August 17, 2019 – A beautiful late summer Saturday afternoon was filled with the soothing sounds of music at the Libbey Bowl in downtown Ojai on August 17th. The mountain resort town has long been a vacation destination for city dwellers seeking a refreshingly tranquil and clean environment. Libbey park in the center of the small enclave is a natural green space lined with a grove of Oak trees. The Libbey Bowl is a music venue located in the middle of the park that is reminiscent of the small town bandstands of yesteryear. The little venue has near-perfect natural acoustics making it an excellent location for all sorts of concerts from folk music to hard rock. The bowl features seating for just under 1000 people and room for another 300 on a lawn area in the back.
Shows at the bowl start and end early, usually from 5 PM to 9 PM, which is fitting for the peaceful lifestyle of Ojai. Early shows allow concert-goers time to catch a late-night dinner at one of the nearby gourmet restaurants or complete an early drive back down to coastal cities. The Saturday show was hosted by Canyon, Where The Music Meets The Soul. The Southern California music promoters operate concerts at seven music venues, including the Libbey Bowl, as well as other prestigious venues like the historic Saban Theater in Los Angeles. Their impressive schedule can be seen at https://wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com. Earlybird music fans were treated to a pleasant opening set by The Los Angeles based folk trio, The Furious Seasons and received a copy of the band’s new CD for free. The trio is the brainchild of songwriter, singer, and guitarist David Steinhart and also features his brother Jeff on upright bass and Guitarist Paul Nelson. Steinhart has honed his skills as a songwriter for decades with over 20 album releases to his credit. He has toured relentlessly with his brother. Nelson, spent years as a working musician in Santa Barbara, during which time he had the opportunity to play with ex-Byrd Gene Clark and Joe Cocker. The Furious Seasons formed in 2008. The band performs in a style mixing jazz, folk and blues creating a crisp, clean sound that echoed perfectly in the musical confines of the Libbey Bowl.
As the late summer sun began to fall, the hot, dry mountain air began to cool to a pleasant breeze quickly. Veteran folk-rocker Don McLean took the stage just after 7 PM, with a seasoned quartet of Nashville sessions musicians. McLean instantly ingratiated himself to the enthusiastic crowd exhibiting his skills as a master storyteller. Of course, the crowd was waiting patiently for his eight and a half minute rock anthem, “American Pie,” which has been voted as one of the top five American songs of the 20th century. But that wouldn’t come until the end of the set. What did come first was a nearly two-hour interlude into American pop history, narrated by the master storyteller himself. The 73-year-old McLean showed no signs of slowing down at his show in Ojai despite jokes about his age and arthritis. McLean managed to belt out a setlist including his most significant hits for himself as well as ones he has written that were performed by other American icons. Nearly every song included a detailed introduction, including hits like “Vincent,” “Dreidel,” a rendition of Roy Orbison‘s “Crying,” a version of the Skyliners‘ “Since I Don’t Have You,” and “Wonderful Baby.” He interspersed these hits with songs that he wrote and became hits for other American legends like “And I Love You So” sung by Elvis Presley.
Towards the end of the show, McLean introduced his band during a song medley. Guitarist Vip Vipperman, whose green Fender Stratocaster McLean refers to as “the Green Machine,” is an award-winning songwriter, and has been a recording musician and producer in Nashville since the 1970s. He’s worked with over two dozen members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bassist Brad Albin is the newest member of the band. McLean refers to him as the best-dressed member of the group as Albin likes to wear a suit on stage. In addition to being a session player, live performer, and teacher, Brad has been the bassist for The Time Jumpers since 2016. Tony Migliore has played piano and keyboards for McLean for over 30 years and handles all the arrangements. He is a top producer, arranger, conductor, and studio musician in the Nashville scene. Drummer Jerry Kroon is another Nashville studio legend, having played on more than 200 albums. He’s been McLean’s drummer for over 20 years.
After the introductions, McLean launched into the epic “American Pie” which brought the crowd to their feet, singing and dancing along, with everyone belting out the famous chorus line. McLean extended the song adding extra chorus lines, asking the crowd if they wanted to hear more. The set ended triumphantly nearly two hours after it started.