd mumbling along with him to classics like "Quinn the Eskimo" and "Tangled Up in Blue" and more recent pieces like 1997's "Cold Irons Bound."

The fans were so enthralled with Dylan that they kept tapping and singing along even when the speakers went on the fritz for a few minutes in the middle of a song. When some started booing, someone yelled, "Don't boo him! It's not his fault."

And the cheers only grew louder when Dylan began playing the opening chords of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" (better known as the "Everybody must get stoned" song) inspiring many in the crowd to smile at one another and light up - cigarettes and stogies, that is.

Among all the acts, Alison Krauss stood out, and not just because she was the lone female to take the stage all weekend. With her piercingly sweet voice and deft fiddling, Krauss gave a memorable performance Saturday evening. She had even the most well-pedicured feet tapping along with her as she crooned soulful favorites like "Stay" and "Forget About It."

The group covered plenty of ground in the 90-minute set, from lilting little songs like "The Lucky One" to "Bright Sunny South" and "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow," performed by bandmate Dan Tyminski, who provided the singing voice of George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou? Some of the most remarkable pieces, however, were the instrumentals where Krauss and company let their strings do the talking.

Less impressive was Default, a band that managed to sound so generic it came across as a boring blend of Third Eye Blind, Matchbox Twenty and a dozen other alt-rock bands.

And Hootie & the Blowfish gave a lackluster performance Saturday night in a set punctuated with lead singer Darius Rucker swigging from a plastic bottle of Bud. Rucker and bandmates played their mid-'90s hits (including "Hold My Hand" and "Let Her Cry") with so little energy that even they seemed bored with the songs.

It said something that the most exciting parts of the set were when the band performed covers - Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do?"

But Sunday's lineup of Dylan, Idol, Nugent and Creedence promised an afternoon sans such disappointments.

"I've settled down now," said Butch Gover, 44, a Hampstead mechanic who let slip that he just became a grandfather. This music "reminds me of back when I was a teen-ager, running wild, drinking and carrying on."

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