White-suited and white-bearded, Burl Ives sat on a cushioned piano bench, guitar in lap, and charmed young and old yesterday in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall with a program that drew from a repertoire he has spent more than six decades amassing.
There were songs that Ives virtually owns, including "Blue Tail Fly" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain," as well as less familiar tunes in which Ives invited his audience to participate. On one, he divided the hall into three groups for some surprisingly well-executed vocal counterpoint that Ives conducted with his index finger.
A song Ives learned from Australian shepherds was paired with an American hobo song. And a harrowing tale of West Virginia murder and retribution, "Big Bobby Lee," was followed by the inane "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." As if all of that were not variety enough, Ives cracked jokes, recited Yeats and Sandburg, sang about a chivalrous shark, and a goose who wouldn't die, and philosophized upon the theme of the transience of life.
The concert was a benefit for the Kennedy Center's Alliance for Arts Education, a cause for which Ives was recently appointed national spokesman.