As you’ve previously read, I attended my first concert at the age of 13. I was privileged to see the five boys from Beantown: New Kids on the Block, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. There has never been a more wholesome concert or venue. The next several years of my life were dry of concert-going, but the summer I turned 17, I gifted tickets to my boyfriend for a festival called Livestock, which was held each year in Salt Lake City. That summer was one of the more difficult times in my teenage life. The aforementioned boyfriend, who was a couple years older than me, was going away to college. In my formative years, I was extremely co-dependent. That transitional July, I barely knew what I liked anymore (vegetarian pizza? RUSH? backyard hammocks?); because we dated throughout my junior year of high school and spent every waking moment together. He hadn’t formally broken-up with me yet, but the demise of the relationship was eminent. He decided he didn’t want to attend the festival, so after a failed attempt to sell the tickets, I took a friend instead. I was completely unprepared for the experience. Coolers were not allowed. I didn’t bring any water, or a method to shade myself. I didn’t bring any extra money, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have been enough. Water and food were airport-expensive. My friend ended up purchasing a frozen lemonade for me so that I wouldn’t pass out. (Thanks, Liza!) The bands who played were classic-rock types like Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foreigner. Mind you, this was the 1990s, not the 1970s, so these bands were washed up by the time I heard them sing about “takin’ care of business” and how their ladies were “cold as ice”. This was my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend’s music, not mine. At this miserable affair underneath an unforgiving sun, we sat on what used to be grass — but after years of foot traffic, was now dusty, air-sucking powder. I watched a child of approximately 10 years of age roll his own joint just a blanket away from us, and saw half-naked people coming away from the front of the stage battered and drenched in stank. Between the broken heart, the dehydration, and the gross music; this experience almost ruined my concert-going desires.
However, during my senior year in high school, I loved many bands too much to turn my back on live performances. In the mid-90s, you often had to cut school to obtain a wrist band at Smith’s Grocery Store. The lower the number on the wrist band, the greater your likelihood of receiving the best tickets for the show. I gave several freshmen rides to the grocery store during those school days so we could get our wristbands. Smith’s distributed their golden tickets through an outlet called Smith TIX. On the morning the tickets actually went on sale, you went back to the store to stand in a numerically ordered line, with the coveted number one wrist-band wearer gloating at the front.
During 1995-1996, I went to at least one concert every couple months. I sang along with Michael Stipe’s gravelly voice while he was losing his religion and telling us about the end of the world as we know it (he felt fine about it). I was never a Dead Head or even a huge fan of their music, but in the spring of 1995, I had the opportunity to see the Grateful Dead play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. The hippie/commune vibe before the concert was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and completely unlike all things Utah. There was a bearded man handing out pamphlets, and wearing a “Behind the Zion Curtain” t-shirt with a picture of the Angel Moroni (Moroni is an ancient Mormon prophet) emblazoned across the front, which was quite revolutionary to my Mormon-raised, 17-year-old mind. There were decorated vans and buses, and out of the backs of these vehicles, people sold grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade jewelry, t-shirts, and brownies. (I didn’t buy any baked goods, because I’m a germaphobe. I never for one moment thought, “Those definitely have pot in them.”) Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia were stage left and stage right. Listening to the Grateful Dead play was akin to attending the world’s largest jam session. Their music was mellow and unfettered. A few months later, Jerry Garcia died, which cemented in my mind that rock stars are more fallible than any of us.
My college years brought a whole slew of new music experiences. I received my four-year education at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. We often drove to Salt Lake for entertainment, and the first show I attended with my friends and roommates together was Oingo Boingo’s last tour. Danny Elfman’s voice is one of the most distinct sounds, the song writing is genius, and the horn arrangements aren’t annoying (as they are in Chicago’s arrangements), rather they carry a song. Boingo played for more than three hours, and did a couple encores, ending with “Goodbye, Goodbye”.
