Gators have a Petty Party: Petty, Heartbreakers wow crowd
By James Hellegaard
Gainesville Sun - November 5, 1993
One of Gainesville's own came home Thursday night. And oh, what a welcome he received.
With a near-capacity O'Connell Center crowd responding to every song like a game-winning touchdown, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers presented an inspiring two-hour concert that had their fans dancing and shimmying with joyous abandon.
Playing a variety of songs from their 17-year recording career, including a half-dozen songs that have yet to be released, Petty and his favorite bandmates reveled in the warm reception. The more than 9,000 fans sounded like a crowd twice that size, excited by the music of their hometown boys and keyed up about the show being broadcast live to a radio audience of almost 5 million listeners.
Opening with two of his more-recent songs, "Love is Long Road" and "Into the Great Wide Open," Petty ventured way back for a rare electric and impressive version of "Listen to Her Heart."
Three Heartbreakers displayed their individual talents with their own selections, highlighted by keyboardist Benmont Tench's "Death Ray Boogie."
Breaking away somewhat from their standard set, the band hit musical highs with an acoustic "Kings Highway" and a stirring rendition of "Southern Accents."
Most of the crowd was only beginning to file in when the lights turned down and country singer Carlene Carter and her five-man band took the stage to, as Carter put it, get everybody warmed up for "T.P. and the H.B.'s." And they did.
Dancing and switching from two-fisted tambourine playing to strumming her acoustic guitar, Carter delivered an energetic hourlong set. Backed by a pair of blistering electric guitars, keyboards, bass and drums, Carter swung easily from shaking rock 'n' roll to torchlit country with such songs as "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll" and "Unbreakable Heart," penned by Heartbreaker Benmont Tench.
But the homecoming night and hometown crowd definitely belonged to Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Surrounded by the familiar trappings of past tours -- a treasure chest, stuffed polar bear, a cannon, and a knight in shining armor -- Petty and the band made themselves the principal attractions with some inspired playing and interesting song selections.
They wanted to give the crowd, and the millions listening on the radio, something to remember. Petty even dedicated the Byrds' "Ballad of Easy Rider" to River Phoenix. Said Petty: "It's been an emotional day."