Sun Dance 

Sound advice on the summer's hottest concerts

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 1999, if there is one bit of advice that I can give to you, it is this: If you're going to a bunch of concerts this summer, in addition to sunscreen, wear earplugs. Your ears are very important, and they are the only ones you'll ever have. Ask Evander Holyfield.

Well, all right. So the fake-commencement-speech-turned-newspaper-article-turned-hit-record has already been done. The advice still holds. Oh, and this, too: Bring a big, fat wallet. This year's crop of concerts, wonderful as they may be, will also be the most expensive ever. Top prices for shows such as the Bob Dylan/Paul Simon pairing and the return of Cher are soaring past the $100 mark in some markets, which brings us to the last bit of advice from our commencement speech: Puff Daddy was right -- it is all about the Benjamins.

Attending summer concerts in St. Louis means spending at least a few nights battling hot weather for some cool music, and this year's Riverport schedule provides plenty of opportunity. There's something for all manner of factions -- boomers, kids, noodle dancers, heavy metalists, twang enthusiasts and even reggae fans.

A fair question to ask at the outset, however, is, "What year is this, anyway?" A hefty percentage of the acts taking the stage at the Maryland Heights venue in the coming months have two and, in some cases, three decades of rock & roll tours under their belts. And some of them have pretty big belts, too.

The centerpiece of the season, to be sure, is the intriguing yet still rather odd pairing of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon on July 10. Inasmuch as Dylan was an early inspiration for Simon, and both have become preeminent figures of folk and rock, it makes sense. But the two have taken such divergent paths: There's Dylan, the inscrutable bard who has suddenly found his voice again thanks to his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, a brush with death and the release of the 30-year-old Royal Albert Hall concert album; and Simon, whose hands-across-the-water approach to projects such as Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints helped introduce America to the sounds of South Africa and Brazil. As for Simon's recent brush with Broadway -- well, it's wrong to speak ill of the dead.

Among the other boomers hitting the Riverport stage this summer is John Mellencamp, whose career VH1 apparently regards as an ER patient, and they're Noah Wyle. Actually that's not fair: Mellencamp no longer sells a lot of records, despite incessant showings of his samey Max Beckmann-influenced videos, yet he still knows a thing or three about R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. After all, he's having our town's alt-country heroes Son Volt open a string of shows for him, including his St. Louis date on May 22.

Elton John returns for a solo show on June 5. This tour was supposed to be a matchup of Elton and Tina Turner, but egos were bruised during a tiff at the rehearsal for their recent Divas show, and the concerts were hastily called off. Match that with John's withering diss of Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni on a recent Letterman show, and you have to conclude that maybe the bitch is back.

Longtime summer-tour favorite the Allman Brothers Band returns on June 15. The next night, it's latter-day jam enthusiasts the Dave Matthews Band, with the Neville Brothers opening. On June 19, look for a performance by perennial party animal Sammy Hagar, who played a raucous show at Union Station's Hard Rock Cafe a couple of months back. Despite his West Coast roots, Hagar has enjoyed an enduring friendship with St. Louis, which has always made his concerts here special, whether he was playing with Van Halen or simply on his own. This one should be no exception, especially if the audience is full of Mas Tequila, Hagar's private brand, which inspired his latest hit.

Parrotheads will rejoice as Jimmy Buffett plays the 'port on July 20. Buffett has just released Beach House on the Moon, his 31st -- count 'em -- album; and with his books Where is Joe Merchant? and A Pirate Looks at Fifty, he became the first author to top the New York Times' bestseller list in both the fiction and nonfiction categories. So, all of you who dismiss this old son of a son of a sailor, consider this: What have you been doing with your life?

Tom Petty is back on the road with the Heartbreakers, and they play Riverport on July 24. R.E.M. performs on Aug. 19, which should be interesting for the fact that this is the band's first tour without drummer Bill Berry. Our local pride won't let us turn loose of opening act Wilco. Now based in Chicago, Jeff Tweedy's band has released one the year's best albums in Summer Teeth. This will be one show worth getting to early. It's entirely possible that Tweedy & Co. will blow the Athens, Ga., boys off the stage.

