I have a lot of notes on my iPad for future stories; things that happened or topics I want to document, basically everything I can remember and anything I think my kids might like to enjoy reading after I’m gone. This story is being started the night before a Wailin’ Jennys concert in Grass Valley, California. California has a lot of small towns whose residents support the local arts and artists. Grass Valley does a decent job of attracting a few major names, (oh, and it’s home to Kenny Bania of Seinfeld – we saw him open for Paul Reiser there). We also saw the Jennys two years ago at The Crest in Sacramento and fell in love with their voices.
Music means a lot to me. I’m sure it doesn’t mean as much as it does to people who make their living in the business, but according to Marilu Henner one of our senses are dominant in that it the dominant sense aids our memories. When I read her book, (Total Memory Makeover), there was a test that helped me determine which of my senses was the guiding sense. My son Tim’s was smell and my wife’s was touch. Mine was sound. My taste for music is wide, but not necessarily what you might call eclectic. I like most from Bluegrass, like Alison Krause, to Eminem. I confess that I don’t like most rap, but I do like Eminem.
Sometimes though music drives me nuts because I have a song in my head almost constantly. It can be very annoying during an activity that demands concentration, like golf. Several will get triggered during the day depending on whatever’s going on at the time. In fact, after I passed a professional certification in 2000, I took up guitar lessons so that I could write some songs. I’d always had tunes popping into my head and never mentioned it to anyone, not even my wife. I just thought everyone did.
But anyway, we have attended a lot of concerts and continue to take in several each year. So here’s a list. I don’t think it’s complete as I’m sure I’m forgetting several, but these all stick out in my memory banks for one reason or another. They’re not in any particular order.
Although my very first concert attended, (with my girlfriend, one day to become the star of the Kim Saga series), was Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare (link), my wife and I first gelled on groups like the Isley Brothers and Heart. Kim introduced me to the Isley Brothers, Pat Benetar and Madonna before Madonna was mainstream.
I think the second concert we attended together was after my disastrous attempt to see Foreigner, written about in this story (link); Led Zeppelin in April of 1977. I recall it being sunny and 100+ degrees. We were all miserable waiting for the coliseum to open the single set of doors. During the wait, the crowd would shift many in multiple directions and we would struggle to stay on our feet, avoiding trampling. Sadly, in 1979 in the exact same spots we were trying to stay erect in, eleven children lost their lives waiting to get in to see The Who. My brother Mike, (link), attended this one and lived to tell about it thankfully. Led Zeppelin was the loudest concert I ever attended. My ears rang for two hours after it was over. I’m sure that wasn’t good for our hearing.
I saw ELP (Emerson Lake & Palmer) in Cincinnati and it was the first, (and only), time I ever smoked hash. I don’t recommend it. All I wanted to do was sleep and I don’t recall a single thing about the concert other than who I went with – Dana McCormick (provider of the hash), Desiree (my girlfriend at the time), and Leonard who was written about in this story (link).
Kim and I saw Linda Ronstadt at Miami University in 1980 on her Mad Love tour. We were with my parents who had purchased the tickets as a birthday present and we used a pair of binoculars given to us as a Cristmas present. We still have those and use them. They’re American made and in like new condition.
We’ve seen Heart maybe 6-7 times, the first being in Cincinnati in 77 or 78 when Roger Fisher was still in the band. The last time we enjoyed them was once last year in Lincoln, CA with friends here. They were playing at the outdoor casino arena. Our friends were surprised that Nancy could still kick her leg up above her head, (and Ann sounded as awesome as ever). Ann’s voice has given me goosebumps on numerous occasions and no one plays rock covers like they do. From Foo Fighters to Led Zeppelin, they’re amazing.
Worse sounding group I remember has to be Exile in perhaps 1979 or so. After only ten minutes I wanted to put them into exile, away from my ears, (which I’m surprised did not bleed from the poor playing).
One of the funnest visual memories would be a concert we attended in 1982 at Miami University in Oxford. Go-Go’s performed and A Flock of Seagulls opened for them at Millett Hall for Miami’s Homecoming in 1982. Both bands played very well but what sticks out is that during Our Lips are Sealed, they flashed lights up into the upper levels of the balcony where we could see perhaps 30-50 young girls all skipping back and forth through the aisles to the rhythm of the song – cute memory.
