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John Mellencamp rocks Fayetteville

Singer-songwriter gets hearts thumpin’ with Crown Theatre performance


Fayetteville was out to rock Wednesday, and John Mellencamp was there to crank up the music. 

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and legendary American singer-songwriter rolled into Fayetteville with his “Live and In Person 2024” tour at the Crown Theatre. Concertgoers packed out the venue, many of whom tailgated in the parking lot like the old days. They sported long hair in ponytails, gray hair and occasionally no hair at all, but all came to rock and have a good time. 

The latest leg of Mellencamp’s short-run tour started on March 8 in Rochester, New York, and will finish on April 23 in Savannah, Georgia. Fayetteville was a new stop for Mellencamp;  he played Greensboro on April 14.  

The rootsy performer, who first  skyrocketed to fame in the 1980s when he was known as "John Cougar," is 72 now. But you can crush the thought of an impending retirement like a beer can. Mellencamp — that's his real surname; he dropped "Cougar" in 1987 in a full embrace of his heartland — gave an impressive performance, his gravelly voice stronger than ever. The Seymour, Indiana, native to the stage with a blue-collar attitude, cussing like a sailor and oozing a no-nonsense presence. 

Spry as ever, Mellencamp was dressed in a dark blue grease monkey’s coverall with a name tag on his chest. He was like your cool grandpa who finally got angry enough to come out from underneath his ‘67 Chevelle and tell you like it is. 

He mixed new material from his latest project, “Orpheus Descending” from Republic Records, with all his classics — including “Crumblin’ Down,” “Paper and Fire,” “Pink Houses,” “Rain On The Scarecrow,” and “Lonely Ol’ Night,” to name a few. 

And yes, he played “Jack and Diane,” too, his #1 hit from 1982.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus is a musician, poet and prophet. The 2023 album’s name fit perfectly for Mellencamp’s latest performance.  

The album touches on current political issues. For example, “The Eyes of Portland” from the new album, Mellencamp explained, is about the homeless population in Portland, Oregon.   

“We have plenty of money to send overseas, how about sending some money here!” Mellencamp told the crowd Wednesday. They cheered and egged him on (despite his recent run-ins with audiences at other gigs).

The stage set: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’  

The start of Mellencamp's show was peculiar. Instead of a curtain drop or musicians making a grand entrance from the darkness, Mellencamp showed video clips of a few vintage black and white movies, like “The Misfits” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” 

After 20 minutes of this, the crowd began to get restless. One concert goer yelled, “Yeah! Gimme ‘dem grapes! I want ‘dem grapes!” 

But it felt like Mellencamp was making a statement, setting the mood and inviting the audience into his world. When the curtain was pulled away, the stage opened up and revealed Mellencamp and his band launching into the song “John Cockers” off his album, “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” Mellencamp then transitioned into “Paper and Fire.” Concertgoers began to dance and sing.  

Mellencamp’s large backdrop was from the 1951 movie “A Streetcar Named Desire” and mannequin figures with the likeness of the characters were carefully placed about the stage.  

His aim was to add more of a show and production to his rock concerts. However, if you were expecting a subdued “production,” you would have been disappointed.

"My shows are not really concerts anymore," he recently told The Washington Post. "They're performances, and there's a difference between a performance and a concert."

Mellencamp’s holy spirit of rock-and-roll is alive and well. Rest assured, it was still a rock concert. 

Though there were a fair amount of people recording on their phones, there were just as many, if not more, who put away their phones for the evening and enjoyed the concert.   

It was loud. They soaked it in. They rocked. They bobbed their heads and pumped their fists. They sang with fingers bent around large plastic cups of beer.   

Mellencamp growled and oozed rebel and stalked the stage with his Fender telecaster. He played “Cherry Bomb,” and ended his show with “Hurts So Good.” 

He rocked the house and the evening reminded us how life used to be.   

“When a sport was a sport, and groovin’ was groovin’ and dancin’ meant everything,” Mellencamp sang.  

“Our hearts were really thumpin’, say yeah, yeah, yeah.”  

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john mellencamp, crown theatre, performance, review