A rare treat was given to the large audience at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center on the opening night of the 45th annual Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival. The three week series of entertaining free concerts of a wide variety of musical genres began under sunny skies and very pleasant temperatures.
The headline aggregation, The Muscle Shoals All-Stars, is comprised of talented and veteran studio musicians who played on innumerable hit recordings produced at their studio in Alabama in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Among the big-name artists drawn to the southern studio because of its high level of musicianship and success were the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, the Staple Singers and jimmy Cliff.
The very large crowd was there to see a group that very rarely travels to perform concerts, but whose musical skills are known and admired by generations. They performed a concert/rehearsal at Florence, Alabama several days before their trip to New York City. The audience happily reacted to the first notes of the familiar sounds played by the group. Several guest artists appeared with the group, providing a great variety to the performance that made it especially appealing to the audience.
The first of the many guests, Carla Russell gave a rousing rendition of the 1972 Staple Singers’ hit “I’ll Take You There”. She returned to do a duet with Patterson Hood, the leader of Drive by Truckers, of R.B. Greaves’ 1969 best seller “Take a Letter Maria”. Hood, on guitar, sang several numbers with the band that included his father David Hood, one of the founders of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (The Swampers) in 1965.
The tempo toned down and the instrumentalists took a break as singer/songwriter Dan Penn performed several of the tunes he and “Spooner” Oldham, a 2009 inductee into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame wrote. The songs included “I’m a Puppet”, “Cry like a Baby”, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, and “At the Dark End of the Street”.
When the band returned to the stage, Bette LeVette joined them to perform several songs she performed with them three decades ago.
Jim Hall, the lead of Wet Willie in the 1970’s and the Jeff Beck Band more recently, brought the highest energy level to the show during his appearance. Many in the audience came to the edge of the stage to dance as he sang a rousing version of Bob Seeger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”. He also performed an emotional duet with 79 year old Rock and roll HOF inductee Sam Moore, formerly of Sam and Dave. Moore also sang an emotional rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” as a tribute to the late Percy Sledge.
The full, cast returned to the stage to join Hall in the exciting finale “Sweet Soul Music”, a tune recorded at the Alabama studio a half-century ago. The large crowd left in very good spirits and humming the tunes they heard. Most realized they saw a rare performance that brought back happy memories of their youth by very talented musicians.