I’ve never been able to forget the first time I saw Harry Chapin live. It was at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 1974, either July 1 or 3, whichever was a Wednesday. A friend of mine had turned me on to Harry. Of course, I had heard TAXI and SNIPER and BETTER PLACE TO BE and MR. TANNER on the radio. Through my friend I heard some of the rest of those albums. I was not prepared, however, for Harry Live.
Neither were my brother or his friends. They came with us to Summerfest intending to see some harder rock band or other. Harry was kind of a time-killer for them. They were largely converted that night.
Harry was on the main stage at Summerfest that night — opening for Melanie of all people. As Harry and the gang came out on stage, they looked unassuming enough. Harry and his guitar. Big John and his bass. Electric lead guitar. And cello. No drums. No keyboards. No glitz. Just Harry, the gang, and the stories.
Harry said that he had just got off a plane to Milwaukee after a nearly 24 hour flight from Greece. He noted that as he was in the middle of screwing up part of TAXI. I saw Harry enough in later years to know this could have been schtick, but I didn’t know it then and in truth, he seemed genuinely frustrated about it and asked the audience which by now was overflowing to finish the line for him. Then he went into SIX STRING ORCHESTRA.
Of course, he did all of his previous “hits”, but at that time VERITIES AND BALDERDASH was just coming out or had only been out a little while. I believe I had heard WHAT MADE AMERICA FAMOUS on the radio, but was blown away by CATS IN THE CRADLE which was new to me at that time (that of course, would change before July was over).
The most incredible thing though was SNIPER. With just guitar, electric guitar, bass, and cello, the final crescendo was the most incredible sound I ever heard from that stage. After the final “I will be” the notes just hung in the warm night air and drifted out over Lake Michigan. This whole crowd was just stunned for what seemed like minutes. And then a huge roar — including from my brother and his friends. Then there was CIRCLE and the show was done with the crowd screaming for more.
Then Melanie had to come on. With and old BRAND NEW KEY. Within three songs, the crowd was on its feet — and heading for another of the 8 stages. Poor Melanie never stood a chance.
And I am a fan forever.
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