Glen Campbell Returns Home to Arkansas on Final Goodbye Tour
During last night’s (September 6) near-capacity concert in Little Rock, Ark., the Robinson Center Music Hall audience was on their feet before the band ever played a note of music, the packed room delivering a heartfelt, standing ovation for Glen Campbell, Arkansas’s native son and the country music icon on the final stops of his unprecedented Goodbye Tour.
When the stage lights rose and his backing band eased into the famous, shuffling lick that opens ‘Gentle on My Mind,’ Campbell laughed like he was about to reunite with a long-lost friend, breaking into a couple of lines from ‘Arkansas,’ his 1969 ode to his home state, and sliding into his breakout Grammy-winning single to kick off the night.
Although the singer relied on teleprompters for his lyrics — a crutch used by many musicians in much better condition than Campbell — his unmistakable tenor stayed bold throughout the night. And as strong as his voice is, his famous guitar skills are even more intact. Don’t get it twisted: The man whose career began as a session guitarist for the legendary ‘Wrecking Crew’ won’t hesitate to remind you that he’s still a guitar genius, reassuring you by ripping a quick fill or a fluid, fret-hopping solo when the opportunity arises.
Between songs, Campbell’s Alzheimer’s had a tendency to act up, making the 76-year old to forget to capo his guitar or sputter through stories he wanted to tell between songs about growing up in Delight, Ark. But reassuringly (and with no small amount of bravery), he was quick to laugh at himself and his mental discombobulations with a joke before hopping back into the music.
For the duration of the tour, the stage has been a family affair, with Campbell’s daughter, Ashley, and two sons acting as his back up band (and his wife, Kim, faithfully watching from the side of the stage). But, with this being a homecoming, Campbell turned it into a full out family reunion. Mid-set, he was joined by three of his sisters for a family rendition of ‘Try a Little Kindness,’ and his lumbering, jovial brother for a hopping, hilarious rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ drinkin’ jam, ‘Hadacol Boogie.’
Throughout the night, Campbell’s more tender songs — ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix,’ ‘Wichita Lineman,’ and the French chanson standard ‘Let it Be Me,’ in particular — elicited wet, percussive sniffles and stifled blubbers scattered throughout the crowd. It’s no stretch to say that never has such open emotion been seen from an audience.
Jones’ Goodbye Tour is a bittersweet farewell, and the emotion of the whole procession was amplified by his home state appearance. It is, after all, especially hard to see one of your own struggle with such a cruel disease. It can choke up even the steeliest person to see someone perform through a fog with such determination and such love for the home fans — the people who share that implacable bond of kinship — especially when lines like “Galveston, oh Galveston, I’m so afraid of dying” have taken on a new, morbid, heavier-than-heavy meaning.
But of course, Campbell wasn’t going to let the night devolve into a massive mourning. He picked up the pace at the end of the show, pepping up the mood the best he could with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘Southern Nights,’ letting that famous mischievous glint in his eye shine through.
The final entry on the setlist, ‘A Better Place,’ isn’t a classic track you’d expect to hear from a man singing his very last to his neighbors. It’s a heartfelt track, written by Campbell — a short, sweet, final dispatch from a legend with a second verse that goes as such: “Some days I get so confused, Lord / My past gets in my way / I need the ones that I love most / To hold me more each day.”
Glen Campbell may not be able to remember his final home state show for much longer, but last night was a concert that won’t be forgotten for a long time.