Fans Brave Heat For Free John Mellencamp Concert

Heartland rocker stops in Atlanta for his eighth in a series of shows.

ATLANTA — About 5,000 fans braved 90-degree temperatures to take in a free surprise outdoor concert by rocker John Mellencamp in Centennial Park on Tuesday.

Mellencamp was expected to show up for a noon gig and perform some of his memorable hits from the past 20-plus years. An audience of mostly thirtysomething fans, clad in everything from cut-offs to business suits, waited for more than an hour for the singer to arrive. Some complained, but few, if any, budged.

A visibly pleased Mellencamp took the stage at about 12:40 p.m., cigarette in mouth, wearing dark sunglasses and casual attire. He opened with one of his signature songs, "Small Town," and his trademark raspy voice carried through the crowd.

"We're just out here playing to say thank you for supporting us for the last 25 years," he said. "I don't have anything for sale. I'm not promoting anything. I'm just here trying to give back a little bit of what this community has given to me."

The 48-year-old singer and his backing band, which consisted of a violinist, accordionist and guitarist, moved at a steady pace through the one-hour, 11-song acoustic set. Among the songs they performed were "In My Time of Dying," "Key West Intermezzo ("I Saw You First") — both from 1999's Rough HarvestBob Dylan's classic "All Along the Watchtower" and the crowd's favorite, 1983's "Pink Houses" (RealAudio excerpt). Absent from the set was Mellencamp's hit "Jack and Diane" (RealAudio excerpt).

Mellencamp's Atlanta appearance was the eighth in the singer's series of surprise concerts, which began Aug. 11 in Philadelphia, then hit Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Cincinnati. All the concerts have been midday acoustic sets with little advance notice, held in parks or other open areas. The next date is slated for Nashville's Legislative Plaza at about 1 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 30).

Stephanie Harris, of Atlanta classic-rock station WGZC, said her station learned about the concert on Friday but was asked not to promote the show until Monday. Her station supports Mellencamp's music "all the way," she said.

Mellencamp, who has released a string of hits since the '80s but does not have a current album in stores, was still able to draw his fans to an outdoor concert in the middle of a hot summer day, at the beginning of the work week, with little promotion.

"It was great," longtime fan David Mahle, of Tucker, Ga., said about the concert. "It wasn't long, it was to the point, he got all the good songs in." Mahle's wife, Jill, who works across the street from Centennial Park at the CNN Center, spent her lunch hour at the show. "I loved that it was acoustic," she said, adding that this was her second Mellencamp concert; her first was "a long, long time ago," she said.

Mellencamp is slated to participate in the 15th Anniversary Farm Aid concert Sept. 17 at the Nissan Pavilion outside Washington, D.C. The show also will feature Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Travis Tritt and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.