Concert review: The Great Divide reunion show at Stillwater's Tumbleweed
STILLWATER – The Great Divide was “Alive and Well” and rocking the crowd Friday night at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall & Concert Arena.
The seminal red dirt band took thousands of its frenzied fans on a musical jaunt down “Yesterday Road,” with the reunited group reclaiming the College Days Festival it started more than a decade ago at the Tumbleweed.
But the two-hour show was more than just a tuneful nostalgia trip, though plenty of The Great Divide’s devotees shared shouted remembrances with their fellow concert-goers between songs.
“Tonight is about reconciliation,” said drummer J.J. Lester, who has worked for three years as college pastor at Countryside Church in Stillwater.
“When we came up with this, we had no idea it would mean so much to everyone,” he added. “I’m not an emotional man, but I’ve cried a lot this last few weeks so thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The country-rock quartet – J.J. Lester, his brother, rhythm guitarist Scotte Lester, bassist Kelley Green and singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike McClure – exchanged plenty of smiles, hugs and jokes and thanked the crowd often throughout the show. After the band’s bitter breakup – McClure left the group in 2003, and the others called it quits two years later – seeing The Great Divide bridge their differences was heartwarming for fans.
Along with the hotly anticipated reunion show, the College Days lineup Friday featured an array of red dirt talents The Great Divide has influenced: Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Stoney LaRue, No Justice and Turnpike Troubadours.
Between the lingering heat wave and sizzling lineup, the enthusiastic crowd was plenty warmed up when The Great Divide took the stage with its raucous and familiar “Without You.” The audience quickly raised its collective voice to back the band on favorites like “Round That Bend” and “Billy Covington,” and the group soon showed off its playful sense of humor.
“Kelley reminded me this week that we’ve been broken up longer than most bands have been together,” McClure cracked before launching into the apropos lyrics of “Break in the Storm,” prompting couples to sway or spin through the crowd. “Thank y’all for still listening to our music, man.”
The jaunty “Dragon’s Heart” got fans stomping their feet, the twangy “Out of Here Tonight” had them toasting the band with their beer cups, and the mournful ballad “But I Do” prompted them to belt along with McClure.
“This is strange. We haven’t played in front of anybody in so long, much less this many people,” the frontman said. “It’s good for us to be playing here tonight. Sometimes you just gotta let old crap go. It’s time for new crap.”
While he and J.J. Lester have indicated they would like to make new music, the fans were more than content with the old songs at Friday night’s show. The rowdy “Pour Me a Vacation” prompted many to wail along ecstatically and stretch out their hands like they were volunteering for the next flight out.
“This is gonna suck,” the self-deprecating McClure joked as he ripped into the guitar solo of the band’s biggest mainstream hit. But he seemed satisfied with the final result, finishing with “There you go.”
While the singer/musician and his Mike McClure Band have toured vigorously the past few years, they don’t play many The Great Divide songs. Green and the Lester brothers have pursued careers outside music, so the reunion marked the first time in awhile for them to perform the tunes live. The band members frequently made light of The Great Divide’s long absence from the stage; after the audience cheered loudly for the country-blues cautionary tale “If You Want It That Much,” Green joked that the group would be selling cassettes after the show.
Their good humor came in handy when, not surprisingly, they ran into a few technical difficulties during their first show in more than eight years. For instance, Green’s bass stopped working while rocking through “Rather Have Nothin’,” an early Great Divide tune that was cut by another Stillwater music legend: Garth Brooks.
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