Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
These days, musician collaborations are transactional; they are strategic for pushing a single and selling an album. There was a time, however, when epic musicians got together in projects to make unforgettable grooves with their combined forces in various incarnations. From the studios to live cameos and even the legendary “Super Groups,” the footprint of a generational talent could be found, not just with any one brand or band. Dave Mason is one such generational talent.
Mason was one of four members of the band, Traffic. Nowadays, Traffic is considered a Super Group based on the sheer marksmanship of every musician and the stellar career that followed, not just Mason, but Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi & Chris Wood. With psychedelic sounds mixed with a blues-influenced base, Traffic is responsible for one of the most famously covered songs in rock, “Feelin’ Alright.”
Mason would go on to take part in another amalgam of all-stars with Steve Winwood called Blind Faith that included the ferocity of jazz fusion drummer Ginger Baker and his fellow Cream bandmate, the inimitable Eric Clapton. One album and one tour would give the world for all eternity the hit “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
In between releasing solo albums and popping up on a dizzying array of album recordings, the likes of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Rolling Stones, and even joining Fleetwood Mac for a time, Mason stayed ever-present in any music that was worth listening to as well as a permanent fixture in pop culture. If you have ever watched shows like WKRP in Cincinnati, Young Sheldon, Mrs. Fletcher, and Crashing or seen movies like Patch Adams or The Hoax, you’ve heard Mason adding feelings and stealing any scene featuring one of his songs.
Mason celebrated his 77th birthday in May of this year by kicking off his U.S. Endangered Species Tour. Along with his battle-tested and hand-selected band, Mason’s parade of rock vibes, old and new, made a pitstop at the legendary Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania, on June 2nd. There, an audience with a more extensive age range than you’d think got to experience the sight and sound of a venerable sculptor of rock & roll’s pillars.
The show opened with Tony Patler on keyboards, taking the lead on Mason’s smash hit, “Only You Know and I Know.” One of the few proud moments where Mason showcased his band throughout the night. Similarly, guitarist, Johnne Sambataro, did a stellar rendition of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” with Mason looking on proudly.
With a venerable hit-list of Traffic songs like “Medicated Goo” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” the grins and even the tears of those in the audience made clear that each person was being taken back to a moment in their lives by this music…or knee deep in creating one. The words of “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” “If you had just a minute to breathe, and they granted you one final wish, would you ask for another chance or something silm’lar to this?” went from being simply a lyric in a tongue-in-cheek song of drug use, to a testament of what a beautiful moment everyone was individually and collectively in.
Mason and the band peppered in new songs like “Road Dogs,” the famous cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” and the undeniable solo hit, “We Just Disagree.”
After the show ended, fans lined up at a small table in the main corridor of the theatre. Although surely exhausted from the show, Dave Mason defiantly sat down and got up when he greeted, signed, or photographed every person waiting. If there was ever a moment to set as the prototype of class, it was Dave Mason being shown appreciation from his fans for over an hour onstage, and then Dave Mason returning that appreciation to every fan, individually and personally.
Of the three times I have seen Dave Mason perform over the last figteen years, this is the first time I had a chance to view his performance through the eyes of someone on the job, professionally weighing and measuring, occupationally. And although the show wasn’t as robust as maybe fifteen or even five years ago, the quality remains. Moreover, absorbing the crowd experience focuses on why we, as musicophiles, flock to participate in these live performances. To be brought back to a happy memory in time, to create a happy memory in time, or to share reciprocal gratitude with the musician facilitating these moments. It’s personal to you, yet you share it with many like-minds.
An artist like Dave Mason, his storied career is the catalyst for many moments and memories, but I found him to be still the architect of new memories to hold onto. “We Just Disagree” is a song I have loved since the first time I heard it played live in 2008. A song I found out my father loved equally as much, in real-time, during its performance at the show. An ‘arm-in-arm’ moment that I will always be taken back to when hearing it again in my life.
The Endangered Species Tour comes to The Palace Theatre in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on July 14th and Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, on July 21st.
Tickets are available here