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Review and photos by Andy ArgyrakisThis summer marks the 40th anniversary of the famed Woodstock Festival, and while original organizers have yet to disclose specific celebratory plans, several artists from that era are hitting the road to honor the occasion. Though he may not have a new solo album to promote, Joe Cocker is unquestionably one of the event's most revered artists and his classic performances from the psychedelic soirée were recently unearthed on Rhino's soundtrack CD and DVD of the iconic event.
Chicagoland's treasured Ravinia Festival (www.ravinia.org) also sought to recreate the vibe at this particular show and others throughout the summer long concert series, launching with the "World's Largest Lawn Party." Besides a full-fledged barbeque, fans were encouraged to set up their own picnics and pack coolers full of snacks to supplement the already festive environment, which coupled with Cocker's riveting performance, was a perfect kick off to summer.
Throughout 90 sterling minutes, the soulful rocker dusted off dozens of his top hits, paying special attention to the songs he sang at both the original and twenty-fifth anniversaries of Woodstock. Even at 65, his pipes were in top form, as immediately evidenced with the opening cries of "Hitchcock Railway" and "Feelin' Alright," two blues-entrenched barnburners loaded with his unwavering bellows.
Of course, Cocker is best known as a song interpreter than an originator, literally making every cover he touches become his own. An early rendition of The Beatles' "Come Together" took a slightly different soulful direction than Lennon & McCartney may have intended, but was nonetheless something the songwriting pair would certainly champion. Though other nods to the Fab Four would resurface as the evening wore on, Cocker also nailed his own staples like "When the Night Comes" and "Shelter Me," though the ballads "Up Where We Belong" and Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful" were some of the weaker moments given the ultra-high notes getting clogged in his smoky register.
Luckily, that coat of grit only enhanced other romps like "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and "Unchain My Heart," alongside a raucous encore of "Delta Lady." Yet out of anything Cocker turned to gold, "With a Little Help From My Friends" remained his ultimate calling card, recalling that fateful day from 1969, but sounding just as vital as ever. In fact, the entertainer's endurance was so impressive that he's likely to still be going strong ten years from now when that very festival turns fifty, which provided there's a commemorative performance, would make him the only artist to appear at all three occasions.
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