MUSIC : 'River' Will Run Through Dan Fogelberg Concert : The folk-rock veteran, who has a new album, also will bring two decades worth of songs to Santa Barbara.


Between songs, this gig will probably sound like a Valium convention. Don't expect the usual little metalheads with their fists in the air, barking like dogs, shouting for "Free Bird." Expect the polite parents of those little menaces--the more civilized Santa Barbarians, the Maserati literati and the BMW Hawaiian-shirt crowd--enjoying a kinder, gentler scenario when smooth popster Dan Fogelberg brings two decades of tunes to the S.B. County Bowl on Saturday night. Opening will be the Mistress of Mellow, Beth Neilsen Chapman.

Fogelberg, hoping to hype his latest album, "River of Souls," will present an acoustic/electric folk-rock sort of set. Sometimes, it'll just be Fogelberg tweaking the Edison company by doing an unplugged set. Later, he'll have a three-piece backing band when he cranks it up.

"I don't think 'River of Souls' is so different than my other stuff, except it's not such a concept album like in the '80s," Fogelberg said during a recent phone interview. "It's just a collection of songs with more world music influences."

The new one has songs featuring Fogelberg squaring off against homelessness, the Gulf War and Donald Trump. But never far from Fogelberg's focus is his concern for the environment.

"I think whether you're an artist or not, you can't separate yourself from the politics of existence," he said. "It behooves each of us to get involved in trying to save this planet before things get out of hand--if they haven't already. I saw this special on PBS hosted by Kenneth Clark which traced the human spirit through art. Most of the changes throughout history have come from artists who brought new ideas to the forefront. Today, things are improving in some areas. There is a growing environmental consciousness, but we're fighting a firmly entrenched beast."

Sure, Dan, but there are those business types in expensive suits trying to give us the business when they say stuff like "Don't be a naive tree-hugger. We need jobs. People are more important than some creepy critter no one's ever seen. Anyway, it's economics, and people have to work."

Fogelberg has a ready answer for the business-as-usual crowd: "I just tell them they're a bunch of greedy bleeps."

Fogelberg has been around long enough so he can pretty much say and do what he pleases. You don't have to be a metallurgist to know that Epic Records knows that Fogelberg's fan know what they like. So far, Fogelberg has seven platinum albums and two golds. Or maybe he's just a nice guy or Epic is just a wonderful company, but Fogelberg has been on the same label for nearly 20 years. This is about as unheard of as a baseball player spending his entire career on the same team.

"Epic lets me do what I want musically," said the singer. "Also, we've sold a lot of records over the years, so there's not really much to argue about. But I hope the secret to my longevity is the quality of my songwriting. I always try to do a variety of music, from bluegrass to rock 'n' roll. I always try to keep people interested, which also keeps me interested. I think my music is eclectic, and I just try to keep it interesting."

Irking Fogelberg fully as much as heartless corporate robber barons are those who dismiss his as some sort of Mr. Mellow Muzak Machine.

"What has frustrated me the most over the years is when I'm called some sort of soft-rock balladeer," said the singer. "I do lots of different stuff and I'm a real good guitarist. Sometimes critics will see me and say, 'Gee, I didn't know you could play like that.' Well, I've been doing that for 20 years, but I still tend to get pigeonholed."

Fogelberg may get pigeonholed, but he probably won't get tired. He's got the touring thing figured out. Unlike those blues guys who play 300 times a year, Fogelberg isn't close to being a road dog.

"I usually tour every year, but I don't do it too much. I play maybe 40 gigs a year. I've got a ranch in Colorado and a house in Maine where I can get away from the music business. There's just more important things in life than touring all the time. But on the other hand, I've got some very loyal fans who have been with me for 20 years."

Early on, Fogelberg was touched by the four mop-tops out of Liverpool, leading him to those two homes and not much touring.

"I grew up in the age of the Beatles," Fogelberg said. "Before that, I listened to Buddy Holly and Elvis, but when I first saw the Beatles, I thought 'Hey, I can do that.' I mean, they could do 'Twist And Shout,' then 'Yesterday.' They could be goofy, get lots of girls and pop off to authority all at once."

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