I first saw a 311 concert at the magnificent Saltair in the fall of 1995. Saltair is about a 20-minute drive west of Salt Lake City. It backs onto the shores of the lake itself in Magna, Utah. There is nothing within miles of the venue, just sea-like scent, the marina, and the pits at Kennecott. The building’s exterior looks like a Russian palace and the interior is open to a grand staircase with ratty carpet. All the shows were general admission, so if you liked looking down at the band from the balcony, you wanted to get there early to secure that space. I preferred to nestle in the back of the room, on the outskirts. During this era, 311 was touring to support their third record label studio album, which fans know as the blue album. Today, they have 13 studio albums, many which have gone gold or platinum. The enthusiasm was undeniable as my friends Rebecca, Aethea and I made our way to the venue, parked a mile away, and then bounced along as the beginning chords of “Welcome” hit our ears. My best friend Aethea is about five-foot six-inches tall, and if she had just eaten a meal, she weighed all of 110 pounds. Regardless of her stature, you could not dissuade her from the mosh pit. The mosh pit is where the straight-edgers went to prove they were tougher than the jocks. Most people in the mosh pit were males. They shoved, stomped and threw elbows; and some were three times Aethea’s size.
At this same venue, we saw a Primus concert. Aethea went into the pit at the beginning of the show, and I didn’t see her until the show ended. Her hair looked like she’d stuck her finger in a light socket, she was missing one Converse shoe and despite her twisted ankle, she had more energy than a child on Christmas morning. She was never deterred. She was the whirling dervish of the pit.
Trips to Salt Lake City were incomplete without a trip to The Pie Pizzeria. If you didn’t know where The Pie was, you wouldn’t be able to find it. (This was pre-GPS and everyone owning a smart phone.) Once you arrived at the back parking lot, you took a staircase down to the red-haze. There weren’t many tables and the walls were covered with writings of previous patrons: J+H / Rock On! / Jenny 867-5309eeeen. Truly a hole-in-the-wall establishment, or in this case, a hole in the ground. We usually ate before the concert, resulting in the entire car smelling like leftover garlicky Pull-A-Parts on the ride back to Ogden. Pull-A-Parts are the best, smelliest breadstick-like creations known to humankind. My dad cursed if I left them in the fridge at home, because the aroma took over the entire kitchen.
I could write for days about this topic: About seeing Jamie Cullum at the House of Blues, Jack Johnson at Usana Amphitheater, and Death Cab for Cutie at the Pool at The Cosmopolitan. But no experience is clearer or more significant to me than the Beastie Boys concert at The Joint at Hard Rock Las Vegas in 2006. I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, and my closest friends and concert companions lived out of state. I was the single mother of a first grader about to enter my third decade of life, but when the email hit my inbox from their fan club about a show taking place at The Joint in less than a week, I knew I had to go, even if I went alone — which is what I ended up doing. My favorite spot to stand at the old Joint venue was against the railing just a couple steps up from the main floor. At the time, The Joint felt quite intimate. There were three staggered levels. As you entered, the bar sat to your left at the back of the venue, and then opened to standing room beneath a low ceiling, two steps down, more standing room, two steps down, and the floor extends up to the stage. (They expanded and renovated several years ago, so it’s much larger today.) The instant the three guys from New York took the stage, their energy was infectious. They spit rhymes, wore their signature jumpsuits, and donned and removed sunglasses. When “Egg Man” was being delivered, a woman standing on the floor below me who was out-of-her-mind high or drunk was trying to “sing” along and was completely unable. Her gnarled face and dizzied expression reflected that not only did she not realize where she was, but she had probably never heard of the Beastie Boys. That’s something I still think about. To me, it was akin to being in the presence of greatness, experiencing something so magnificent, and having no clue. As the show was about to close, guitars were brought out for Ad-Rock and MCA, and Mike D took his place behind the drum kit. I was almost in tears. As they strummed “Gratitude” and I belted it out with them, life was perfect. Just a few years later, Adam Yauch (MCA) was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland. After recording a couple additional albums with the Beastie Boys, he passed away at the age of 47. An acute loss to music, and something I felt personally.
Concerts have always been about a deep connection between the artists, the music, and the listener. When I’m hearing live music, and taking in the positivity delivered by the artist, memories overwhelm me of times I heard the song previously: Driving to the high school, cruising the back roads of Ogden with my best friends, making our annual summer pilgrimage to Bear Lake, or crowding in my bedroom at my apartment. The lyrics of my three favorite MCs sum this up: “What’s gonna set you free? Look inside and you’ll see/When you’ve got so much to say/it’s called gratitude, and that’s right.”