COLUMBIA — Jeff Tweedy is a 21st-century Pied Piper.
As his band Wilco took the stage Wednesday night to close out this year’s Ninth Street Summerfest, fans filled the street from Broadway to beyond The Blue Note. Spectators lined the roof of My Secret Garden. Stragglers hung back by Walnut Street, but as soon as the band played the opening chords of “You Are My Face,” they migrated toward the stage.
Wilco played three songs before greeting the audience, pulling out crowd favorites, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Pot Kettle Black,” much to the delight of the screaming fans.
Finally, Tweedy spoke to the 2,500 to 3,000 attendees expected by The Blue Note owner Richard King.
“How’re you doing?” he asked, eliciting a round of cheers. “It’s a lovely night. It’s good to be back here.”
Then the band launched into “War on War.”
Michael Winkelman of Columbia staked out a spot on the sidewalk between Commerce Bank and My Secret Garden. He arrived at 6:10 p.m. for his fourth Wilco concert.
“Jeff Tweedy is probably one of the best songwriters there is,” Winkelman said. “They’re all excellent musicians.”
Robert and Maria Young of Springfield have been into Wilco since the group released “Mermaid Avenue,” a collaboration with Billy Bragg that set previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. But it wasn’t until Richard Young heard a National Public Radio review of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” that they really got into the band.
“It wasn’t until ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ that I knew there was something special about them,” Richard Young said.
Since then, the Youngs have traveled to between eight and 10 Wilco concerts, including last year’s show in Springfield. They enjoy seeing Wilco in Columbia.
“He is at his most relaxed; he has a good time playing here,” Maria Young said of Tweedy. Robert Young said Wilco concerts have a friendly atmosphere.
“I really think there is a sense of community,” he said. “It’s like the (Grateful) Dead without the hard drugs.”
The outdoor setting allowed people to enjoy the band without tickets. Cricket Dunn of Columbia was sitting on a planter on the corner of Ninth Street and Broadway, which allowed her to have a good view of drummer Glenn Kotche, although Tweedy’s vocals didn’t travel quite as well.
Dunn’s son gave her a couple of Wilco albums for her birthday, and they’ve been the soundtrack for her car trips ever since.
“I listen to all kinds of music,” Dunn said. “They’re good musicians, plus I just love their music — even though I’m old enough to be their grandmother.”
Dunn said she saw crews beginning to set up the stage at 6:45 Wednesday morning. Ninth Street was blocked off from Broadway to Walnut Street for the event.
“I thought, only in Columbia,” she said, laughing.