Thursday, September 06, 2007

Magical Concert Moments

James Taylor is coming to VCU's Siegal Center on October 20th, and I'm trying to rally some folks together to go. So far I've got a couple siblings and a couple of friends who are interested, but no one has committed a definite "yes", yet. I'll have to rattle some cages soon, before all the tickets are gone.

I love me some Sweet Baby James, and I've seen him in concert several times. My first JT concert was back in college in '86 or '87. (Ouch, I'm old.) He played at JMU's Wilson Hall auditorium, a fairly small venue, and because my friends & I had lined up early enough for tickets, we were seated very close to the stage. It was an incredibly intimate concert, as if he were playing at a local pub, for just a few fans -- the very best way to see JT.

Earlier that day of the concert, my friends and I were walking by Wilson Hall on our way to dinner when we heard music coming from inside. We managed to peek through an open window, and saw JT himself warming up and doing a sound check. Singing sweetly to an empty room, with nary a fan around, except the sound man and us interlopers at the window. An incredibly thrilling, magical moment that made that evening's concert all the more special.

During the fall of my sophomore year at college, some friends & I learned that Bruce Springsteen was coming to the Hampton Coliseum in January. So, the next logical step, of course, was for us to camp out all night in front of the local ticket seller's door, to ensure we got seats. Our bed that night was a cold, hard sidewalk at Southside Plaza in November, which we shared with at least 100 other Bruce fans. (I'm still amazed that my mother allowed me to do that. It's nothing I'd let a kid do nowadays. Not in that neighborhood.) That all-night ticket-stalking campout turned out to be an experience all its own. There was a true sense of camaraderie among the crowd, as people swapped concert stories and played bootleg concert tapes into the wee hours.

We were cranky with lack of sleep by the time the ticket seller's doors opened the next morning, but, by gosh, we got our tickets. And the concert in January was amazing. That man and his E-Street Band puts out a 3-hour, adrenaline-pumped experience that made every minute on that cold, hard sidewalk in November worthwhile.

Here are my friends and fellow Bruce fans, "celebrating" in the car before the concert:

Good times.
Our tickets were for nosebleed seats which we certainly enjoyed, but during the concert intermission we managed to find friends with floor seats, and so squeezed in with them, without security being any wiser. And during his performance of Dancing in the Dark, I stood up on a seat and took pictures of Bruce with a smuggled-in camera. The Boss then proceeded to create the next magical moment in my life by pointing at me while he sang the lyric, "Hey there, baby...":

"...I could use just a little help...."
To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement. It was 22 years ago, and remembering it still thrills me today. The fact that I was able to snap the shutter at the exact moment he pointed at me was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. So what if it's little over-exposed. I know he was pointing at me, even it's not crystal clear to anyone else.

(You'll have to forgive the low quality of the above photos -- they are actually pictures of pictures, as my scanner/printer is unavailable whilst I'm without a functional desktop PC. And no, I've not made a final PC decision yet, but I do know it will be a Dell XPS system, and I'm leaning towards Windows Vista. I'll more than likely place my order on Saturday.)

Anyway, I have one final magical concert moment to share, and it actually has nothing to do with the performing artist. At least not directly. Once again, it took place during the 1980's. (Ahhh, that sweet, sweet decade of my youth.) I was working at a central Virginia amusement park as an EMT for their First Aid station, and at times the job required the occasional medical standby at various concerts held at their amphitheater.

One particular concert was given by Amy Grant, a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter whom I'd never seen before. The opening act (whom I can't remember) performed their music and left the stage, and the crowd became expectant for Amy to appear. And waited. And waited. I watched from my position standing near the gate to backstage, and the crowd of about 10,000 was getting a little restless as the time between acts stretched longer and longer. I found out later from my colleagues that during the lengthy delay, Amy had been brought up to the First Aid building to be examined and treated by the nurse for a wicked-sore throat. And I heard the news with the rest of the concert crowd that the show was to be canceled -- Amy was too sick to perform.

Here we go, I thought. Bring out the SWAT team and the tear gas -- we've got a potential riot on our hands. I had seen the unruly crowds that performers like Luther Vandross, Jimmy Buffett and Patti LaBelle attracted to that venue. I was working the evening that a concert-goer was shot at one of those events. And I was there (attending, not working) when a drunk concert-goer hit Jimmy Buffett in the head with a beer can, after which he promptly stopped the show and walked off the stage. No good can come of this latest announcement, I thought. I've seen it first-hand -- concert-goers don't handle disappointment well.

But I misjudged this crowd. After the announcement was made and the ticket-reimbursement instructions were explained, the arena became very quiet. There were no angry shouts or even grumbles. Instead of immediately filing out in bitter disappointment, thousands of people remained where they were sitting, and in front me, all around the amphitheater, they formed circles, held hands, bowed their heads and prayed for the well-being of Amy Grant. I had never seen anything like it, and it was so spontaneous and unexpected, it moved me almost to tears. I still well up now, as I write about it. That experience permanently changed the very core of me.

Amy did make a full recovery and came back later that same season to perform her postponed show. Many of those original concert-goers held on to their tickets and came back again to see her. I worked that new show and it was a lovely experience -- the performer, the music, the crowd. Definitely a refreshing change from the beer-soaked crowds of other shows.

And so I look forward to another magical experience with James Taylor this October. Even if it's just enjoying another great rendition of Fire & Rain from the comfort of my nosebleed seat.

Do you have any magical concert moments?


Bess said...

Yes Yes yes! But much smaller and more intimate than yours. I was in Charlottesville when Solisti de Zagreb was performing - a string orchestra with no conductor, led, as in classical times, by the concert master. They were utterly magnificent and at intermission I walked back stage - which was really down stairs, where the musicians were assembled.

When I walked in with stary eyes and a glowing face the entire orchestra turned to face me. suddenly the concert master smiled and pointed to my throat, where the little violinist scar wrinkled red, just below my chin.

"Violinist!" he shouted and wrapped his arms around me. They knew one of their own.


Courtney said...

I love James Taylor! I actually got to meet him once. I was at Tanglewood one summer and he came and did a talk for the young musicians at the festival. My friend Suzy, the least shy person I know, insisted that we get our picture taken with him. Unfortunately, we had a concert of our own at the same time has his concert, so I never got to hear him live. Someday. Have fun at the concert!

lemmie said...

I love James Taylor too! I wish I could go but I'll be in Milwaukee for a conference (yes, Milwaukee in October is not as much fun as James Taylor!)

Robin said...

I love me some JT!

Melanie said...

Just remember, he may have pointed at you, but Bruce is still mine.

Krista said...

I'll never forget Elton John alone with his piano and a drummer. It was 1993. I went with my boyfriend Jimmy (who recently passed away). The tickets were his birthday present from his parents. First rock concert I ever went to. It was October in Dallas on an outdoor stage. It was magical. Thanks for reminding me and sharing your stories Mary!

Having a Knit Fitt said...

Janis Joplin at the Fillmore East in 1968.