27 March 2011

Top Five Favorite Concerts

A friend of mine is on yet another High Fidelity kick and posted his five favorite concerts on Facebook and has asked others to follow suit.  It's actually kind of troublesome for me.  For six years, from 1998 until 2004, I was a concert fiend.  A local club, Coyote's Music and Dance Hall, frequently had up-and-coming country acts perform free of charge.  Each Spring they held a weekly, "New Faces of Country" series.  I even saw a few shows in other cities.  Twice, for instance, my friends and I had gone to Chicago and took in a concert while we were there.  Brooks & Dunn's Neon Circus and Wild West Show tour, which ran from 2001 through 2003, never came to Louisville.  I attended a show all three years, though, by going to Nashville, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

I spent $130, plus fan club membership, to not see this guy.
It was the summer of 2005 when Crohn's disease fully entered my life and began putting a stop to my concert-going ways.  I hadn't seen Kenny Chesney in concert since he was one of the middle acts on George Strait's Country Music Festival tour in 1999.  In the intervening years, Chesney had established himself as a big star with his own aesthetics (many have tired of his Caribbean-influenced style, but I still dig it).  I was curious to see what kind of show he put on now that he was a headliner, and I knew that it would sell out quickly.  See, there for a while, Chesney concluded his annual tours in Louisville...at the Kentucky State Fair.  I've gone to a few concerts at the Fair, but by and large I hate going there; it's a traffic nightmare unlike no other and I tire very quickly of the exhibitions.  I'd just as soon go to concerts independent of all that nonsense, but the economics of concerts being what they are, the lion's share of big shows that come to Louisville have been as part of the Fair.

Anyway, I joined Chesney's fan club to ensure that I could have a pre-order offer on tickets.  I was right to bother; the tickets sold out pretty quickly once they were opened up to the general public.  The day of the concert, though, which I remember distinctly was a somewhat rainy Sunday, my guts were aggravated.  It was pretty obvious I couldn't leave the apartment to sit in a ton of traffic and contend with that size crowd between myself and the frequently overcrowded restrooms.  I hated to do it, but I turned over the tickets to a friend of ours who lived in the same apartment building.  She eventually repaid me (it wasn't fair at all to expect her to have $130 on the spot, and I trusted her not to stiff me on the tickets), and I was glad that she got to go, as she was an even bigger Chesney fan than I was.  She seemed to have a good time, and I'm still glad I was able to facilitate her attendance.  Still, there's a part of me that resents my stupid guts; that was supposed to have been my good time.  I have rarely bought tickets in advance to a concert since, fearing that I won't be able to go, or find someone last minute to take the tickets off my hands.

Around the same time that my guts began to be a problem, Louisville renovated a section of Fourth Street and transformed it into a relatively posh (and costly) entertainment district.  The free shows that used to come to intimate Coyote's now went to the overcrowded Fourth Street Live! and I simply didn't care enough to put up with the place.  To date, I've gone just once, in early 2005, to see Mark Chesnutt.  He'd not played Louisville since I got back into country music in the late 90s and began paying attention to concerts.  My guts were cooperative the night of his show, and I went with a friend.  We had a fairly good time.  I've only made it to three concerts since Chesnutt, and one of them was the M.C. Hammer concert before and after a Cincinnati Reds game last year, which one could very well argue was not a proper concert (though still enjoyable and a highlight of my 2010).

Fourth Street Live!  Photo taken from HelloLouisville.com.
It's in that context, then, that I hope you understand how bittersweet it is for me to reflect on the concerts I've attended.  I know that I can still attend them from time to time, but the truth is that I'm just not likely.  I was very fortunate that I was able to see nearly every artist I wanted to see during the six years I was an active concert-goer, so that's nice.  There have, of course, been new artists to come along, and my taste has changed somewhat that I would be more interested now in some older artists than I had been then.

