Glen Campbell’s Goodbye Concert Tour came to Stockton Thursday night (June 21).
Sweetheart Al and I were there.
It’s an evening we’re not likely to forget.
Sweetheart loves country music. I’m not so keen on it, but when I started thinking about Glen’s hits – Gentle on My Mind, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Southern Nights, Rhinestone Cowboy, Try a Little Kindness – I realized I knew them all. And loved them.
We had seen a TV profile of Glen back in February that revealed he had Alzheimer’s disease. It was clear that this would be his final tour. It was also clear that he wasn’t aware of what Alzheimer’s is and does.
But the thousand of us who made up the audience know very well what Alzheimer’s is and what it takes from a person. Because of that knowledge, I found myself holding my breath many times during the concert, filled with wonder and sadness at the beauty of the music and the courage of the man making it.
As the theater filled with folks from Glen’s generation, Al and I were amused to see many of them studying their glowing cell-phones or tablets, researching the history of the grand old Bob Hope Theater building, and sharing their findings with people sitting nearby.
The lights dimmed and the audience buzz stilled.
When the lights came up on Glen, standing center-stage in black slacks, black shirt and a glittery-blue “Rhinestone Cowboy” jacket, we all rose to our feet, applauding and shouting. It would be the first of four standing ovations he would receive that night.
Our enthusiastic welcome seemed to surprise him, his open, cherubic face looking slightly shocked. His mouth formed an “oh” sucking in air and then puffing out his cheeks as he gained his composure.
Then he acknowledged us with a broad smile and nod, paused to let things calm, and launched into his 1967 hit “It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk, …” and the musical magic lifted us back to another time and place.
Glen’s six-piece band includes three of his adult children: Ashley, 25, on keyboards and banjo; drummer Cal, 28; and guitar player Shannon Webb, 27.
Their affection and protection were evident, as they helped guide him through the program, making sure he didn’t repeat songs.
When he said the lights were too hot, Ashley helped him remove his blue coat. Then, through 60 minutes and 17 songs, the 76-year old singer and musician enthralled us all.
And he seemed to enjoy himself, saying more than once, “I love this.” Or “I really do enjoy this. I really do.”
His honeyed voice was strong, his guitar playing fantastic.
And if he began to feel insecure, he only had to glance at Ashley to regain his confidence.
I suspect every person in the theater wanted Glen to know how much we love his singing and guitar playing and how much we admire his mettle (even if he doesn’t realize how courageous his performing is). We could barely stay in our seats, we wanted to tell him so badly.
He strolled the stage, and when he sang “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” inviting us to sing along, the theater filled with harmonious love flowing both ways.
He sang all his hits and two new songs from his latest CD “Ghosts on the Canvas.” When we weren’t applauding and cheering, we were wiping our eyes and sniffling.
He closed with “A Better Place,” a wistful ballad whose words cut deep, although he didn’t seem to catch the sadness: “The world’s been good to me/A better place awaits you’ll see.”
Then the band joined him at the front of the stage, forming a line with arms around each other’s shoulders, and all together they took their bow. Glen looked childlike as he grinned and bowed with his kids and the rest of the band. Then bowed again.
And then they all walked off stage waving “goodbye.”
I think that through the years to come this concert will be carried by the rivers of my memory and will keep Glen always gentle on my mind.