by Ava Kofman | Jun 16, 2013 12:29 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Music
As his voice carried with gusto across the New Haven Green, Aaron Neville looked as though he hadn’t even broken a sweat. The R&B and soul singer from New Orleans was singing Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” as he best does––smoothly, the notes blending together with ease.
Nearly 20,000 New Haveners gathered under the crescent moon Saturday for the opening night of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, where Neville and his quintet headlined.
The first song of the evening, “Stand by Me,” started the members of crowd nodding and humming along. And once they started they didn’t stop. Festival goers seemed especially pleased when Neville played some of his best-known hits: “Everybody Plays the Fool”, “Sarah Smile” and “Tell It Like It Is”––the 1967 hit that first propelled him to the top of Billboard’s R&B chart.
Harmonies provided by the quintet’s melodious voices added the perfect finishing touch to Neville’s covers of classics like Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Neville and his band also played a new Neville origina, “My True Story,” the title track from an album released this past January.
Neville, 72, has collaborated with Linda Ronstadt and with his brothers, as the Neville Brothers. Charles Neville played the saxophone alongside his brother Saturday night. A Roman Catholic, Neville wears an earring for St. Jude, his patron saint, that could be seen dangling from his left ear. Also visible were some his signature tattoos: a cross on his cheek, a heart on his arm, the word “Mom.”
During a lively full-bodied rendition of “Tequila” (during which Neville took a singing break), many in the crowd stood to dance and swing around in the grass. Even the mosquitoes zig-zagging mercilessly around the stage lights seemed, if only for those magic minutes, to be dancing through the air to the music. In the southwest corner of the Green, a crowd of 12 friends sang along loudly to “This Magic Moment.”
Neville’s switching from his effortless falsetto down into a lower baritone was seamless throughout the concert, which lasted nearly two hours. Neville also played an encore that weaved together “Amazing Grace,” “Ave Maria,” “Down by the Riverside,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“Happy father’s day to each and every one of you,” he called out across the Green. Amen.
The 2013 Governor’s Arts Awards were awarded prior to Neville’s concert.
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I thought A&I had a better opening day than they have in years.
They had a nice crowd early, and some great free circus acts.
I believe the estimate of 20.000 people is overblown, though.
I passed through the Green around 8pm and it was a comfortably seated crowd, just past the flagpole.
If this was a packed, standing crowd, I would believe those numbers.
Last Summer in Germany, my band Beefheart tribute band played to a standing festival crowd of 3000, so I have an idea of what it looks like.
Six-thousand people max. That’s a generous estimate.
I agree that I think 20K is an exaggerated number, but who really cares? The Green felt really packed, and it was a fantastic show! Thanks, Arts & Ideas, for hosting so many concerts and other performances that are accessible to all!
Aaron Neville was in boss form! I enjoyed every minute of it. Great kick off to a great festival!
It is important to call out the exaggerated attendance claims, because these numbers are the building blocks of exaggerated economic impact claims, which is all a part of the game to justify A&I’s funding levels.
I stopped by the Green for Sunday night’s outdoor performance, and did an actual head count. I counted 2000 people. I think my previous guesstimate 6000 is pretty good.