The Old Days
I’ve been going to live rock shows since I was 12 years old. The very first concert I ever attended was Pat Benetar. My dad took me, and I remember I was surprised by how loud it was, and how the feeling of my ears ringing afterwards was so weird. The next show I saw was Loverboy in Wichita, KS; I attended that show with a middle school friend (I don’t even remember her name). Her older brother and his buddy took us, and I distinctly remember how loud the stereo was in is car – I could feel the bass thumping through my chest while sitting in the back seat. I also bought my first concert shirt at this one, but sadly that shirt is long gone.
Concert # 3 was Rick Springfield in Rapid City, SD with my bestie Malinda. We dressed in similar outfits (but of course; we were 13) and we were certain that Corey Hart (the opening act) smiled at us as he sang “Sunglasses at Night.”
The Teen Years
Now I don’t remember the order of all the other shows, nor can I even begin to list all the other shows I saw as a teen, because those three were just the introduction to a life of music. I was fortunate enough as a middle school/high school student to have a dad who had easy access to free tickets so I ended up seeing a lot of shows, everything from AC/DC to REO Speedwagon, Neil Young, and Whitesnake.
Then I discovered Punk Rock. In the mid-eighties I had a particular fondness for 80’s hairbands, like the previously mentioned Whitesnake, as well as Quiet Riot, Great White, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Rat, and Skid Row. However, during that same time-period, I started to develop a taste for what was then called “New Wave.” I like the beat of the music, the styles of the artists, and the lyrics. The 80’s hairband lyrics weren’t really known for being overly deep or political, and I think I had some appreciation for the composition of the stories told by the New Wave musicians. The likes of Duran Duran, The Cure, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys, Tear for Fears, Oingo Boingo, Modern English, New Order, Human League, and many, many more artists were all over MTV at that time and their music was easy to find at the local record stores. (I know what you’re saying. “Hungry Like The Wolf” wasn’t deep or political. I know. I was generalizing.)
At some point around 1987-88 my bestie (Malinda, same gal who joined me at Rick Springfield) became friends with a guy who sang in a local punk rock band. We had seen the “punkers” around town, some of them went to our high school, were in Art Club, rode skateboards, and had funky hairdos. One friend of mine from middle school, Erin, even had a punk rock big sister! I thought it seemed like a cool group, but never thought I’d have a way “in.” Until Malinda met Doug, and then my life changed.
We began hanging out with a new group of people; kids who were more political than the jocks at our high school, who had thoughts and opinions that mattered. They were into art and good movies and being socially responsible. They also liked to party and have fun, but who doesn’t? These kids came from all walks of life, different schools, different countries, and had a vibe about them that was hard to put into words. They weren’t just cool. They were likeable. Other friends from our girlfriend group at school joined us and our circle of friends just got bigger and bigger. And we listened to live music all the time. With local punk rock bands living together in houses around town, you could always pop in to listen to a band practice. We knew the lyrics to all of our favorite songs, and when there were shows, we stood together in groups near the mosh pit to “sing” along. To this day, those are my people. This is the group of people with whom I have remained friends over the decades and across thousands of miles.
Seeing live music became the norm for me, it’s just that it wasn’t always a well-known act, and it usually only cost about $5 to get in. I saw Green Day for $5 in 1989 before they hit it big. And The Offspring, another band I paid under $10 to see eventually became another mainstream alt-rock band. It was fun to go to the shows, buy vinyl records or cassette tapes, t-shirts, and bumper stickers to support the bands. Sometimes the shows were benefits for local charities, so we were doing a good thing. And It was fun to hang out with the band members after the shows.
After I moved off to college in Minneapolis, I didn’t have the opportunity to hang out with local bands like I did in South Dakota; I didn’t know anyone in the area who was in a band, but that didn’t stop me from going to shows. Minneapolis is home to the well-known First Avenue and 7th Street Entry, a music venue made famous in the 80’s by Prince who used it for many scenes in the Purple Rain movie. I can’t tell you how many shows I saw during my residency in the Twin Cities, but I was at that venue a lot from 1990-1995 and even had my “bachelorette party” there the night before my wedding, as the main room was open as a dance club on the weekends if there was no concert scheduled.
