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“Crazy Good!” David Crosby and Friends LIVE! at Mayo PAC

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

It’s a gorgeous evening in Morristown, NJ this Father’s Day, June 17, 2018, as we stroll down South St. towards the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Like hundreds of others, we’re here to experience a live concert presentation by two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby.

As we make our way through the Mayo PAC doors, we’re struck by the venue’s glittering lobby, complete with bar, concessions, and a display recounting the history of this state-of-the-art performance space.

Originally, Mayo PAC was one of over 40 Walter Reade movie theaters built throughout the Garden State in the 1930s during the “golden age” of Hollywood. Known then as the Community Theatre, the venue opened in 1937 and quickly became “the” place to see a Hollywood film. Left in disrepair during the 1980s, the structure was eventually restored and reopened in 1994 as a concert venue. Following multiple improvements over the years, in July 2016, Mayo PAC earned the distinction of being named an Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theatres.

Nowadays, Mayo PAC presents over 200 performances to over 200,000 patrons each year, providing the best in culture and entertainment including everything from Bach to rock, and tonight’s program is no exception — the 2018 Sky Trails concert tour by singer, songwriter, and guitarist David Crosby and his band.

Crosby, 76, was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Floyd, was an award-winning cinematographer. Growing up, David performed in school musicals, notably Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

After briefly studying drama in college, Crosby left to pursue a career in music. Joining guitarist Roger McGuinn in The Byrds in 1964, the group gave Bob Dylan his first hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” After appearing on the band’s first five albums, Crosby joined up with Buffalo Springfield’s Steven Stills and The Hollies’ Graham Nash to create Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the folk-rock supergroup which later added former Buffalo Springfield member Neil Young.

In addition to creating such seminal albums as Crosby, Stills and Nash, Deja Vu, and 4-Way Street, Crosby recorded albums in a duo format with Graham Nash and also founded a jazz-influenced group — CPR — with his son, keyboardist James Raymond, and guitarist Jeff Pever.

Altogether, over the course of his musical career, David Crosby has been responsible for the sale of over 35 million albums!

As we wait inside the lobby for tonight’s show to begin, we chat with Janice from Newark, Delaware, a longtime fan of David Crosby’s “for 34 years — since he was a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.”

Revealing, “We’re here in New Jersey this weekend for a family Father’s Day celebration,” Janice tells us she’s seen David Crosby in concert “many times — including several times with his son, James” declaring, “David’s voice is still amazing!”

Adding, “I love that we’re going to be seeing him in such a small venue” — referring to Mayo PAC as “fabulous — and with great restaurants nearby” — Janice concludes by stating, “I wish we had this in Newark, Delaware!”

Next, we chat with Lisa from Basking Ridge who tells us she’s here to see David Crosby because, as she explains, “I’m an old hippie!”

Acknowledging she’s followed David Crosby for years, Lisa recalls, “I went to Ohio University, and, every year, my friends and I would go to Kent State and see Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young,” before confessing, “All four years I was in college, my roommate would flirt with someone at the venue, and we would get upgraded to front row seats, center stage!”

Lastly, we chat with Carol from Kenilworth, a fan of David Crosby’s since he was a member of The Byrds, commenting, “I grew up with his music.”

Adds Carol, “I’ve gone to see Roger McGuinn and he always talks about David Crosby at his shows, so I decided it was time I saw him,” noting, “I also read his tweets on Twitter and, in addition to being a great musician, I think he’s hysterical!”

We enter the Mayo PAC auditorium and are immediately struck by the maroon velvet draperies with gold fringe and tassels that adorn the walls, in addition to the gold columns and gold accents that line the ceiling. We also notice the matching maroon seats — every one of which offers an unobstructed view of the spacious stage in this impeccably restored performance space.

As musicians begin to fill the stage, the audience cheers!

When David Crosby enters and takes his position center stage, he says “Hello” with a strum of his guitar and the entire audience bursts into applause.

Responding with, “You don’t know what song that is, do you?” the audience continues to clap as Crosby and his band — son James Raymond on keyboards, Steve DiStanislau on drums, Mai Leisz on bass, Michelle Willis on keyboards and vocals, and Jeff Pevar on guitar — launch into their rendition of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “In My Dreams.”

His voice sounding as sweet and resonant as ever, the top-drawer musicianship of David Crosby — and his entire ensemble — shines through. A swirling Pevar guitar solo adds to the vibe of the song, and the audience responds with cheers and applause for this mellow soft-rock tune.

