By Matt Koelling
To last fifty years in the music business, you must develop an ability to overcome adversity. Veteran Worchester, England-bred singer-songwriter/guitarist Dave Mason is no exception to this rule. A mostly miserable, wind-whipped and rain-soaked Monday night in Ocean City, which briefly resulted in a power outage for an entire block of Boardwalk that included the Music Pier, put those hard-earned survival skills to the test once again. Come rain or come shine, in darkness or light, the show, as they say, must go on.
You may know Mason from his work as a founding member and lead guitarist of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Traffic. Or perhaps from his platinum-selling solo debut album, 1970’s Alone Together. Maybe you came on board further down the line, via the late 70’s pop-rock radio smash “We Just Disagree”. Mason penned “Feelin’ Alright” at 19 while in Traffic, which Joe Cocker soon reinterpreted into the iconic classic that remains a classic-rock radio staple to this day. He played 12-string on “All Along the Watchtower”, plus sung background vocals on “Crosstown Traffic” on his friend Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album. He was an original member of Derek and the Dominoes, toured as a part of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, with Eric Clapton, while both played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Michael Jackson duetted on his 1980 single “Save Me”. Mason briefly joined Fleetwood Mac for the writing, recording and touring of their 1995 album Time.
But enough listing of his rock bona fides or past triumphs. This is a tale of Mason’s talents and resiliency being on full-display Monday. As show time approached, it was raining so hard, with clouds so ominous, that visibility on the 9th Street Bridge was virtually a guessing game. The only pedestrian on the ramp leading up to the Music Pier was a policeman, seeking shelter from the storm, underneath the storefront awning outside Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy. The woman working the Music Pier box-office window joked that she didn’t expect a lot of walk-up business this evening. Yet once inside, it was revealed that there wasn’t much need for it anyway. The crowd, most of whom had presumably purchased tickets in advance, were already filling up the room to near capacity and seated by 7:30.
Mason and his band went to work shortly thereafter. He began on his acoustic guitar, firing off four songs (“World in Changes”, “Can’t Stop the Worrying, Can’t Stop the Loving”, “Just a Song” and “Waiting on You”) off the aforementioned Alone Together, before breaking for a moment and addressing the audience. “Good evening folks, it’s nice to be here…nice to be anywhere, as a matter of fact” he quipped, before launching into a fifth number from his debut, “Sad and Deep as You”.
The melancholy of that number might’ve led to Mason remarking “I know, I know, it’s Monday, right”, to which a voice in the crowd audibly shouted “Every day is the 4th of July!” towards the stage. Mason, gamely ready to partake in repartee, offered back, “Okay, Okay, every day is my birth day”, before grabbing his Fender Stratocaster to add some more electricity to the proceedings with his takes on Traffic’s “Rock and Roll Stew” and “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”. In between the two cuts by his former band, Mason explained to the audience “Both of these were part of Traffic A.D. That’s right ‘After Dave’. So, I figure I can do what the hell I want with them”. That he did. “Low Spark” in particular, eschewed the jazzy foundation of the piano-driven Winwood-led version that most classic-rock fans remember, for a more guitar-driven blues-shuffle, including a wah-wah flexing extended guitar solo, with that song’s trademark piano lick appearing only once, just before the song’s instrumental coda.
Backed by a crack four-piece band that featured Alvino Bennet on drums, Johnne Sambatero on guitar/vocals and Tony Patler on keys/vocals while playing the bass parts on piano, Mason deftly displayed his facility on his chosen instrument. “I started playing guitar when I was 14. Seemed like a good idea, everybody else was doing it. All I wanted back then was a red, Fender Stratocaster…Girls? Eh. I was far more interested in getting that red Strat. But what I found out later, was that if you get that red Strat, and learn to play it well…the girls do follow, it’s true”.
This was one of several examples of Mason deploying his deadpan-delivery and wry sense of humor, which his gathered fans seemed to greatly appreciate. After a fiery finish to “Only You Know and I Know”, a Mason minor hit that went on to become a #2 pop hit for Delaney and Bonnie, the first standing applause break of the evening arrived. “NOW it doesn’t feel like Monday anymore”, joked Mason, before offering a story about George Harrison bequeathing him his first sitar but then lamenting “only my dumb ass didn’t keep it, but hey…all things must pass”.
The Dave Mason Band was just hitting the first chorus of the set-closer “Feelin’ Alright”, when the Ocean City Music Pier lost its speakers and the lights. An audible groan of shocked disappointment rose up in the room. Taking a peek out of the windows to the boardwalk, it was apparent that the power outage extended out to the entire block. Music Pier staff and promoter Bob Rose soon filtered out onto the stage to confer with the band. A few patrons began milling outside to go do their own reconnaissance. Most audience members, including Dave Galbreath, who has “been coming to Ocean City all my life” and had seen Dave Mason four other times at the venue, instead took a faithful wait-and-see approach. The faith was rewarded when, about 10 to 12 minutes after the stoppage, lights began popping back up along the storefronts on the boardwalk and subsequently inside the music hall. “Let’s try that again” said Mason, as he cued his bandmates to take it from the top. This time, they made it thru the song’s rollicking conclusion before needing to stop.
With the lights onstage dimmed and the crowd now standing in unison, the audience who had waited patiently through the interruption now clamored for an encore. Mason and company returned to the stage shortly thereafter to give a double-dose of what the people wanted, in the form of “We Just Disagree” and finally the Traffic classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. A little over two hours of stage time, with a few minutes of unplanned break, had now left most concert-goers feeling fully satiated. But for those who wanted more, they received word before “Mr. Fantasy” that the merch table had been moved inside to the back wall of the Music Pier and that any customers interested could find him back there, post-show, where he promised to “sign stuff, take pictures, shake hands and kiss babies” for as long as they desired.
True to form, as the hall began to empty out, filing out in the most inclement night of weather the shore has experienced this summer, Mason could still be seen in the back of the hall doing just that. This is his livelihood. He didn’t arrive here, five decades after his mystical travels began, without being prepared to handle some of the snags for which there’s no real way to prepare. Despite flooding in the streets, lightning flashing outside, or a loss of lighting inside, Dave Mason remains ready to sing a song, play guitar and make it snappy, in hopes of making sure the paying customers go into that dark night, feelin’ alright.