People these days might find this terribly backward, but I was in college before I saw a live concert.
I mean a real concert, with a nationally known performer. I went to vocal and band concerts in high school, of course. I participated — unwillingly as some grade school boys can be — in elementary and junior high singing concerts. I think I played rhythm guitar in a high school dance band deal, but I was busy trying to figure out flats and sharps on the music sheet, so I mostly blocked that from my memory.
I read a news story the other day about how anxious folks are to get back to normal after the pandemic. In this story, normal meant going to big music concerts again. Apparently it’s been hard for some people not to be able to attend musical superstars giving live performances in arenas and theaters.
I’ve missed a lot of things in this COVID-19 world. Live music shows hasn’t been one of them. I guess I’m not cut out for crowd scenes. Besides my hearing these days is so quirky that when the bands crank up, it about blows the doors off my assistive devices. I get some squeaking at high volumes. I imagine every concert would sound like Spinal Tap if they turned their amps up to 12.
When I played in a dance band, I used to feel superior to the old fella who would come up and ask if we’d turn the volume down. “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,’’ I’d think to myself, chuckling. I’m afraid I’ve become that old fella. I deal with it by that sometimes maligned coping mechanism known as avoidance. Until our older son bought us tickets to see the Dark Star Orchestra at Red Rocks in Colorado a couple of years ago, I hadn’t been to a live music show since Willie Nelson over in Brookings years ago. Willie was great, but the band was, dare I say, kind of loud. I didn’t get that feeling at Red Rocks with Dark Star. The music was loud, but somehow it drifted into the Colorado sky and sounded pretty good to me.
Anyway, being part of a farm family in the 1950s, I grew up not expecting to go to concerts or many other places. Before we started living in town for the school term, I expected not to go anywhere. Dad went to Reliance once, maybe twice, a week to the co-op, but the rest of us went only on Sunday for church. Reliance was eight miles from the farm. It might as well have been 800.
A trip to Chamberlain in those days — 18 or 20 miles — was a big deal. Mitchell? That was 70 miles, and we planned one of those trips as carefully as if we were heading out for a month of survival training. You get the picture. Kids in my day didn’t expect to go anyplace. As a freshman at Creighton, I met a Chicago kid who drove an hour to pick up his girl for a date. What?
Times change. Cars and roads are better, opportunities are more plentiful, and people just expect to be able to get to places for shopping, dining, sports events and live music. I’ll never forget a time when our older son played tennis in high school. At a meet in Huron, a kid from Sioux Falls was talking about having spent a week at Wimbledon in London the previous summer. Imagine, London. When I was that kid’s age, I knew London from stories and movies about the Blitz in World War II.
Early in my year at Creighton, a classmate and I got tickets for Johnny Cash. George Jones was on the bill, too. I liked George, but I liked best that Luther Perkins with the Tennessee Three was picking guitar for Johnny, and that the concert was in Omaha’s civic arena only six or seven blocks from campus. The show was so good I walked home knowing I’d be content if I never experienced anything like that again.
Then I saw the flier for Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson at the arena.