After announcing to the crowd, “You are the last show of the tour — there’s no curfew here!” Crosby reveals, “This next song I wrote with James Raymond about a guy who was a contemporary of mine,” before adding, “and I didn’t really like him.”

Referring to The Doors’ frontman, Jim Morrison, Crosby performs a CPR tune, “Morrison.” Guitar and keyboard fills punctuate Crosby’s soulful bluesy vocal which is supported by top-notch vocal harmonies. Singing, “He was mad and lonely/And blind as a bat,” Crosby earnestly spins his yarn before the audience applauds for the tight “I’ve seen that movie/And it wasn’t like that” ending.

After explaining, “I was in a f*cking ton of bands — I was always the one who wrote the weird sh*t — so if you came for the hits…” Crosby stops mid-sentence, before announcing, “This next one is an old song. It’s a conversation between four people.”

After strumming a chord on his guitar, Crosby exclaims, “I love that chord,” explaining, “I have to make sure it’s there, because it’s the last chord of the song!”

While accompanying himself on his guitar, Crosby performs the lovely ballad, “Tracks in the Dust,” effectively communicating his conversational tale before ending with that beautiful arpeggiated chord.

Exclaiming, “I love singing ballads but, sometimes, something in me says I have a desperate need to rock!” Crosby and company perform “Thousand Roads.” As overhead lights project changing colors on the curtain behind the musicians, Pevar channels The Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman with a wailing slide guitar solo and Crosby and Pevar play off one another as DiStanislao fills in on the drums.

After enormous applause, Crosby announces, “I’m glad I got that off my chest,” before introducing Jeff Pevar and James Raymond as members of his group, CPR, saying, “I wrote some of my best songs with them.” Here, he and the band launch into “At the Edge,” a number Crosby refers to as “my favorite song of all.”

Standing center stage, Crosby sings, “Our grasp is so fragile/The thread is so thin/I wonder each day/If I’m blowing away/I know that I’m lucky/I wouldn’t be here at all/If somebody’s hand/Hadn’t been where I stand/At the edge of a very great fall.” Communicating his emotional story with his distinct voice, Crosby is accompanied by complex cascading five-part harmonies which trip throughout the theater.

Following up with a classic which the entire audience knows and loves, Crosby and Friends perform Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s beautiful ballad, “Guinnevere.” Lush harmonies are accompanied by acoustic guitar picking, Mai Leisz’s swirling bass, and DiStanislau’s subtle drums — and Crosby’s voice sounds superb.

The crowd loves this performance and responds with shouting, whistles, and wild applause!

Proclaiming “I actually love the United States of America — I believe in democracy,” Crosby quips, “I wish we had one still.”

After lamenting, “I sing this song every night — and it’s worse now,” he and his colleagues perform an a cappella rendition of “What Are Their Names” in which they ask, “I wonder who they are/The men who really run this land/And I wonder why they run it/With such a thoughtless hand/Tell me what are their names?”

Picking up and testing his electric guitar, Crosby gives one of the highlight performances of the evening with a rockin’ rendition of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Long Time Gone.”

The driving beat, wailing guitars, and a Jeff Pevar distortion guitar solo inspire cheers, and audience members to rise to their feet!

Crosby responds by stating, “You’re a bunch of secret rockers!” before the group performs Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Deja Vu.” Intricate vocal harmonies set the mood for this mystical sounding song — a suite which features a jazzy Mai Leisz bass solo, a thoughtful and funky James Raymond keyboard solo, and a Larry Carlton-esque Jeff Pevar guitar solo.

Ultimately, Crosby joins in on acoustic guitar and the vocalists shine as they wail and repeat, “We have all been here before.”

The entire audience stands for this incredible performance, and Crosby reacts with a double thumbs up!

After a short intermission, Crosby and Friends return to open Act II with CSNY’s “The Lee Shore.” The number features the vocals of keyboardist Michelle Willis as purple lights glow. Sailing like a boat on the water, the rhythm flows before James Raymond is featured on a silky smooth keyboard solo.

Announcing, “This song predates CPR,” and joking, “It might be about LA,” Crosby launches into “Homeward Through the Haze,” a number he recorded with Graham Nash. Featuring a Steve DiStanislau drumbeat which pays tribute to the famous Burnard Purdie shuffle, Crosby stands at the microphone and comfortably tells his story with his soulful and expressive voice, Pevar’s guitar echoing the vocals as the group takes this jazzy folk-rocker homeward through the haze.