It was during this time period in the early to mid 90’s that I started attending outdoor music festivals. I cannot remember what the very first one was, but I do remember camping out near Somerset, WI for Edgefest in 1994. This music festival was sponsored by the local alternative music radio station, The Edge. The Violent Femmes were the headliners. My friend Katrina and I took my younger cousin and his friend and camped out at the 2-day show. It was fun, but I do recall making fun of the “dress code” at the festival: all the girls were wearing bikini tops with shorts. Kat and I were not dressed like this, so of course we were highly critical of it. There were always small outdoor shows in the summer around the Twin Cities, and I also saw a couple rounds of Lollapalooza back when it used to tour with acts like Alice in Chains, Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, and Green Day. In fact I got my nose pierced at Lollapalooza in 1993 in St. Paul, MN. True story.
All of this musical activity came to a screeching halt in 1997 when I had my first child and my rock ‘n roll concert lifestyle went on hiatus for many years. I don’t recall attending a single concert or music festival at all from 1997 to 2001. The kids were little and we didn’t have much money to spend on entertainment, so enjoying music was limited to our extensive CD library at home. Several months after moving to Atlanta in 2001, I heard about a free outdoor concert series called The Bricks which was held at Centennial Olympic Park downtown in the summer. Ben Folds was playing, so we got a babysitter and went. It was fun, and I realized just how much I had missed the concert scene.
A few years later in 2006, my husband had the opportunity to go to Bonnaroo with a friend and came back from that adventure a changed man. He saw Radiohead and got into a giant bubble with some hippie chicks, had such a good time he went back again the following year even though his friend didn’t go. Then in 2009, he conned me into going with him. Bruce Springsteen, Phish and The Beastie Boys headlined that year.
The Fabulous 40’s
Here’s the difference between 40-something festival goers and the 20-somethings: we value comfort over adventure and we have enough money to support that. You won’t find us camping out in a tent at Bonnaroo – we took an RV with a bed, AC, refrigerator, and a shower. We’ve been to Voodoo Music Fest in New Orleans twice, and both times bought VIP tickets to ensure we had a tented seating area to enjoy cocktails, upgraded bathrooms, and a close-up viewing area of the main stage. Well worth the extra money. The other difference is you won’t find me running around in nothing but a bikini with a fanny pack and a crown of fake flowers on my head, because middle-age concert goers aren’t there to attract attention; we’re there to enjoy the music, food, and fun. Of course we do occasionally let our freak flags fly. At the Dave Matthews shows at the Gorge in Washington each year, there are theme days that require costumes. Participation is part of the fun.
In addition to Bonnaroo and Voodoo, we’ve been to many, many concerts and other festivals like Hang Out Music Festival in Gulf Shores (a music festival on the BEACH!), Shaky Knees in downtown Atlanta as well as Music Midtown, “Labor Dave Weekend” at The Gorge in Washington State. We have Sasquatch Festival, Coachella, and Glastonbury on the Festival Bucket List. And, if any good act that we both enjoy performs at Red Rocks, we will be there.
Hangout Music Fest, Gulf Shores 2015
Sometimes we’re some of the oldest folks in the crowd, like at Twenty One Pilots last year. Sometimes we’re with folks older than us, like during Ozzy at the Voodoo Music Festival several years ago. Sometimes we watch local favorites like Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans. And sometimes we check out new and different performers by taking in shows in the smaller tents or at the smaller stages, like Toubab Krewe. And sometimes we’re the parents with our kids at Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift.
We don’t quite have the endurance that the younger folks do. We’ve been known to duck out early to avoid the traffic, get out of the rain, or go to bed because we’re tired. We’ve even found restaurants near the festival grounds to enjoy a nice meal before or after the shows. This isn’t to say that you can’t get a good meal at a festival, in fact the quality of food has really improved over the years, thanks to the food truck craze. However, sometimes you just need to sit in a restaurant on a chair at a table instead of the ground under a shady tree.
I’m not sure what the next show will be, but whatever it is, it will be fun.
From Dave Matthews at The Gorge, September 2016