We saw Pat Benatar in Cincinnati early in her career. A large bolt fell down from the ceiling, hitting a person in front of us. Luckily it didn’t hit squarely on the head but it was enough to scare us all. While Pat sang her heart out, we were anxious to leave. This was not too long after The Who incident so I think we were a little on edge. At least festival seating was banned after the kids were killed at the Who concert. Everything was assigned and many more doors were opened. Isn’t it always the case that a traffic light is installed ‘after’ someone is killed in the busy intersection? We saw Pat perform again here in Sacramento in 2005. It was a greatest hits tour and we were less than 20 feet from her. It was outside and hot, but we didn’t care. She rocked and Neil can still play that guitar. Sadly, on neither outing did I get to hear her sing my favorite song – I’m Gonna Follow You.
Kim and I both like the Indigo Girls a lot and we’ve seen them maybe five times. I really enjoy good, solid acoustic performances and we both love the songs and how well Amy and Emily harmonize with each other. I must be jinxed because, again, out of all those performances I have yet to hear my favorite of theirs performed, Kid Fears. The studio recording has Michael Stipe of REM singing background vocals.
Did I mention Norah Jones yet? We saw her before she became popular with Don’t Know Why as she was an opener one year in Dayton, Ohio at an Indigo Girls concert we took in.
Ask me which performer I would love to see an exact repeat performance of, go ahead ask; Fiona Apple at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati, March 9, 2000. Yup! Perhaps I went in with less than stellar expectations because of rumors that she could be a brat, but her voice was spot on, her playing and the band’s playing was outstanding, she was personable and she even did some interpretive dancing. It was an amazing evening and I would love to relive it.
Alison Krauss with Dan Tyminski is another we’ve seen on multiple occasions, all times always been thrilled with the performances. I highly recommend seeing them if you get the chance.
In 2003 at the Taft in Cincinnati, we saw Jackson Browne. He walked out onto the stage and took a seat in the chair waiting there. After the applause and the greetings, he said – ok, what do you want to hear? And with that the crowd shouted out 20 different tunes. He heard one he liked and picked up one of the ten guitars sitting there waiting for him. When completed, he said ok, what’s next? And the evening went on like that all night. He must have played for two straight hours. I recall on one occasion, he heard what must have been an obscure song he hadn’t played forever because he asked himself, ‘hmm, let me see if I can remember how that one goes’. After a couple of minutes, he convinced himself he had it and went on to do the song. I was shocked at the memory recall. Another great and memorable evening.
Speaking of Jackson, here in Jackson, CA we saw a great acoustic solo set by Jewel. Yes, she shared the ‘living in the cars and growing up in Alaska stories’, but they were all entertaining and she was really very funny how she could poke fun at herself and make the audience realize that we really are all the same. I walked out not only feeling like I had heard great song writing, but also feeling like I knew a little bit more about her than I expected I would. I’d go see her again.
Slaid Cleaves – I bet that’s a name you’ve not heard of in the music biz. I heard him interviewed on NPR one day and just had to look him up. I bought a CD and was thrilled with it. To my surprise, I saw he was touring and was to come to Grass Valley a couple of years ago. My wife Kim went in with very low expectations and was really pleased by what she heard. He was funny, melodic and sang really great tunes to a sold out crowd who loved him so much they bought out every single CD he had brought to sell!
A local artist from San Francisco Bay Area we saw up in Grass Valley was a lady by the name of Nicki Bluhm. You won’t hear her on your Pandora or iTunes I’m sure, but she was great and Kim liked her so well that she wanted a CD to listen to in the car. It was one of those nights I took a gamble and it paid off.
I wouldn’t be a good Cincinnatian if I hadn’t attended at least one Jimmy Buffett concert. Check – oops, but it wasn’t in Cincinnati, it was down south at LSU when we lived in Louisiana – January 18, 1992. The parrot-head outfits were out in full force.
Another one we associate with our Louisiana experience is Mary Chapin Carpenter. She’s the only performer we saw in all three states we lived in. Her last performance we saw was in Grass Valley, performing with Marc Cohn.
