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Orbison tribute falls short

State Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, Cleveland, November 4, 2006

Reviewed by Peter Seltser

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In honoring Roy Orbison, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum presented its Eleventh Annual American Music Master series celebrating the life and times of one of America's greatest contributors to popular music, but there was not much music per se.

The event condensed a lifetime of music into only 10 songs, including the encore.

The entire evening revolved around the host, Terry Stewart, president and CEO of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum introducing several guests; Barbara Orbison, Roy's widow, their son and several colleagues, like Joe Melson, Orbison's songwriting collaborator, and Fred Foster, his producer, who helped shape Orbison's sound.

Raul Malo, formerly of The Mavericks, kicked off the musical portion with a haunting rendition of "Only The Lonely." Glen Campbell finished the evening with an affectionate and warm performance of the classic song, "Crying."

In between, several well-known crooners including Mandy Barnett, Billy Burnette, Cowboy Jack Clement, The Crickets, Patty Griffin, Tift Merritt, and Ricky Skaggs sang a number of Orbison's greatest hits. Often slightly out of pitch, each artist sadly sounded out of sorts by trying to replicate and emulate someone they were not. In fact, every artist came up short in singing renditions of the classic songs like, "Uptown," "Blue Bayou," "Running Scared," "Leah" and several others.

As the show went on, one felt cheated and robbed that these headliner performers rendered a mediocre performance in their rendition of Orbison's tunes.

The pace of the two-hour plus evening was set to rock n' roll time - no rush, just an easy, kick back kind of show. Even when several performers forgot the words to the songs that they were singing, session players, led by Billy Burnette, Kenny Vaughan, Tommy Harden, Dave Roe, Bobby Wood and Chris Rodriquez, bailed everyone out by knowing the correct words and singing flawlessly behind every artist.

The grand finale wasn't that grand after all. After a 13-minute delay, for unknown reasons, between the last song performed by Campbell and the stage curtain finally opening, the entire cast came out wearing Orbison's signature dark glasses and holding lyric sheets and sung, "Oh, Pretty Woman."

Each artist took turns performing their part, often flubbing the lyrics (even with the lyric sheets in their hands) so badly that the audience, who had kept pace with the band, had to help those on stage sing the words correctly.

Their choreographed stage-managed presence gave way to an admirable, but unfortunately heartbreaking ending to a tribute to the life and music of Roy Orbison. But perhaps Orbison just wanted us to remember him best by processing the haunting and yearning, as well as the healing and mending of his art.