It was perfect weather for baseball Friday, June 12, in Cooperstown, where the game was invented many moons ago. But instead of a nine-inning contest, the sleepy village was treated to a 2½-hour concert held in center field at Doubleday Field, starring three Hall of Famers whose plaques actually hang in Cleveland, not Cooperstown.
The laid-back supergroup trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash—whose team is known as CSN—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Their “hits” were three-part harmony-focused songs that epitomized the burgeoning Southern California sounds of the late 1960s. The surprisingly small but appreciative crowd of 3,000 was treated to plenty of familiar favorites, but not before CSN covered some other ground.
Armed with only two acoustic guitars, the triumvirate walked on stage with no grand announcement. Instead, they simply eased in and warmed up their golden throats to classics like “Helplessly Hoping” and “You Don’t Have To Cry,” all the while with Crosby’s hands in his pockets. Then, they put their own harmonic twists to songs from other artists like The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” and Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” before their full band took the stage.
A truly human moment came during a quiet passage in the Dylan tune, when an overzealous fan whistling along loudly threw off Stills’ sense of melody and conjunctive guitar picking. Stephen was clearly frustrated, but held it together and asked “that guy whistling to stop throwing me off.” Graham Nash added the jovial “OK, buddy—thanks for being a fan, your 15 seconds of fame are over.”
Nash, who clearly was the most comfortable as a color commentator, made mention they were probably releasing an album of all covers later in the year. The fact that the group (oddly) tore through Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” and The Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” later in the evening seems indicative of their energy toward the project. Veteran CSN tunes such as “Guinnevere,” “Long Time Gone,” “Our House” and “Southern Cross” filled out a satisfying first hour before the seventh-inning stretch.
Nash had earlier promised that the second set was going to rock. The pleasant surprise of Buffalo Springfield’s “Rock & Roll Woman” got the crowd to first base. CSN scored a double by following up with a country-fried “Marrakesh Express,” in which our British announcer recanted how he brought the song to The Hollies in 1968, yet they turned it down. It was a clear indication that he has never looked back from his movement away from the British pop group he helped to start in 1960.
Then, they played a reverent-to-the-record version of “Just A Song Before I Go,” their highest-charting radio hit, from 1977, that still only reached No. 7 on the U.S. charts. The fact that CSN is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with such minor-league stats, yet the authors of a major-league catalog, is truly an amazing feat.
Crosby and Nash allowed the backing musicians to open up and trade licks with Stills’ trademark screaming, fuzz tone guitar solos during songs like “Deja Vu,” “We’ve All Been Here Before” (an appropriate follow-up to the previously titled song) and Crosby’s anthemic “Almost Cut My Hair.” Between the thundering dual guitar crescendos, and the ex-Byrds’ lead vocal, this was the grand slam of the entire night. At 68, Crosby’s voice has just as much power and intonation as when he was 28.
Another classic rock staple from Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth,” got the equally mixed crowd of folkies, hippies, bikers and yuppies to sing loud “STOP! What’s that sound?” en masse.
Rounding the bases and heading for home, CSN picked two all-star hits to close the evening: “Wooden Ships” and the fitting encore of “Teach Your Children.” At that point, the trio tipped their musical caps to their fans and headed for the locker rooms. This concert was far from an old-timers’ game. Crosby, Stills and Nash can still swing for the fences, even after 40 years together.
The night before, downtown Syracuse’s Dinosaur Bar-B-Que had Stills and Crosby venture into the joint unannounced, with their backing band, on an off night between shows. This writer just happened to play witness to the celebrity visit, but it was quite evident by the two stars’ choice of seats and demeanor that they came strictly for the food.
Just before their departure, the Dino’s Scott Sterling managed to give them a manager’s greeting and thanks, which was received well. But most humorous was the Facebook rumor that ran rampant the next day. It claimed the duo were coming back to the Dinosaur after the Cooperstown show, and wanted to do an impromptu performance, too. Given their next show was in the opposite direction at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut the next evening, that rumor was quickly quashed.
How do these things get started, anyway?