Glen Campbell said one more goodbye on his Farewell Tour Thursday at the State Theatre. Cornell students may not who he is, but with a 54-year music career — starting as a session guitarist with the famous Wrecking Crew ensemble before a nonstop solo career with 61 albums and 81 charted singles, not to mention a starring role John Wayne’s True Grit — the 76-year-old Glen Campbell is who anyone’s parents or grandparents would call a country and pop music legend. However, at Thursday’s concert, Glen showed the skill, not the fame and recognition, he has accrued as a musician over so many years.
Glen’s children, Ashley and Shannon Campbell, opened the show as part of their country/folk project Victoria Ghost. The two have toured with their father, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, to help him perform. They sang with him when he forgot lyrics or mouthed the words as they played in his band. They were also there to introduce themselves as an exciting, harmonious group with varied and enjoyable songs. Their lyrics were clear and, for that, engaging, telling relatable stories with profound messages. “Just Another Man,” a stringy ballad about mortality, felt complete, even with just a banjo and a guitar, and relevant to the spirit of closure that this Farewell tour signifies. In a 30-minute set with six songs, they provided variety, grabbed the audience’s attention and brought a family feel to the concert.
After a 20-minute intermission, Glen’s children led him on stage. He wore a white blazer and an electric blue, rhinestone shirt, perhaps in the fashion of his hit song “Rhinestone Cowboy.” The audience gave him an immediate standing ovation. With a total of three standing ovations, the audience, many of whom were around in the ’70s to see him at his peak, was knowingly pleased with the performance. They had nothing to complain about except the intermission.
Glen started out with three of his most popular songs: “Gentle On My Mind,” “Galveston” and “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.” With a steering banjo, patient bass and circuitous beat, he eased the crowd into the happy, relaxing mood of country music. Through all 17 songs, the crowd responded most favorably to his country repertoire. Despite his age and ailments, Glen, for the most part, stayed away from the sad and slow piano blues. The dimmed stage lights during “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” marked a somber tone in contrast to the rest of the night. He gave a solid performance that was meant to make the audience feel breezy, not mournful.
The instantly gratifying nature of today’s music hasn’t affected Glen, either. From the talent he has built over half a century, he creates music with dedication and skill that recalls ideals reminiscent of the American Dream. A truly professional musician, he knew how to put on a show that grew steadily as the show went on. Without knowing his songs beforehand, I hummed along before I even realized I liked them. His songs evoke words like “classic” and feel familiar and timeless. This is a testament to how influential his work is, as we’ve probably all heard derivatives of his work in today’s popular country singers.
Campbell’s illness manifested here and there, as could be expected. He used computer screens at the bottom front of the stage to remember lyrics; while singing “A Better Place,” he laughed at the lyrics after he sang them, as if he had read them for the first time. Usually, he managed to get the audience to laugh along with his fumbles. Sometimes, he pivoted away from the audience or forgot words. However, his setbacks never stopped the show or discouraged him. One of his songs, “Try a Little Kindness,” about “narrow minded people on their narrow minded streets,” was well-suited to convey the open-mindedness that watching a man afflicted with Alzheimer’s requires. Campbell overcame ailments beyond his control and struck a confident and inspiring stage presence.
Glen Campbell’s concert showed how he has mastered, not surrendered to, age. After the show, during a bouquet presentation for Glen’s 30th wedding anniversary that night, his drummer son remarked to the audience after the show, “Amazing what those fingers could do, right?” It was true: When playing guitar solos, his skills proved ageless. He may have sold more records and appeared on more talk shows decades before, but Campbell has not let time define who he is. He is the kind of performer who can keep touring at the age of 76 in an industry of Taylor Swifts. He’s not touring to recruit more fans or sell more records — he is here to say a grateful goodbye to his fans and his work. After the concert, my taxi driver praised him, saying how there are other performers who stay around too long, with ruined voices and listless stage presence. I wondered whether this was true of Glen Campbell, who couldn’t always remember lyrics and who remarked more than once to the crowd about the heat of the theater. But then, I thought about the crowd: They were grateful to see someone stand up there, just as flawed as anyone else still working at his or her craft.