CONCERT PREVIEW: The folk, pop and rock sounds of Don McLean featured at New Hope Winery

Don McLean
Don McLean SUBMITTED PHOTO

IF YOU GO

What: Don McLean in concert.

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 9.

Where: New Hope Winery, 6123 Lower York Road, New Hope.

Tickets: $70-$120.

Info.: www.newhopewinery.com, (215) 794-2331.

Songwriters Hall of Fame member Don McLean landed six songs in the Billboard top-40 between 1971 and 1981, and went on to amass more than 40 gold and platinum records worldwide.

The New Rochelle, N.Y.-born singer of songs such as “American Pie,” “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” and “Castles in the Air” has a ton of memories made in this area. Although it was more of a lowlight than a highlight, he briefly attended Villanova University in 1964 because “they were pretty much the only school who would take me because I wasn’t a very good student.” That was when he first heard about Bryn Mawr’s the Main Point, where McLean got some quality exposure opening a sold-out show for Janis Ian in 1967.

“WMMR in Philadelphia, they had wonderful DJs there that played the ‘Tapestry’ album (McLean’s 1970 debut),” he said. “Philadelphia’s got a beautiful springtime.”

The first time he played signature song “American Pie” in public was at Temple University, opening for Laura Nyro. McLean recalled that he had the lyrics of the freshly-completed, future No. 1 taped to his microphone stand. “I wrote the song, most of it, in Philadelphia,” he said.

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McLean’s first wife lived in Chestnut Hill, and he hung out with Philly native son Jim Croce. “He was always looking for people who could play and sing. I remember going out with him ... and going to places where people were playing. He was already a big star, but he would’ve been a bigger star ... because he knew how to write hits,” McLean said.

Although he said he was never fully embraced by the folk music circles in the ‘70s, he played the Philadelphia Folk Festival “once or twice” during that decade.

McLean’s also friends with Zenos Frudakis, the sculptor of the Frank Rizzo statue (His body of work also includes the Freedom sculpture at 16th and Vine streets and four iconic Phillies at Citizens Bank Park), and that he’s aware of this year’s eruption of controversy surrounding it. Of Frudakis he said: “He’s a thoughtful and humane person. It hurts me to think about the thought of negative politics associated with his name.”

So you could kind of call it a homecoming of sorts for McLean as he brings his five-piece band to the New Hope Winery Dec. 9. Although he changes his set list every night, he hinted that his satirical 1977 song about a TV-addicted American society, “Prime Time,” is a contender for the show, in light of the rash of sexual harassment accusations against an expanding-daily roster of high-profile men.

Celebrities as diverse as Garth Brooks, Tupac and actor Terence Stamp have said they were influenced by McLean (not to mention the hit song “Killing Me Softly,” whose author wrote it after attending a Don McLean concert). “I don’t know what to say. I can’t express my gratitude,” McLean commented.

Despite Tupac’s gangsta lifestyle, his love for the song “Vincent” shows “he was a sensitive person, an intelligent person,” he added. “People are complicated.”

McLean’s “Babylon,” a folky, layered vocal interpretation of the Bible’s Psalm 137 off the “American Pie” album was used in an episode of AMC’s “Mad Men.” He said he was a fan of the TV show “until they got out of the ‘60s,” the point he said it started introducing too many characters.

At 72 years old, McLean’s been in the mood to do some downsizing. A few years ago, he auctioned the manuscript for “American Pie” for more than $1.2 million. After a special exhibition of the singer/songwriter’s artifacts and photographs at the Country Music Hall of Fame closes, he’s looking to auction off the 15-page manuscript for “Vincent” “the next year, or the year after that,” as well as many of his guitars, clothes, guns and hunting knives.

After recently going through what he described as an ugly divorce from his second wife, McLean shared that he now has a girlfriend and still has a good relationship with his young adult sons. “Things are going good for Don McLean. Now it’s a new life. I’m so happy I have my career and my music. I’m going to be the best person I can be, and have the most fun possible between now and the end of my life,” he said.

A new album, titled “Botanical Gardens,” is scheduled to be released in March.