Do you remember Little Texas? My wife’s brother Kevin used to be friends with Brady Seals who was once a key player in the group. During Kevin’s visit with us in Louisiana, he saw that Alexandria had a decent sized bar and mentioned to Brady that they ought to check it out while on tour. These were the days when Little Texas were just getting started. I think they might have had a song in the country top forty at the time.
Dixie Chicks came to Sacramento and played in the big arena. Luckily these days the big arenas all have large projector screens else we would have to rely on the handy dandy binoculars to see them. Hearing them was no issue – they were great.
Did you grow up on the Beatles, but never got to hear the Beatles? You’re not alone. Welcome to the club with several hundred million members. No problem though when there is the Fab Four. We enjoyed them at the Crest in Sacramento. They each adopted accents for their roles, their personalities and ‘Paul’ even learned to play the bass guitar left handed. If you like the Beatles and get the chance to see these guys do their thing, do so.
We saw Devo open for Blondie a couple of years ago right here only two miles from our house. Blondie was the main event and they were good…but Devo was GREAT! Devo went through multiple costume changes, had a great visual show and their playing was immaculate, a well oiled artistic machine. Like Fiona Apple, Devo delivered much more than I expected and I’d love to see them again.
Last year, Cyndi Lauper did a 30-year anniversary tour of the She’s So Unusual album and she strutted herself here in Sacramento at The Crest. We had seen her perform at the Taft in 2004 in Cincinnati and really enjoyed her. At the Taft she was climbing up the large speakers and we were really worried she might fall off and break a hip. Luckily she didn’t and at the Crest she was a bit less acrobatic. The concert was very special though as they performed every single song on the album and before each song, she’d tell the story associated with each song. For example, if you’re not familiar with the album, there happens to be a song about a sensitive topic, (hint – it’s a private thing that everyone does to themselves and it makes them feel good). The writer of the song called Cyndi one day and asked hey, would you like to be the first person to sing a hit about (this private thing)? And apparently, that’s how She Bop came to be.
I’m sure you’ve never heard of Jeffrey Steele either but he was the CMA (Country Music Association) writer of the year twice. In one three year period alone, he had 60 songs of his recorded by big name artists. He has looks, the voice, plays a mean guitar and writes fantastic songs with feeling. When I was associated with the Cincinnati chapter of the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) he came up from Nashville one day for a little seminar and free performance in a little hole in the wall called the Clermont Inn in Batavia, Ohio.
Did you ever want to take the L out of lover or wonder what anyone would do without me and you? Well then you should have joined me, less than a mile from my home at a little hole in the wall called The Boardwalk two years ago for Martha Davis of the Motels for a sweet little late night performance. She’s still got it!
If you remember reading this story (link) then you know that all I got to hear of Foreigner was the beginning of Headknocker. It was the best concert I never saw.
When I was writing crappy songs I took in a couple of seminars in Nashville. The best thing about those was getting personal exposure to great songwriters like Steve Seskin, James Dean Hicks, Hugh Priestwood and David Allen Coe. At the end of the week, they’d do a good old fashion ‘guitar pool’ at one of the local bars for our entertainment. A guitar pool is when they form a circle and go round the circle, taking turns performing a song. All of the really great songwriters seem to also be pretty decent performers themselves. Angela Kaset’s ‘Break my Heart’ gave me goosebumps (could not find that one on YouTube).
My wife has always loved Bob Seger. She finally got to see him this year when I bought two box seat gift tickets at the Sleeptrain Arena here in Sacramento. He had a 14 piece band and backup singers and put on one heck of a show. Now, turn the page please.
A couple of these things I saw by myself when Kim was traveling back to Ohio to see her folks. One example was the time I went to the Bluegrass Music Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. The group I liked best was a female band named Della Mae. I bought a cd and still listen to it now and again.
On another recent occasion when Kim was out of town, I saw that a group of local artists were doing two evenings of Steely Dan music. I went in with not too high expectations and was very pleased to find a group of seasoned musicians. The singer of course didn’t sound all that close to Donald Fagen but the music was really, really good. The guitarist and saxophone player were standouts. I went on a Friday night and almost got in the car to drive the hour again on Saturday. That’s how much I enjoyed them.
