In the midst of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s encore of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Stephen Stills sings the line, “I am not dreaming.”
Could have fooled me Saturday night.
No iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band ever played on Presque Isle before, so this was history: CSN on Beach 11 on a starlit night, 72 degrees or so, not the least bit humid, boats on the water, including the Brig Niagara, the ultimate wooden ship.
Tickets were pricey $100 and $150, the latter including a pre-party with hors d’ouvres, beer and music by the Sam Hyman Band. Yet, they nearly sold out…just a handful remained before the show started. And the pre-party seemed to put everyone in a good mood.
And why not: The only thing more gorgeous than the scenery may be CSN’s timeless harmonies; their voices intertwine with a grace and beauty that would give an Eskimo chills.
And, yes, even in 2012 with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stills now at grandfather age, they’ still sound splendid together. Stills is a bit raspy, but the man is such a giant on electric guitar that hardly matters. Crosby & Nash were sublime, whether on delicate, acoustic fair like the fragile “Helplessly Hoping” or rocking out full force. Crosby delivered a supercharged “Almost Cut My Hair,” fearlessly holding a note near the end to delirious applause. With all the health issues he has over the years, it’s not only astounding he’s still with us but sounds so powerful.
It’d be tempting, with all their history, to label Crosby, Stills & Nash as just another nostalgia act, but that wouldn’t be right. Not when the group is still at its A game. Not when its political fire still burns brightly, as on new protest song “Almost Gone,” about an American prisoner who was tortured for whistle-blowing, that had as much bite and outrage as “Ohio” did in its day.
And especially not when they still speak so frankly. Nash introduced “Almost Gone” like this: “The reason we’ve been around so f—– long is because we keep writing new songs and we play things differently every night. That stops us from being the Eagles.”
The dig at the Eagles drew gasps. Nash replied, “Did the temperature just drop 10 degrees?”
Crosby also pointedly addressed a standing section of the crowd at one point, telling them that those who want to hear the concert would appreciate if they “Shut the f— up.” And the only bugs in the concert — which featured a massive stage and excellent, clear sound — were the bugs circling the stage lights, which bothered Crosby throughout.
“It’s bad enough when they get in your eye or you mouth, but when you inhale one, you are truly, deeply f—-,” he said.
CSN has probably played vistas more picturesque than Presque Isle during its 40-plus career, but the band still noted the specialness of the occasion. ‘This is the first concert here?” Nash said. “And you never in your life thought you’d be virgins again!”
With cracks like that — and beaming smiles, most the night — CSN seemed to enjoy the occasion as much as the nearly 4,000 fans. The 20-song set was heavy on classics; it started with a spirited “Carry On” and “Questions” and included “Just a Song Before I Go,” a hard-rocking “Woodstock” with Stills especially fiery on guitar, crowd-pleaser “Southern Cross” (very appropriate, with the setting) and country-inflected “Marrakesh Express.”
Maybe the bugs got to Crosby but the show ended with just one encore and no “Teach Your Children” (seems impossible, right?) or “For What It’s Worth,” the Buffalo Springfield classic which CSN usually covers. This night, though, they did Springfield’s “Bluebird” and in the mellower second half, more dainty and nuanced fare, including pretty, tone poem “Guinnevire” and Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Doing a cover “keeps you humble, especially when it’s Dylan,” Stills said.
It was cool they played “Four Way Street’s” “Chicago”; I didn’t see that one on earlier set lists from this summer. But, like Nash said, they like to switch things up.
They’re not the Eagles, right? But they did have a splendid band backing them, including Crosby’s son James Raymond on keyboards; Shane Fontayne on guitar; Steve DiStanislao (Sting, David Gilmour) on drums; Kevin McCormick (Jackson Browne) on bass; and Todd Caldwell on B-3 organ.
What a sublime, cool evening this was and you could tell everybody there knew it was special and felt it, too. Many kicked their sandals off, toes squishing the sand. People rushed up to click photos. Spontaneous dancing erupted all over.
Hopefully, it won’t be a one-time event. The “Best Summer Night,” as the Presque Isle Partnership called it, raised more than $100,000, according to executive director Steve McDermott. He hinted, as the night closed, that more benefits might follow.
We’ll see. It’d be hard to top this one. The show was well-organized, with every (surprisingly cushioned) seat labeled by number. And every fan received a show program with a nice bonus — a packet of (deeply needed) Deep Woods Off.
“It’s worked out exactly as we planned,” McDermott said, before CSN concert started. “We called it the Best Summer Night. That’s where we are.”
Here’s the complete set list:
1. “Carry On/Questions”
3. “Long Time Coming”
4. “Just a Song Before I Go”
5. “Southern Cross”
6. “Lay Me Down”
7. “Almost Gone”
8. “Bluebird” (Buffalo Springfield)
9. “Deja Vu”
11. “Helplessly Hoping”
12. “In Your Name”
13. “Girl from the North Country” (Dylan cover)
15. “Marrakesh Express”
17. “Our House”
18. “Almost Cut My Hair”
19. “Wooden Ships”
20. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”