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Tribute to Goodman takes on deeper meaning

November 14, 1997


Like paddle wheels in a big river, the singers appearing in Thursday's Tribute Concert to Steve Goodman at the Medinah Temple washed through the waves of time with conviction and determination.

Guest artists like Jackson Browne, Iris DeMent, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett and others celebrated Goodman's music as a place in time, eloquently using Goodman's roaring spirit to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Goodman would have liked that.

He loved to sing ``As Time Goes By.''

The purpose of the sold-out concert was to honor Goodman, the jovial commodore of Chicago folk music, who died of leukemia in 1984 at age 36. Proceeds will also help the Old Town School of Folk Music expand into its new building at 4544 N. Lincoln and establish a Steve Goodman scholarship fund for underprivileged students and adults to participate in Old Town School activities.

But the concert's meaning grew deeper as time went on.

Artists split their sets between their own material and Goodman tunes. The show was slow in getting out of the gate as Goodman newcomers DeMent and Todd Snider had trouble with lyrics and tempo. But the coy bordello beat that John Prine's band (multi-instrumentalist Phil Parlapiano, guitarist Jason Wilbur and stand-up bassist Jason Wilbur) lent to Snider's take on Goodman's ``This Hotel Room'' was more than appropriate.

It wasn't until country-folk singer Kathy Mattea took the stage with a bluesy rendition of Goodman's ``I Can't Sleep (When I Can't Sleep With You)'' that you felt a real connection was being made. Lyle Lovett did an equally convincing job on Goodman's ``I Just Keep Falling In Love,'' delivering the ballad with turned yet hopeful tones.

The concert kicked in after Studs Terkel's inspiring half-time speech after intermission. Terkel recognized Goodman's compatriots Bonnie Koloc, Mike Smith and Ed Holstein, who were not on the bill, and then referenced Frank Sinatra's ``My Kind of Town.'' ``What the hell does he know about Chicago?'' Terkel gnarled before naming Goodman as the city's true musical laureate.

Only then did the tribute take on a celebratory feel. Arlo Guthrie covered ``City of New Orleans,'' which galvanized Goodman as a singer-songwriter, and followed that up with a tribute to folk music by singing and playing Bob Dylan's ``All Along The Watchtower'' on ukulele. (And yes, the concert was being taped for a live CD).

Jackson Browne took spiritual and personal reassessment with his rehab version of the Rev. Gary Davis' ``Cocaine,'' but one of the night's highlights was Mattea and DeMent joining Emmylou Harris and Prine's band for a rousing rendition of Hank Williams' ``Jambalya'' and a stunning take on the 1938 sacred country traditional ``Farther Along.'' It put a starlit crown on a compelling musical journey.