Inviting keyboardist Michelle Willis to the front of the stage, she and Crosby perform a song which he says is “about being lost” — the title song from his latest recording, Sky Trails.

Crosby’s and Willis’ vocals intertwine and soar as they’re accompanied by acoustic guitar picking, a Jaco Pastorius-influenced bass part by Mai Leisz, and James Raymond’s keyboard which emulates the sound of Wayne-Shorter’s soprano saxophone.

Audience members rise to their feet as they applaud, after which Crosby introduces his band, proudly announcing that in addition to their own groups and projects, “all of these musicians write their own music.”

Confessing, “This next song comes from a hard place in my life — I was a junkie — I was close to dying,” Crosby performs a number which he wrote thanks to help given to him by singer Jackson Browne.

“You can hear in this song that I was lost,” he acknowledges, before adding, “It’s about choice and chance and how they meld out on the delta.”

Here, he performs the beautiful Crosby, Stills, and Nash number, “Delta.” Opening with a piano solo, Crosby sings with emotion on this soulful folk-rocker which features a bluesy guitar solo leading to a dynamic finish.

As the audience cheers, Crosby says, “That’s the first time we ever did it like that! We wrote a new ending for the song and you’re the first audience to hear it!”

Moving on to a Michelle Willis original — “With apologies to any Janets in the audience,” she says — Crosby and Friends performs “Janet.” The sound of a Wurlitzer electronic keyboard, a slide guitar solo, and three-part harmony vocals help to propel this Bonnie Raitt-like composition— featuring an unusual meter — ever forward while Crosby points to various spotlighted band members whom he’d like the audience to recognize.

After stating, “My symbol for America is the Statue of Liberty. We are singing a love song to her — through her — to our country,” Crosby launches into Michael Hedges’ arrangement of “America.”

With red, white, and blue lights projected on the curtain above him, the musicians present a syncopated and reharmonized rendering of the song as the group deftly sings, “My country ’tis of thee” supported by open-tuned guitars and an ethereal Mai Leisz bass part.

For the final number of the evening, Crosby and Co. present a rollicking rendition of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Wooden Ships.” With Crosby playing electric guitar, he sings soulfully, as white lines of light create movement on the curtain behind him. The song builds in intensity with the energy of the musicians onstage as audience members dance in the aisles to the shifting musical rhythms. When the group brings the song back down — landing softly with their beautiful vocal harmonies — audience members leap to their feet and cheer!

After briefly leaving the stage, Crosby returns announcing, “I know where I can borrow one more rock and roll song,” before adding, “This is the kind of song we should be singing.” Here, he performs the Neil Young-penned “Ohio.” Motioning for the crowd to sing along, lights flash on the stage as audience members sing together, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming…”

Urging the audience to “Sing loud enough so they hear us in Washington, DC,” Crosby and his stagemates bring back powerful memories of an era while demonstrating how music can still provide a communal voice for people to express their feelings.

After rocking out together on this classic tune, the audience continues to stand, cheer, whistle, and holler, to which David Crosby takes a bow with his band and responds, “This is our life. This is what we do. And you just made it really good.”

As the crowd files out of the auditorium and back into the Mayo PAC lobby, we chat with several audience members who provide their opinions about tonight’s concert.

Exclaims Al from Summit, “David Crosby was fabulous tonight! I’m a fan from way back since he was with The Byrds. He played some of his new creations and interspersed them with classics that brought down the house. His voice is great, and he and his band presented very creative vocals where the harmonies were exquisite,” before adding, “and this venue is great, too!”

Maggie from Chatham concurs, “This concert was excellent — really good — I’ve been a fan of David Crosby since he was in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And I love that this venue is close and gets great performers,” noting, “Every seat in the house is good.”

Steve from Monroe remarks, “It was great to see David Crosby tonight. His voice is still really good and his band is great,” before adding, “I’m from Ohio, so the last song was a winner for me — I’ve been a fan of his since my first year of college.”

Lastly, John from Flushing, NY, agrees exclaiming, “They played ‘Ohio’ better tonight than when I heard Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young do it the night after Nixon resigned!” before concluding, “David Crosby is just crazy good.”

To learn more about David Crosby, please go to davidcrosby.com. For information on future performances at Morristown’s Mayo PAC — including Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers on July 16, Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds: The Final Performances on July 19, Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish’s Rascals on September 21, and Three Dog Night on October 13 — please click on mayoarts.org.

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