Rock Room on the Road: John Sebastian -‘ Magical Connection’ – Live at the Cafe Veritas 2013 Rochester, NY

by | Oct 28, 2019 | 2 comments

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am thumbing through a stack of dog-eared
ticket stubs while doing some musicial organization. While reflecting on some
of the amazing concerts I have attended in my years I came across my review of
a stunning John Sebastian concert I attended in a small café in Rochester, NY
in 2013. It is here that I have decided to share the text with you, my dear

John Sebastian’s solo acoustic performance at the Cafe
Veritas in Rochester on December 7th, 2013 was not only a musical
cross-section of Sebastian’s hall of fame career, but an intimate investigation
of the roots of the music that has influenced John Sebastian and a collective
of generations. The softly lit room was accented by candles and featured as its
centerpiece a slightly elevated wooden stage and large colorful peace symbol.
The sold out crowd welcomed Sebastian who appeared, dressed in black with
acoustic guitar and bright flashing smile. After gently chiding an audience
member who was preparing to take pictures, Sebastian made it crystal clear he
wanted the crowd’s undivided and complete attention. The evening would trace Sebastian’s
humble beginnings as a Greenwich Village folk musician, gaze as his
numerous gold records as a member of the Lovin Spoonful, and examine his deep love
of jug band and blues music.
To start the show, Sebastian began to pick the indigo
opening to Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘I’m Satisfied’. Sebastian’s voice still
reveals glimpses of his younger throat that once contained honey, but now has a
pinch of gravel and a blues man’s grit. Throughout the evening Sebastian would
frame the songs with extended dialogues expressing the genesis of his
songwriting, his Lovin’ Spoonful  band mates, influences and family. 
following chunky slice of finger picked blues called ‘Don’t Stop’ prefaced a
trio of Lovin’ Spoonful tracks who many in the crowd were highly
anticipating.  Sebastian paused prior to these numbers and spoke
nostalgically about his love for Motown and how it influenced his development
as an artist. During this interesting discussion Sebastian started to strum the
classic Motown hit ‘Heatwave’ slowly speeding the riff up, eventually morphing
it into the introduction of the Spoonful’s own ‘Do You Believe In Magic? An
amazing glimpse into the genesis of one of the 1960’s most enduring songs, and
a prime example of the concert’s’ enjoyable ‘show and tell’ design.
‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, and a definitive version of
‘Younger Girl’ followed, musically warming up the crowd who watched in rapt
amazement. Sebastian encouraged a singalong atmosphere, and smiled often,
singing directly to the crowd like an old time Greenwich folkie. His perfect
guitar strikes emitting golden notes, clear as a crisp winter night, expressed
immaculately by the acoustics of the room. Sebastian switched between two
hollow bodied acoustic/electric guitars throughout the evening, both
instruments delivering clarity and tone, his voice, slightly weary from the
years, but full of expressiveness and rich personality.
Following the excitement created by the mini Spoonful set,
John quieted things down, first speaking of his children and wife lovingly,
then performing a version of ‘Strings of Your Heart’ as fragile as a rare
bird’s egg. Keeping with the theme, Sebastian then, in beautifully tender
fashion delivered an instrumental lullaby he used to put his boys to sleep
with. Intricate and weightless, Sebastian eyes were closed tight, lost in the
music, picking the crystalline melody, culminating in an absolute high point of
the evening.

Sebastian then leaned casually on his guitar and proceeded
to tell a humorous anecdote about his going out of style at least ‘four or five
times’ over his career, and that one of the times he went back in style was
with the famous ‘Welcome Back’. A jubilant singalong followed with Sebastian
crooning the popular theme song he wrote for the historic television comedy.
Highly enjoyable, and truly a piece of ‘good time music’ as the Spoonful’s
credo used to be, the crowd responded with tremendous applause.
Another solid track off of Sebastian and Grisman’s 2007
album Satisfied came next with ‘Passing Fantasy’, before moving into
another developed dialog where Sebastian explained in greater detail his
relationship with Mississippi John Hurt. Sebastian then displayed to the crowd
a few finger picking techniques ‘borrowed’ from Hurt using the examples to
slide seamlessly into a stomping version of ‘Lovin You’, the opening song from 1968’s Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Stunning. A favorite of the concert and an all-time
favorite of the ‘rock room’. The show reached another grand peak and a
pair of Lovin’ Spoonful numbers followed quickly and definitively closed the 75
minute set. ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?’ and ‘Daydream’,
perhaps the most beloved song in the Spoonful catalog, closed the show to a
complete standing ovation. Sebastian a true entertainer, playing to the crowd,
interacting with them on musical and conversational levels left the stage to
boisterous applause.
But luckily for us in attendance, Sebastian had one final
surprise in store, reappearing with only a harmonica in hand to stand solo at
the microphone. Sebastian, whose father was a famous classically trained
harmonica player, instilled in him a love and respect for the instrument.
Sebastian stated that in his home, ‘the harmonica was not a toy’, so for those
of us in the crowd that were hoping for a bit of harp playing, we were in for a
treat. As an aside, for those not aware the harp playing you hear on the ‘Doors’
famous radio cut ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is none other than John Sebastian.  Sebastian then plowed through an extended harp
journey that wailed and wined with the historic breath of rock and roll and
blues, displaying all the tricks of this virtuoso player. The performance
could have concluded only one way, and Sebastian hit it perfectly with an
awe inspiring display. A moment that I will remember forever.
John Sebastian created a musical atmosphere at the Cafe
Veritas that encouraged attentiveness, revealed musical secrets, and encouraged
audience interaction. The performance hearkened back to the early coffee house
performances of the 1960’s in content as well as attentiveness by the
performer. It’s refreshing to witness an artist so at ease with his legacy, and
concentrated on delivering the goods to his audience even after all of these
years. If you have the opportunity to catch the legend in his element do not
hesitate, you will walk away satisfied.

Sebastian and Grisman – I’m Satisfied (Album)


  1. Bob W.

    Great review. I saw John (solo) quite a few times in the early 70s, including 2 sets a night, 3 nights in a row at the Carousel Ballroom (might have already been renamed Fillnore West). The shows were great and the set lists were a wide variety of tunes. I can't remember any details other than I was blown away by his performance.

  2. talkfromtherockroom

    That is amazing! Those early solo shows following his first solo record are great. Thank you for commenting.


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