Jackson Browne: Like He Never Left

Going into Cuthbert Amphitheater on the night of the Jackson Browne concert it must have been clear that I was there for some reason other than just the music. Jackson Browne is certainly before my time, and the concert-goers knew it. One kind man even asked me, “Aren’t you a little young to know who Jackson Browne is?” 

“Well, yes, yes, I am” is what I should have said. 

The audience exuded calm excitement. Very different from the kind of rowdy concert-goers I am used to enduring. However that didn’t stop them from yelling out to Jackson Browne and cheering him on like any passionate music lover. I think the only thing that really took me off guard is that usually when I smell that much weed it’s coming from a group of giddy teenagers or 20 year olds. 

Browne started off the concert with a classic “Somebody’s Baby,” in his deep, raspy and timeless voice. The crowd was obviously ready for the dose of nostalgia as some sang along and others snapped photos or cheered. While the band played many classics, they also played songs with strong political statements. Browne is no stranger to politics as he stumped for California Gov. Jerry Brown’s run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1976. 

Before playing one of his new songs, “Downhill from Everywhere,” off of his 2021 album of the same name, Browne explained that it was inspired by Charles Moore who discovered the island of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean. 

With lyrics like “Do you think of the ocean as yours?” and “Every second breath you take is coming from the sea,” Browne was trying to plant a clear picture that many of our actions have a direct impact on the environment and the oceans in particular. In the last verse Browne sings “downhill from the NRA, downhill from the GOP, downhill from the ICE.” As he said these words it seemed he was hinting that these organizations ignore an important cause like climate change and focus on things that aren’t helping anyone.

Before the half-show break Browne sang a song originally by Steven Van Zandt titled “I Am a Patriot” that spoke against racism, climate denial, homophobia, political extremism and a variety of other behaviors, while separating them from American patriotism. The song offered a message of expressing love for one’s country by questioning others and having an open mind. 

As the songs became slightly slower and more thoughtful, couples stood in the grass and danced together, soaking in the cheerful music and the colorful lights and patterns that engulfed the band on stage. 

Toward the end of the concert the band began taking center stage as Val McCallum and Greg Leisz, the band’s guitar players, took more frequent solos. McCallum was reminiscent of the classic rock era with wailing notes, while Leisz had a solo on a steel string guitar that brought a taste of bluegrass to the music ensemble. 

Browne brought his vocalists, Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, to center stage, and as the concert neared its end spent more and more time playing the piano rather than his guitar. For what was meant to be the final song, the band played everyone’s Jackson Browne favorite, “Running on Empty” — and of course the fans ate it up. The song came to a loud and incredible finish, but the end didn’t last long, as an extremely short call for an encore convinced Browne to sing one more song — another fan favorite popularized by The Eagles — “Take it Easy.” 

Finally the band left the stage but once again not for long. The more traditional encore started with Browne alone on stage playing the piano. Then suddenly a spotlight beamed down on Leisz backing Browne up on the steel guitar. Next, the stage lit up entirely and the entire band joined in. During these last three songs every musician on stage, from vocalists to bass guitarists, got a chance to solo.

Finally the band left the stage, much to the crowd’s chagrin, but it was clear the audience couldn’t have asked for a better show. The Jackson Browne show fit Eugene so well despite this being only his second time performing at Eugene’s Cuthbert Amphitheater. It seems he should always be performing at the Cuthbert.