Written by Dave Clements
ImageSometimes in life the stars line up just right and something unexpected and wonderful occurs.  In my case, a star, one star, lined up just right with my already scheduled travel plans to Ireland.  Van the Man, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mr. Van Morrison, gave a unique performance in a breathtakingly beautiful venue on July 27, 2014 and my wife and I had the pleasure of attending.  We were treated to a rare display of the special kind of music that only Van Morrison can produce.

The evening started as we drove up to the amazing Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle, Ireland (near Belfast, Van’s hometown).  The venue was the ballroom of this hotel, with a capacity for only 350 fans.  And the fans came to witness this rare concert event!  Our table of 10 included a mother and son from Louisiana – the son defying the demographics, celebrating his 21st birthday!  Also at our table were an enthusiastic married couple from South Carolina, and another couple from Abu Dhabi.  The gentleman from Abu Dhabi claimed he was fulfilling an item that had been on his ‘bucket list’ for 20 years by having the opportunity to see Van Morrison perform live.  The ballroom was filled with similar fans with similar stories.  And it appeared that many had scheduled their trips abroad specifically to attend this concert.

Van’s daughter, Shana, opened for him on this night.  We all know that Van Morrison needs no opening act, but she was very entertaining and had a strong, distinctive voice that reminded me a little of Jennifer Nettles at times.  She stayed on stage throughout the night contributing some great background vocals on several of her dad’s tunes.

ImageVan took the stage playing a jazzy instrumental number on his saxophone.  This segued into a song called ‘Back on Top’ that had him grabbing his harmonica.  He looked loose and comfortable, and we would soon learn that he was definitely in a good mood and feeling ‘at home’.   It is well documented that Mr. Morrison is not a chatty performer.   During shows, he often has no discernable interaction with his audience at all.  On this night, however, he let us in! 

Continuing the parade of instruments he plays, he pulled out a ukulele, pulled up a stool, sat down and declared “It’s comedy time.  This is ‘sit down comedy’.”  Then he actually smiled at his fans!  Van Morrison, at age 68, is still full of surprises. 

Morrison is known for recording some songs with a spiritual, mystic tone, and tonight was no exception.  The audience got quiet and reverent during ‘So Quiet in Here’ and ‘Whenever God Shines His Light’.  But the song that gave his fans collective goose bumps (an assumption but I’m pretty sure I’m right…) was ‘In the Garden’.  You could have heard and pin drop except for the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from his astounded fans.  Van was ‘on’ tonight!

This was not a greatest hits set list, but we quickly learned that it just didn’t matter.  Van performed approximately 20 songs with his very dapper, extremely talented six piece band.  And Van was no slouch either.  While not officially possessing credentials for photographing this evening, the only stipulation the audience was given regarding photography was ‘no flash’.  So check out the gallery and see Van in his suit, fedora hat, and sunglasses.  Van’s manager had politely tapped me on the shoulder early in the evening and asked me to stow my big lens for the remainder of the show.  So these photos were hard earned.  One might even say they were taken on the sly…

ImageAs I mentioned, some of my favorites were left out of the set, but he did play one on top of the list, ‘Into the Mystic’.   An appreciative audience applauded wildly when he ended the song by shouting an encouraging ‘Just be here now!’  No worries, Van, we were right there with you, holding on to every second.

The final official song of the set was ‘Ballerina/Move on Up’.  The repetitive lyrics were ‘step right up, step right up’ and Van ended the song by asking his fans ‘Step up and see me sometime…who said that?’  He then paused and smiled into the microphone saying ‘Come up and see me sometime’, and exited the stage.

For his encore, Van gave a nod to two of his fans in attendance that were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  The woman’s name?  G-L-O-R-I-A!  The crowd jumped to their feet and enjoyed another surprise as he gave us a rousing rendition of this 1964 classic.

To say I felt honored and excited to witness this once in a lifetime performance is, of course, an understatement.  This was a rock and roll icon at his absolute best.  Thank you Van the Man for an incredible night and a memory I will cherish.

Until next time remember there is no time to kill,