As you may remember, last year I was supposed to take my nephew, Daniel, to a Van Halen concert. I had tickets in hand when the show was first postponed and then cancelled. It would have been Daniel’s first “real” concert. (Not including when a band plays after a ballgame.)
I was really hoping I could be a part of the boy’s first concert, which is a huge Rite of Passage. I was thinking about that today, when my thoughts turned to my own first concert experiences. And yes, that’s plural, because I kind of had Concert 1A and 1B. Let me explain…
When I was in high school, a lot of my classmates went to concerts but I never did. They seemed so mysterious and fraught with peril; I was extremely hesitant to go to one myself. Besides that, I had didn’t really have anyone close enough to attend with, like someone who had been to one before. Lastly, I was a musical neophyte, in that I didn’t really know that much about rock music. I was a sort of musical lightweight at the time, so there wasn’t anyone I was particularly eager to go see.
I got my concert cherry broken the summer after we graduated. This was the Summer of The Barn, aka, the best times of my young life. By this time, I had 4 solid buddies and place for us all to hang out. When they announced the Toledo Speedway Jam, my buddy Billy G decided we should go.
The Speedway Jam was a big outdoor rock festival, featuring multiple bands. In 1979, the show featured, Eddie Money, Molly Hatchet, The Outlaws, and Blue Oyster Cult, as well as a couple other lesser opening bands. They played a daylong show on the concrete infield of the Toledo Motor Speedway.
A couple years later, that lineup would have been right in my wheelhouse, but at the time, Eddie Money was the only one knew. I thought Molly Hatchet might have been a girl. I knew the song “Godzilla” by BOC, but that was it.
Nevertheless, Rik and I decided to go along with Bill and see the show, and it all would have been fine if we just showed up that morning and went to the show. But Billy had a better idea: he wanted to go the night before and party all night in the parking lot. Being teenaged boys, we thought that was a great idea.
Two hours into our time in the parking lot, we began wondering what the hell we were thinking. There was absolutely nothing to do. We hadn’t brought chairs, blankets, or anything that would offer comfort or distraction. Sleeping was nearly impossible. Aside from three dudes trying to get comfortable in a freakin’ Chevy Vega, all the hooting and hollering from the rest of the drunks kept us wide-awake.
There was one chick that kept shouting “Rock ‘n Rooooolll… Rock ‘n Roooollll…” All. Fucking. Night. Long. It got so that when this big fight broke out between some guy and girl, I was totally hoping it was the Rock ‘n Roll girl, so that maybe she’d storm off and shut the hell up. But no such luck.
Next morning, we made a bleary-eyed shuffle into the Speedway to go stake out a spot. Yeah, real comfy, sitting on a concrete slab for a couple of hours. But it was a beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky. At first. You know, there’s a thin line between “a beautiful day,” and “the burning, oppressive sun beating down on your tired, hung-over self.” We also learned that our omission of “ice” left all our leftover beer undrinkable.
Eventually the bands started to play, and that’s when the nice civilized sitting-on-the-ground atmosphere morphed into a pushing, surging, sweat-infested crowd, intent on reaching the front of the stage by shoving through anything planted between Point A and Point B.
The shows were OK. The openers went on too long (for me), I knew a couple of Eddie Money songs, and Molly Hatchet turned out to be a shaggy Southern Rock group. (One of the guitarists sported a t-shirt that said, “Give Me Head.” Subtle.)
About six hours into the “fun,” as Hatchet faded into The Outlaws (of whom I had also never heard), we were thirsty, over-heated, sunburned, and I had a cracking headache. We decided that the elements had gotten the better of us and decided to bail. We never did see Blue Oyster Cult.
On the way home, we stopped at a 7-11 for some drinks. I got a couple bottles of Grape Crush and let me tell you this… that first one was the best drink I ever had in my life. I think I knocked it almost all the way back, like they do in commercials. When I got home, I took an actual bath… probably the last bath I’ve ever taken… and nursed the second Grape Crush. I was absolutely spent.
