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Review: 'Feelin' Groovy: Spotlight on Simon and Garfunkel' evokes folk rock nostalgia

The folk duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have long been icons of the American experience. Their exquisite songwriting and lyrics are a thread running through the tapestry of popular music: soulful, refined, and conveying something new with each fresh playing. Their biggest hits — anthems such as "Sound of Silence", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and "Mrs. Robinson" — have long been worldwide emblems of the era in which they came of age.

No great surprise, then, that the auditorium at Camelot Theatre was packed to the rafters with enthusiastic fans this past Friday night for "Feelin' Groovy: Spotlight on Simon and Garfunkel", a special tribute to the pair. Helmed by two Camelot veterans, Erik Connolly and David King-Gabriel, with a supporting narration by Renee Hewitt, the evening was an engaging and joyous experience — there were ascendant moments of raucous pleasure with such crowd-pleasers as "Mrs. Robinson" (which was apparently originally written by Simon as "Mrs. Roosevelt", as a tribute to the feisty First Lady, before he was persuaded by movie director Mike Nichols to change the name so as to better fit the needs for the blockbuster movie, "The Graduate") and "El Condor Pasa", an homage written by Simon after he made his first foray into Peruvian music upon hearing it performed in Paris, France by the band Los Incas in 1965.

These wonderful snippets of information, and many others, were conveyed to the audience by way of a series of charming interludes hosted by Renee Hewitt. At a lighted podium downstage right, Hewitt filled in the time between musical numbers by giving a critique on the length and breadth of the careers of both musicians — their ups and downs, their various albums, their fights and reconciliations, trials and tribulations. The narration never felt laborious or overly-academic; scripting by Cathy Noah was as warm and intimate as the songs themselves, and gave a beautiful insight into the personal lives and loves of both men as they navigated their rocky collaboration, their rocketing celebrity and their solo careers.

King-Gabriel and Connolly argued playfully at the beginning of the night about who would get to "play" Paul Simon, and it's always been a theme in the S&G fan base that Simon was perhaps the more talented of the two. It was inevitable, then, if the evening was to be a well-rounded one, that Simon would receive some special attention to his solo career; fans of the diminutive songster will be pleased to hear extracts from his "Graceland" album, and the musicians give an armhair-raising rendition of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes". Having grown up in South Africa, this reviewer was particularly moved, his first international concert experience having been Paul Simon in Cape Town in 1990, during the final years of apartheid. All these years later in a small theater in Southern Oregon, the mood and tone of great art is still conveyed.

The set list includes other great songs, and all the favorites are here: "Cecilia" and "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" were met with wild applause. "Kathy's Song" and "Scarborough Fair" gave the audience something good to cry about. Director Presila Quinby and musical director Don Harriss have done a skillful job packing in all the right songs for a tribute concert while still keeping the evening to a manageable scale. The backup band was tight and seasoned, with Don Harriss on piano, Jeff Fretwell on guitars, Steve Fain on bass and Steve Sutfin on drums. King-Gabriel also periodically leaps onto bongos for your listening pleasure.

Camelot can be commended for putting together a show that will make old fans glow. It's also a great introduction to Simon and Garfunkel for those few people who may not yet have heard the songs. Run, don't walk, to "Feelin' Groovy". Tickets are already hard to come by, but if you can get one, you'll be glad you did.

—Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.