When we decided to attend the Ray Stevens concert at Hiawassee, Georgia last Saturday, July 3rd, it was because I could remember his country music novelty hits of the 1970’s, songs such as “Everything is Beautiful” and “The Streak,” and that it would be a night of fun nostalgia, and a highlight of our 4th of July weekend in the Young Harris area. It was, but it also was something else.
The huge music hall at the Georgia Country Fair (that’s the name of the place; the fair was not being held) was almost sold out. I thought people there were folks who remembered Stevens’ heyday. I didn’t realize that Stevens is hot again and got that way by latching onto the lucrative right-wing media circus. He has made some totally unsophisticated, puerile videos against healthcare reform, “We the People,” and illegal immigration, Come to America,” that, after getting publicity from Fox News interviews, have gotten millions of hits on YouTube.
He had a fine band, and when he did his big hits from the past, like “Ahab the Arab,” “Shiners Convention,” “Misty” (which won a Grammy for him), and, of course, his biggest hits, “Everything is Beautiful,” and “The Streak,” he performed with a freshness that made them seem new, which is quite a feat when you consider how many times he has done those numbers in the last forty years. He is a very talented musician, having studied classical piano and music theory at Georgia State University in Atlanta. (He is a native Georgian and grew up in the Atlanta area.) He also has a creative mind and, in my view, is a good folksy comedian. I wouldn’t put him in the humorist league with Garrison Keillor or the late Will Rogers, but he is self-deprecatingly funny.
I said he sang his old hits with a freshness that made them seem new, but I did get the feeling that when he sang “Everything is Beautiful,” it was a perfunctory performance, and that he really didn’t mean it. I think, since he now identifies with the Tea Party folks, maybe he doesn’t anymore.