Like I said, it was a shame I saw that show when (and how) I did. In the coming years, I became a fan of all of those bands. I saw Eddie Money a couple more times when he was playing with someone else I wanted to see… once opening for Cyndi Lauper once, and with Warren Zevon open for him. I saw BOC with Dokken and Aldo Nova opening, when they were touring with the big Godzilla monster. (‘Zilla or not, Aldo Nova almost smoked them off the stage.) I saw Molly Hatchet play the Toledo Sports Arena, with Blackfoot opening… that was the night I met Blackfoot and spent the evening at the bar, drinking with their drummer. I never did get to see the Outlaws though, so I missed the epic glory “Green Grass and High Tides,” live.
It figures that Billy was involved in my next concert experience. It was over a year after the Speedway, and Bill was back from Georgia to visit, when Elton John tickets went on sale.
I used to like Elton John in the early/mid 70s, but I kind of drifted away as he got weirder and weirder. But he was having a resurgence in 1980 and touring again on his new hit, “Little Jeannie.” Meanwhile, the previous summer, Bill introduced me to the “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road” album. Well, I knew the hits from that album, but there was so much more on it that I never knew.
We were hanging out up in his room, playing records, when I first heard “Funeral for a Friend.” I fell in love with it immediately, with the long instrumental intro, which segued into “Love Lies Bleeding.” (A few years later, I actually wrote a college paper on the imagery that the instrumental part brought out of me.)
The next cut was “Candle in the Wind,” and that one nailed me right between the eyes. Remember, at that time, it was just an album cut. It never really got famous until the 80s, when the live version became a single. But it made me totally reconsider Marilyn Monroe as the sad, tragic figure we now know.
So even though Bill wouldn’t be there for the show, he wanted to make sure our buddy Brill and I got to see him. He also wanted us to go camp out at the record store, the night before the tickets went on sale. With my hard-won experience the prior year, there was no way I was going to go sleep in the car again, so we settled on showing up at 6 in the morning.
When we rolled in, our presence moved a handful of other people to get out of their cars, and start the line. We were probably 5th or 6th in line, not that it really mattered. Remember that this was before Ticketmaster, and the various ticket outlets, usually record stores or head shops, were given a stack of physical tickets. Your seats would be in whatever group the ticket outlet had been given. Regardless, we got our seats, without issue, after only a couple of hours in line.
It was funny, too, that a couple of years later, I’d be working at that same record store, although they had, alas, stopped selling tickets.
This was the first “real” concert to me, because it had the traditional atmosphere. You know… having seats, for one, but having the lights go down, with that insane atmosphere of anticipation.
Our seats were on the side of the stage, to the right (if you were looking at it.) I was so excited about getting to see such a Legend; someone whose body of work I knew pretty well. So when the lights went down, we noticed that we could see the steps that lead up to the stage. There was a flurry of activity down there, and then we saw the band taking the stage, mostly from the waist down, due to the low-level lighting. There were these skinny little spandex-wrapped bird legs hopping up the steps, followed by one set of stumpy spandex-wrapped legs below a big fat ass… we were like, “Gaaaah! That’s Him!”
With the hall still dark, we heard the unmistakable opening to “Funeral for a Friend,” and I nearly lost my shit. The man was opening with my favorite song, one that I wasn’t sure he’d even play at all.
As I (vaguely) recall, he played all of his hits in what was a thoroughly enjoyable show. In fact, I had such a good time; I went to over 100 more concerts, either with friends, or alone. Sometimes, a boy’s just gotta “Rock ‘n Rooooollll.”
So, how was your first concert?
So, how was your first concert?
Director’s DVD Commentary: Of course I still have the ticket stubs. I knew I had them; the trick was finding them in this cigar box, which not only has all my concert ticket stubs, but my sporting event stubs as well. The things I do for you…
I keep telling myself that one day, I’ll put all of these into some kind of album. But this is me, not holding my breath.