Charge it, it's free

A big credit-card company puts on a Sheryl Crow show in Central Park for 25,000 lucky fans.

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It’s a wonder anyone showed up to see Sheryl Crow play outdoors in Central Park. But despite Hurricane Floyd’s approach from the south and the encephalitis-carrying mosquitoes hovering above, 25,000 free-ticket winners crammed into the East Meadow to watch her and her musician buddies play for two and a half hours. Sure, it was a big, ugly promotion for a new credit card, but the audience was treated to high-profile guest spots by Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, the Dixie Chicks and Sarah McLachlan.

Using a complex distribution scheme, the sponsors dispatched street teams throughout the five boroughs to offer folks random chances to win tickets. But the crowd, dressed in their finest Gap wear, seemed more like a demographic target — white and in their 20s — than a cross-section of New York. Apparently, though, they love Sheryl Crow. The first hour of the concert was for them.

Backed by a full band, Crow played her own songs, including “A Change Will Do You Good,” “Anything But Down” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Aside from a duet with Sarah McLachlan on “Angel,” she saved the star power for the nationally televised second hour. Once the cameras went on, the relaxed, jammy vibe tightened up. During “Every Day Is a Winding Road” Crow traded her guitar for some awkward dance moves; repeated commercial breaks interrupted the flow of an otherwise nicely sequenced set.



Still, the high-tech sound was crystalline and the guest appearances were well thought-out. The Dixie Chicks added gentle strings and dazzling white teeth to “Strong Enough” and the Bob Dylan rarity “Mississippi.” Stevie Nicks’ version of “Gold Dust Woman” ushered in a brief rainfall. Eric Clapton wailed on “White Room.” And Chrissie Hynde, Crow and Keith Richards served up the Rolling Stones’ “Happy” with a triple-Telecaster attack.

After the show ended with an obligatory celebrity jam, Crow and her band returned for an encore with “All I Wanna Do.” It seemed like an afterthought, but a nice one, since the TV cameras had been turned off: one last hit for the crowd to take home, one last tune before the fade-out to commercial.

Meredith Ochs is a writer in New York.

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