We left home for Bend and drove our usual route: 62 to 238 to 97 and finally to 20 and Tumalo State Park campground. It was the usual, uneventful trip. Except for two morons (and that’s the nicest we can say) in their big-honkin’ SUV’s decided to pass four or five vehicles (of which we were second in line) on a two lane road with traffic coming. The only way they made it was to run the first vehicle – a pilot vehicle for a VERY LARGE, LOADED, equipment hauler – off the road. These two clowns could have killed not only themselves, but a whole lot of others as well. The risk of doing something like that, for the intelligent human being, out weight the rewards. It was a frightening moment for a lot of people. Stupid is as stupid does.
Unlike La Pine State Park, Tumalo still has a lot of tent campers. There are RV spaces, but you’re not forced to pay for electric that you don’t want or need. There weren’t many large RV,s and fewer RV’s in total than La Pine. There are some drawbacks; the spaces are close and sometimes no privacy at all. Or what passes for privacy when you’re camping. We set up camp and dreamed about the next day and the concert.
This time, instead of walking around all day before the concert, we stayed in camp until around 1:00pm. We went and fed Silver (our 2008 Dodge Dakota), replenished our propane, and went to Safeway to get two pink balloons. Yes, pink balloons. One of the tracks on the new album is “Pink Balloons” and, therefore, we thought it appropriate to take pink balloons. We put the balloons in the truck and went to lunch at Greg’s restaurant. After a pleasant lunch, we retrieved our pink balloons and off we went. It was 3:00pm.For Alabama Shakes, we showed up at 3:30pm and were first in line. This time: second! In fact, both sides had first-in-liners, one having been there since 2:00pm! So, we settled for second place this time and began the wait. The sun was blazing, so sitting under the shade of a tree was the best option. Peggy picked a tree and went over to sit down. POP! She forgot she had the pink ballon in tow and the balloon and the pine needles didn’t get along. One down. Something made Robert check the rules and found that balloons are not allowed in the park! Just to confirm, he asked four security guards what the rules were but no one seemed to know. Finally, at the stage entrance, Robert found someone in charge from the theater and confirmed no balloons. Rats. So, Tim, the security guard that had been doing concerts and events like this for a very long time, suggested Robert tie it to the gate! Awesome idea, Tim! And thanks!
The gates opened about 5:00pm and Peggy made a bee line for the stage, with Robert stopping to get his booze band. And, no, alas, he didn’t get carded. Again, we were right up front, just to the right (from our perspective) of center stage. Perfect. We started meeting people around us as you always do in these situations and found a rather large group of people that had been following Harper from concert to concert from as far away as Kansas City and New Orleans! One has to wonder where they get the money for just following someone you enjoy listening to? And why? It’s a level of adulation that we don’t understand. We are concert groupies not artist groupies, but if someone we like is play someplace far away and we can fit it in with something else, well, that’s a different matter. Anywho…
Even after an opening introduction from Ben Harper himself, the opening band was forgettable – as was their name. Although the lead singer has a nice voice and he has a pretty good band backing him, the act reminded Robert of Barry Manilow or any smooth voiced romance singer. Their music simply didn’t fit the expectations of the evening. A brief, five song session was the best part, any more would have been humdrum. The stage was cleared and reset for Harper and we waited a few minutes.
Harper and the Innocent Criminals took the stage and the fun began! Touted “Call It Like It Is” Tour promoting their latest album, Harper infused the evening with an abundance of previous material. In fact, too much previous material to the expense of skipping several great songs from said new album. “Pink Balloons” was missing; as was “When Sex Was Dirty”. Although there was not a single moment of the entire concert we didn’t enjoy. A particularly enduring moment was when Harper showed he is human and, to his embarrassment, forgot the lyrics! We’re sure that the ribbing he was getting on stage from the band was only the warm up for later. That’s all right, Ben, Robert understands completely. What we don’t understand is why, on an album promotional tour, tracks from that album were left off the playlist? We took Harper at his word LAST year when he promised all new material, but then leave some of the best of that material off the playlist? That was the only disappointment for the entire evening and that didn’t happen until after the final encore and we realized OUR Pink Balloon was for naught.
But, the evening was a wonder! The Innocent Criminals are a great band with some accomplished professionals. It was the same crew, with the exception of guitarist Jason Mozersky replacing Michael Ward, that performed in the 2006 Toronto concert we saw on television. You can tell they are friends as well as professionals and the enthusiasm they share for each other, generates sparks of excitement within the group that is oh, so infectious to the audience.
Although not sold out (SRO, no chairs), a respectable crowd showed. The grass area was completely covered with chairs, but there were very few in the “pit area” in front of the stage. We were there, of course, but there wasn’t even a complete line of people across the stage front. As soon as the band came out, keyboardist Jason Yates, wave the crowd forward and the pit area filled as it supposed to be.
The evening was filled with amazing music and a “dueling banjos” thing with Harper and bassist, Juan Nelson. (We saw a cool tee-shirt that said: “When it’s on, it’s Juan” Amen to that!) And, when “Burn One Down” brought the house down and on fire, the security managed not to notice.
The band played on until the hour of the Great Pumpkin (10:00pm in Bend) and they were whisked away in their chariots to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, CO.
The coup d’etat came at the end of the show when Harper was thanking the crowd and decided to get closer, so he sat down on the stage, slipped down on the ground and walked over to Peggy and thanked her for being there! We may not have been first in line through the gate, but Peggy was first in line to shake hands with Harper! Ben Harper has a fan forever. Actually, two.
Oh, as we were preparing this we found the name of the opening group that Harper has in tow: The Jack Moves. See what we mean about forgettable?
We spent the next day at Tumalo for Robert’s poor tootsies to recuperate and got ready to head home today when Peggy squished her left pinky finger in the door. It made her woozy and, of course, hurt like hell. We decided to head back home instead of going boondocking and make sure everything was ok. The decision to return was made easier by the fact we forgot a couple of things. Once home, we decided that if Peg felt ok, we’d go to the coast where it will be cooler.
We tried. We tried really hard. But, we failed. Disappointment about two tracks from his new album, “Call It What It Is”, not being on the playlist flickered for a brief moment when we realized that it was too late for Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals to fit them in. But in the end, the magic of the evening, the music, the musicians, and the audience won the day.