Even as the top-billed performer for an outdoor concert at Auditorium Shores, there was no mistaking that classic rocker John Fogerty was sharing the limelight Sunday with a very big armadillo-shaped shadow.
That was by intent, partially, since the latest fundraising concert from the All ATX music advocacy group was billed as “Back To The Armadillo” and aimed at those who treasure the memories of the long-gone Armadillo World Headquarters concert venue. It was tough to escape the venue’s legacy in the lead-up to Fogerty’s show-closing set, with performers and a series of video tributes evoking memories of the birth of Austin as a musical hotbed.
That meant a younger artist like Shakey Graves, perhaps Austin’s strongest stylistic decendent of the “cosmic cowboy” scene, made things a bit uneasy during some between-song banter about how he appreciates what Austin has become — before offering that “it’s not the building, but the people in it” that make a club special.
More historically telling was the video of a 1993 speech by former governor Ann Richards, touting the Armadillo and its owner Eddie Wilson for their role in making Austin and artists such as Willie Nelson world-famous.
The living links to “the Dillo” were alive and well during short sets by “Armadillo All Stars” Michael Martin Murphey, Gary P. Nunn and Shawn Sahm, son of Texas music legend Doug Sahm. They revived classics such as “London Homesick Blues” (yes, the “home with the armadillo” song) and “Cosmic Cowboy” that either name-checked or evoked vivid memories of the club where country, blues, rock ’n’ roll and other styles happily mixed together.
That dynamic made for something of a disconnect when the spotlight fell on Fogerty, an artist with no direct link to the venue but whose swamp-rock canon would’ve fit in well there. The schism didn’t detract from Fogerty’s performance, with the roughly 4,000 concertgoers quickly and easily shifting into sing-along mode for a string of hits from his former band Creedence Clearwater Revival that were crisp and punchy throughout a 60-minute set.
It was frankly surprising to see Fogerty, 72, acting and playing with the vitality of someone perhaps 25 years younger. He jogged around the stage as he leaned into hits such as “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” with his bandmates, his voice never wavering or having to change registers.
A pair of long jams on “Keep On Chooglin’” and a reworked version of “Lodi” let Fogerty give some attention to his accompanying guitarist and son, Shane Fogerty. And a nice treat for those paying attention: During “Centerfield,” the singer slipped in a mention of Houston Astros hero Jose Altuve on the same night the second baseman wound up hitting a crucial home run in a World Series game.
The concert began at 4 p.m. with mini-sets of one to four songs each by 10 Austin acts who are featured on the new All ATX “Back to the Armadillo” compiliation CD, which was being sold at the show. Proceeds from both the concert and the disc go to four Austin organizations working toward affordability issues for Austin artists: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the SIMS Foundation, Black Fret and the Austin Music Foundation.
Everyone on the CD covered a song by an artist who performed at the Armadillo, and many made some surprising choices. Atmospheric rock band My Jerusalem pushed Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” into uncharted dirge-like territory, with Amy Nelson of Folk Uke sitting in. Country couple Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison put a roots-folk spin on Steely Dan’s classic-rock nugget “Dirty Work,” dedicating the song to the late Walter Becker. Another recently departed Armadillo alum, Leon Russell, received a beautiful salute from Jack Ingram with a hushed, heartfelt version of “A Song for You.”
Power-pop band Fastball played its two biggest hits, “The Way” and “Out of My Head” — which, along with Murphey’s dazzling performance later of his 1975 smash “Wildfire,” meant this audience may have gotten to hear the highest-charting pop songs ever to come out of Austin from someone other than Christopher Cross. But Fastball’s most intriguing turn was its cut off of the CD, deep-blues turn on their fellow Texas trio ZZ Top’s “Tush.”
Also performing early were the father-son team of Jon Dee & William Harries Graham, sibling blues belters the Peterson Brothers, electronica duo Night Drive, blues rocker Eric Tessmer with guest vocalist James Robinson and pop-rock singer Jane Ellen Bryant.
Longtime local latin-jazz ensemble Beto & the Fairlanes kicked off the brilliantly sunny and mild afternoon with a four-song set that rekindled memories of the band’s many performances at the Armadillo in the 1970s. KUTX’s Jody Denberg, who recalled memories of great nights at the Armadillo with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads and Van Morrison, kept things rolling throughout the six-hour show with informative details about the performers and the Armadillo-era songs they performed.