Daniel Turner

John Mellencamp Plays One Night Only in Columbia, SC

Music Scene Media
May 3, 2024
5 min read

With about thirty minutes to show time, fans were still arriving at the Township Auditorium for tonight’s stop on John Mellencamp’s “Live and In Person” tour. With the line for entry wrapped around the corner, venue staff were buzzing around informing fans of shorter lines at other doors in an effort to get everyone in and seated by the 8:00 pm sharp start time.

The house lights dimmed, and a medley of classic black-and-white movie clips from the 1940s and 1960s played as the remaining fans found their seats. Shortly before the band took the stage, a notice to “please observe theater etiquette” appeared on the screen as a siren sounded and red lights flashed. As the band walked on stage, cheers erupted from the crowd.

Opening the set with “John Cockers,” a song from his 2008 album Life, Death, Love, and Freedom, saw the crowd singing right along with the chorus. The same would be true for the next song, “Paper in Fire,” from John’s 1987 release, The Lonesome Jubilee. As the next song, “Minutes to Memories,” came to a close, I gathered my gear and left to find my seat.  I made it just in time to hear one of John Mellencamp’s greatest hits.

The crowd exploded to the first few notes of “Small Town” and sang along for the entire song. Being one of Mellencamp’s bigger hits, I don’t think the crowd was expecting to hear it so early on in the show. Of course, with a career spanning 40 years and being a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, John Mellencamp has no shortage of hit songs to play.  “Check it Out” had fans dancing in the aisles (until security would usher them back to their seats) and clapping along.

After spending decades traveling across America, John has seen the rising numbers of homeless people firsthand. His experiences with the homeless led him to write the song “Eyes of Portland” from his latest album, Orpheus Descending. With a chorus that questions where all the homeless come from and drives home the fact that “Your tears and prayers won't help the homeless,” it’s quite a poignant song that makes you face an unpleasant reality.

Before the next song, John would tell a story about sitting with his 100-year-old grandmother, who told him he wouldn’t get into heaven if he kept smoking and cussing, so they prayed together. John’s grandmother (who called him Buddy) started speaking in tongues as they prayed, and then switching back to English, she said, “And me and Buddy are ready to come home, AMEN.'' This whole spectacle scared the hell out of John, and he told his grandmother that he still had some more "sinning" to do before he “went home,"  to which she replied, “Buddy, life is short even in its longest days.” After playing the track that came from this little exchange, John offered a little advice: “Maybe don’t worry so much about that pile of dishes in the sink, and let's all try to be a bit kinder to each other.”

After a few somber songs, things kicked up a notch with another fan favorite. From the first notes of “Jack and Diane,” the crowd was singing. The band would stop and let the crowd take it to the chorus, where John would chastise them for skipping the second verse that he “spent all afternoon writing” after giving a breakdown on song structure. With a laugh, he would lead the crowd through the second verse and into the chorus. The bridge would be sung a cappella, with the crowd nearly drowning out John’s voice coming from the stage.

Violinist Lisa Germano would take center stage to explain that John wanted these shows to be more of a performance and less of a typical rock show, as well as give a little backstory on the track “The Real Life,” which features a recorded monologue of actress Joanne Woodward. As Lisa welcomed Joanne Woodward to the stage, a recording of her voice played as the band joined in.

The energy would kick up a bit as the songs became more rapid-fire, with John sharing center stage with each of the band members before highlighting each of them during “Crumbling Down.” The classic “Pink Houses” would again have fans dancing in the aisles and putting security to work. Everyone seemed to be having an absolutely great time.

John would bring his son, who was about a week away from his birthday, on stage and joke that to himself, and guitarist Mike Wanchick, two years was a nap, but to his son it was a long time, and that to have old times, you’ve got to be old. While John was proud of his son’s time playing football at Duke University, announcing that to the crowd in a college town might not have been the best idea. His statement was immediately met with cheers for the local college team, the Gamecocks.

After saying that he had a lot of fun with the crowd tonight, John reminded everyone that one thing nobody can take from you is the memories you make. He decided to end the evening with a few great songs about old times. Those songs were “Cherry Bomb” and “Hurts So Good.” There were smiles all around as the house lights came up.

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