If you thought the three sentences about Sheryl Crow that were put up at 11 p.m. last night were all I had to say about the opening headliner, you were sadly mistaken. After all what would life be like if I couldn't share my cutting, occasionally insightful observations?
Unfortunately, on this go around at least, I have a serious dearth of cutting remarks to make about Crow, who frankly, was the most interesting opening act I've seen since I started covering the festival in 2007. Looking back, Chris Daughtry was an arrogant jerk, as were the Black Crowes, and Willie Nelson would have put a nursing home to sleep. I'm not a huge Crow fan, but she was none of those things.
She remained mostly immobile during her 16-song set, but if you were expecting something closer to the vivacious antics of a funk ensemble like Earth, Wind & Fire or The Ohio Players, you were wrong from the get go. Crow's strong suit was far and away her ability (not to mention willingness) to interact with the audience.
She started off with one of her big guns, "Gonna Soak Up the Sun," wearing a loose red top, some wickedly embroidered jeans and ear rings that looked like she'd strung together the contents of an Incan treasure chest.
Then, she joked with us, telling us that the Coke Stage barge was, "the weirdest thing I've ever been on - I like it," while suggesting she might not try stage diving 30 feet into the crowd. Then, she struck a chord with me (and most of you, apparently) when she remarked on the swamp-like heat and humidity, saying, "Is anybody else hot besides me?" I've never heard so many people sound so exuberant in their collective perspiration.
I liked her ability for inserting improvisational asides as well. During the middle of "Strong Enough," she took one of many mid-song asides to tell us, "I'm not looking for anybody who's married ... and preferably not gay." There's nothing like hearing 60,000 people laughing at the same joke to remind you why festivals are fun.
Her set was a fan service spectacular of hit after hit, but she still threw in some interesting covers (Cat Stevens' "The First Cut") and even two new songs off her upcoming album, "100 Miles from Memphis," including one that had never been played live before. The album releases July 20.
In general, she seemed like she was having a blast, which is a rare thing indeed for an established artist who sometimes, in my experience at least, fall prey to the temptation to phone in a performance. There's nothing quite as frustrating as camping out for hours on end in the heat to protect prime viewing real estate only to have the artist walk out with a limp wrist and a bored expression.
From the opening chords through two encores (first of "All I Wanna Do" and then, bizarrely, of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll"), she was a blast to watch. I can't say I'm now a die-hard fan of her music, but I certainly respect her commitment to putting on a great show.
There's a fine line that needs to be balanced when booking the first Coke Stage artist. This being the opening of the festival, there's obviously the need for a degree of name recognition, but celebrity and entertainment factor don't always go hand in hand. In Crow's case, however, they did, and the festival was better off for it.