For younger alt-rock fans, the pickings are slimmer. Pointfest on May 23 features Hole, though it's hard to imagine Courtney Love being able to work up enough venom onstage at Riverport to rile the crowd out on the lawn. (Of course, someone once might have said that about Axl Rose, too.) A rejuvenated Red Hot Chili Peppers are also on the bill. The Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray and Fastball are an interesting combination on July 31, but that's about it. More effort this year has been spent -- understandably so, if you've looked at the charts lately -- on teeny-bopper acts. Nickelodeon's All That Music & More tour checks in on June 26, with Monica, Aaron Carter, 98 Degrees and 3rd Storee. Diva-in-training Brandy performs on July 9, and 'N Sync continues its carpet-bombing tour of America with another return visit here on Aug. 5.

Country shows are few and far between this year at Riverport, yet there are several worth the effort of filling your pickup full of friends and heading out. Perennial favorite Sawyer Brown plays Riverport on July 30; and Tim McGraw, the firecracker-hot Dixie Chicks and Deryl Dodd perform on Aug. 7. One of the best shows of the season, regardless of genre, is slated for Sept. 5, with Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart and Deana Carter.

For those looking for a bargain among the year's pricey concerts, Riverport's selection of package tours might be the answer, although there are fewer from which to choose. There's no H.O.R.D.E. tour this year, Lollapalooza and Smokin' Grooves both look unlikely to materialize, and the final go-round of the Lilith tour looks to be passing us by (though it is playing Sandstone, near Kansas City).

Fans nostalgic for the heyday of Southern rock will want to check out Charlie Daniel's Volunteer Jam tour, which, admittedly, features some pretty long-in-the-tooth acts: Hank Williams Jr., the Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet and, of course, the CDB. What, no Grinderswitch? The golden age of hair metal will be revisited on June 24 with a triple bill of Ratt, Poison and L.A. Guns. Hmm ... Ratt, Poison ... they may be on to something here. Aug. 15 brings in the Spirit of Unity tour, a multi-act reggae fest featuring Third World, Steel Pulse, Shaggy, Ras Shiloh, Culture, Diana King and Maxi Priest; Aug. 22 presents us with Ted Nugent, Slaughter, Quiet Riot and Night Ranger, together on a tour called Rock Never Stops. Is that a threat, or what? Smaller package tours with co-headlining acts (and with a decidedly nostalgic bent) include the Grass Roots, the Guess Who and Three Dog Night on May 28; Journey and Foreigner on July 21; and Chicago and the Doobie Brothers on July 25.

The hottest package tour of the Riverport season, however, looks to be the Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest on July 7. In addition to the old bat-biter himself, the impressive lineup includes his former mates in Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie, Primus, Slayer, Godsmack, Fear Factory, Puya, Pushmonkey and others. All aboard!

Of course, there's plenty happening on the summer concert scene besides Riverport. May 26 finds an impressive hip-hop soul show at Kiel Center, featuring R. Kelly, Nas, Foxy Brown, Deborah Cox and Sparkle. The original Paul Rogers-led lineup of Bad Company performs at Kiel on July 13 with none other than Diamond Dave -- the David Lee Roth Band -- opening. The big show at Kiel, though, is Cher, whose career has been brought back to life once again -- wags say that the only things that will survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Cher -- with the ebullient dance single "Believe." Cyndi Lauper is also on that bill.

The RFT-sponsored concert series at Union Station is as impressive as ever (if we do say so ourselves), featuring Delbert McClinton on June 4; Donna the Buffalo on June 11; Preston Shannon on June 18; Oliver Sain and Johnnie Johnson on June 25; Kelly Willis on July 9; and Bobby Rush on July 16.

Other shows of note include Ben Folds Five at the American on June 1; Bonnie Raitt and Jimmie Vaughan at the Fox on June 4; the multiartist Twangfest at Off Broadway June 10-12; Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Fox on July 10 (don't miss the opening act, Irish traditionalists Solas); Ally McBeal chanteuse Vonda Shepard at Mississippi Nights on July 13; and Britney Spears on Aug. 13.

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