I took my Mom to see Phantom of the Opera in Cincinnati. Kim and I saw a couple of symphonies over the years, we saw Jesus Christ Superstar her in Sacramento and also Aida, starring the daughter of a good friend of Kim’s, an ER nurse back in Hamilton. Two years ago I took in a young violin virtuoso up in Auburn when Kim was out of town, a young lady named Ji in Yang who was incredible to listen to.
Another not many of you has heard about, (but should), is a lady named Jennifer Knapp. She was a lesbian in hiding, performing Christian pop music. I stumbled across her Christian music by accident and fell in love with her as her writing style and amazing chops sucked me in to her tunes. Several years later she totally dropped out of the scene, leaving the state’s to live in New Zealand for a time. She came out of hiding to announce her true self on the Larry King show a few years ago. Shortly afterwards I had a business trip in Cincinnati when Jennifer was doing a free talk and play in Indianapolis so I left a day early just to attend that and am so glad I did. I sat in the front pew and left her a bit speechless with a compliment after she played this song
I said – that alone was worth the seven year wait (she wasn’t ready for that one).
I’m not the only one who’s seen a couple on his own as my wife has taken in Cher in Vegas with a close friend as well as the first Lillith Fair where she enjoyed the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Sheryl Crow.
Another performer we had the pleasure of seeing recently, (twice in fact), was Crystal Bowersox. Gone were the dreadlocks as well as the shoes when she put on great performances to sold out crowds in Napa and Grass Valley. Her voice gave me goosebumps on a couple of occasions. What a nice story she makes and what an incredible voice.
Along the way we also took in several appearances by our oldest son Mitch as he’s been involved with several different bands. He’s good friends with JT of Hawthorne Heights and still tries to stay connected to the music scene as much as can be expected when a person has a full time day job too. This is our boy entertaining himself one day at his house.
October 2015 Update:
I got the opportunity to see one of my current favorite rock bands perform at one of the best venues in the world, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Unless you’re a Garbage fan, you may not know of Garbage but if you like catchy grunge pop/rock tunes then for sure you know of them. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary of the release of their very first album. They played every single song on the album along with a few cool lesser known tunes. Shirley Manson was fabulous that night and the band really rocked. The coolest aspect was that I got to attend with my oldest son who had business in LA. He’s a music fan and is a big fan of the drummer, Butch Vig. I love so many of their songs, it’s hard to pick a favorite so instead I think I will provide you with my favorite video of theirs…before there was American Horror Story, there was this video (nice quote from the comments section)
Attending live performances is one of my favorite things to do, if not ‘the’ favorite. I could easily see myself living out my last decade in a place like Grass Valley, attending a performance every week. I know I’ve missed a concert or two in this list, but for the most part, these are those that I recall the easiest. I tried to find links to songs that I think most of you have not had the pleasure of hearing live and I hope you take the time to listen to them.
Music is like food – there are many different tastes out there and none are ‘the best’. The best is in the ear of the beholder. One thing I learned myself while I was writing crappy little songs is that there is a song in all of us. Every single amateur songwriter I met in those days has at least one song in their repertoire, a song worth hearing. I encourage you give it a try sometime and see if you can find your song.
I leave you with this thought:
What would you give for your kid fears?
August 2016 Update:
My oldest boy invited me to the Guns N Roses world tour. Sober Axl and Slash?? How could anyone not attend that? The stadium was pretty much sold out as I’d estimate a good 40,000 people in attendance. They played for 2 hrs and 45 minutes. Slash was absolutely incredible and Axl, although losing a tad, could still belt them out and put on a great show. It was definitely worth staying up way past my normal bedtime for!
December 2016 Update:
While cleaning out my attic, I found a couple hundred ticket stubs for plays, concerts, sporting events and other events. I had forgotten that I had these saved. When I looked through them, I noticed a couple of concerts attended, but forgotten. Janis Ian we saw in Feb of 2004 at Miami in Hamilton. Natalie Merchant we saw at Taft in Cincinnati in 2001. James Taylor in ’96 at Riverbend in Cincinnati (how could I forget sweet baby James?). Also in ’96 we saw Trisha Yearwood with Kim Richey (really good first album she has too). There’s even a few musical opera stubs and believe it or not, a stub for Dayton’s Philharmonic playing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth (I’m so cultured).