Don McLean treated a Villages’ audience Friday to a rocking slice of “American Pie.”
But that was just dessert.
McLean also served up a wicked, main course of country, folk, blues and roots rock. He paid tribute to his patron saint – Buddy Holly – with a cover of “Everyday.”
It all happened before a near-capacity crowd in the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.
The climax came late in the concert, when McLean and his tight, four-piece band ripped into “American Pie.” The 60th anniversary of Holly’s death in an airplane crash is Sunday, but McLean made sure that Holly’s memory is alive and well in “American Pie.”
McLean is 73, but the voice is still strong, and he played an acoustic guitar throughout the show. The audience at The Sharon was standing and singing with McLean as he went through the chorus of the song: “bye-bye Miss American pie.”
McLean – and the crowd – didn’t want it to end. So McLean shouted, “Let’s sing it again,” and he kept on repeating parts of “American Pie” for about five minutes.
It was one of those rare concert moments when audience and performer are united as one.
“American Pie” came out in 1971, but the social commentary and sense of a loss still resonates in the music and the country.
Buddy Holly is a symbol of a bygone time that seemed simpler. “American Pie” is about the death of a rock singer and also a nation’s innocence.
McLean, however, is an artist who cannot be defined by one song. He also has a sense of music history. McLean opened the show with a cover of Guy Mitchell’s pop rocker, “Singing the Blues.” Next came a slow, bluesy cover of Holly’s “Everyday.”
“I wrote this next song for the mayor of Jerusalem,” McLean said. He visited Israel in the 1970s and wrote “Jerusalem” for the city’s then-Mayor Teddy Kollek.
McLean talked about “one of my early songs that most of you know.” He then sang a soft, romantic “And I Love You So.” He added it was a hit for Perry Como and many other artists recorded it.
Nostalgia has a way of creeping into a Don McLean concert.
“I’m going to sing a song from 1971 – that was before downloading” McLean said with a laugh. “Those were the days we had vinyl records. You know, vinyl is coming back now, and that’s good.”
He sang a melancholy ballad, “Crossroads,” with the lyrics: “I’ve got nothing on my mind/Nothing to remember/Nothing to forget/And I’ve got nothing to regret.”
McLean wrote that song while in his 20s, but it seems more relevant now. “We’re all getting older; you can’t see and you can’t hear the way you used to,” he said. “The good thing is you don’t remember anything, so every day is a new start.”
McLean lightened up on the dreamy “Castles In the Air.” He sang the hard-rocking country number: “Living On Tulsa Time,” and then went back into the rockabilly file for a cover of Gene Vincent’s “Lotta Lovin’.”
McLean waxed philosophical about the arc of his music career and life.
“I don’t know why I started writing songs because I didn’t know I could,” McLean said. “I grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. – you know, Dick Van Dyke’s home on his television show.
“I dropped out. I was kind of a loser – until my second album (“American Pie”). Then all the people who forgot about me remembered me.”
McLean said he has released about 30 albums. He sang a couple of songs from his latest, called “Botanical Gardens.” In addition to the title song, he offered a country-sounding number, “Lucky Guy.”
A highlight came with McLean’s cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” and he hit the high notes at the end of the number. He also did justice to Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.”
Joe Bamford, who promoted the show for Get Off The Bus Concerts, said part of the proceeds would go to support the Leesburg Center for the Arts.
“It’s great to help them and to bring a legendary singer/songwriter like Don McLean to The Villages,” Bamford said.
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.