My parents gamble on the riverboat in Metropolis, Illinois quite a bit, and as a result they regularly get comped concert tickets. A few weeks ago, they asked if I'd be interested in going along to see John Conlee. While I'd lived within 40 miles or so of Mr. Conlee for the last 17 years (until I moved a couple months ago), I'd never seen him perform, so I took them up on the offer. I wasn't expecting a lot, but thought that it would at least be nice to see "Common Man" and "Rose Colored Glasses" performed live.
I got a lot more than I expected. Conlee started the show with a cover of "Let the Good Times Roll" that was incredibly energetic for a guy in his 60s. Except for one other cover (which we'll get to in a minute), everything else was a John Conlee original, and I'd forgotten how many great songs the man had recorded: "Backside of 30," "Friday Night Blues," "I Don't Remember Loving You," "Miss Emily's Picture," "Old School," and many others. Out of just over an hour's worth of songs, there were only a couple I didn't recognize immediately, and even those sounded kind of familiar.
The other song Conlee covered, "Busted" deserves special mention. As he was singing, someone came up and handed him a wad of cash. This was kind of funny, but got a little weird when several others followed suit. After the song, I found out that these were people who were familiar with Conlee's show. At some show in the past this had happened, and by the end of the song he'd made about $60. Ever since, this has become a tradition, with the proceeds going to Feed The Children. This year, the money is being split between Feed The Children and Wounded Warriors (an organization that's picking up some of the slack from the Bush administration's veterans' benefits cuts). Conlee set out a bucket and shook the hand of every single person who dropped in money for the rest of the show (barely missing a note the whole time).
Overall, I was very impressed with the show. Conlee's voice is as strong as ever, his stage banner was quite entertaining, and the band sounded great (when Conlee took a break, they tore into several classic rock tunes and then ended with an awesome version of the Star Wars theme). It was a far cry from the aging, moderately successful old school country act I expected to see. If you get a chance to see John Conlee, take it (and make sure to toss him some cash during "Busted"--it helps some great causes).