The prospect of cherry-picking five concerts that I enjoyed more than the rest honestly is not appealing.  I don't mind the challenge; I spend quite a lot of time on Flickchart ranking movies, so that part of this exercise very much appeals to me.  Rather, it's the idea of dwelling on an activity I dearly loved and have been compelled to all but abandon entirely.  Still, that's what I was asked to do so here goes:

Photo by Lauren Schwiers; from allaboutjazz.com.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; John Williams, conducting
18 July 1999 * Ravinia Festival * Tinley Park, IL

The full set list and my full remarks are here, but suffice it to say that this was a nearly magical evening on a gorgeous summer night.  The standout moment wasn't the main title from Star Wars causing a seemingly refined audience of orchestra aficionados erupt into fannish applause, but rather the performance of a suite from The Reivers.  You see, Ossie Davis came on stage and read the original short story to the accompaniment of Williams's score.  Absolutely amazing.

AP Photo by Matt Sayles
Alan Jackson "Under the Influence" Tour
6 October 2000 * Rupp Arena * Lexington, KY

This was another unplanned concert.  My friend and I were in Lexington entirely by happenstance, and on our way out of town they announced a section of seats on the floor had just gone on sale.  We gave into the moment, whipped across town and bought the tickets.  Clay Walker had a difficult time with the lyrics to one of his songs (and strangely decided that the Spanish-language "La Bamba" was preferable, which he got right), but put on a lively show.  Alan Jackson himself wasn't as enthusiastic, but we had a good time regardless.  The full anecdote, with set list, is here.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons; uploaded by J-smith
Gain Presents CMT On Tour: Keith Urban
14 November 2004 * Louisville Palace Theater * Louisville, KY

The last paid concert I attended before being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and it was spectacular!  What really won me over was when Urban began reminiscing about his last visit to Louisville, when he played Coyote's in 2002.  I almost went to that show; I was leaving class just a couple blocks away when the doors opened, but I was hungry and just felt like going home.  Anyway, he discussed a few specific moments from that '02 performance, more than two years later, as if they were favorite memories of his.  Maybe he keeps a record of such anecdotes to reference when he returns to a city, but even that would demonstrate an attentiveness that I haven't seen in any other performer.  Then the dude walked into the audience, singing and playing guitar...all the way into the balcony.  Crazy!  Read more, with set list, here.

Photo by Jackie Zettles; from Tennessean.com
Montgomery Gentry
22 February 2001 * Coyote's Music and Dance Hall * Louisville, KY

Oh, how I wish I had the set list from this concert!  A friend of mine had gone gaga over Montgomery Gentry's lead single, "Hillbilly Shoes," and we decided on a lark to go see them when we found out they were coming to town.  This has the distinction of not only being the first concert I attended at Coyote's, but my first visit there at all.  It wasn't my first visit to a bar, but it was certainly one of the earliest!  Throughout their set, Eddie and Troy made a big show of swilling Jim Beam (with whom they later developed a sponsorship deal), which at first seemed like an affectation to me, but then I quickly realized that they really did just enjoy their bourbon.  A few songs into their set, Eddie addressed us to let us know how happy he was to be back in Kentucky, where he could smoke on stage.  He then asked if anyone had a smoke, and a woman near the stage offered him one and he lit up to thunderous applause.  A few months later, I was listening to a radio interview with the guys and that anecdote came up...and then the woman who had given him the cigarette called in and I relived that entire portion of the concert, hearing them reminisce!

Anyway, after the show my friend and I were on our way to her car when we spied Troy Gentry standing around in his camo bibs, chatting with some of his friends.  Tentatively we walked nearer to them, and when he noticed us, he called us over.  Mind you, no one else was around or in sight.  He could have easily blown us off and only we would have known.  He could have even been polite about it, saying something like, "We appreciate our fans, but this is our personal time to visit with people we don't get to see very often" and I wouldn't have thought any less of him.  Instead, he invited us into their little circle, asked us how we liked the show, offered to sign our ticket stubs...he could not have been more gracious or friendly.  Eddie Montgomery was having an aggravating time with one of the bouncers over an altercation with one of Eddie's friends, so we didn't bother him, though one of the band members did offer to take our stubs onto the bus to get him to sign them, which he did.

Photo by Daniel Bayer
Willie Nelson
29 September 2002 * Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom * Louisville, KY

This has the distinction of being the only concert I've attended entirely by myself.  As I recall, they asked for a donation of a few canned goods and knocked down the price of admission to $10 or $12, which I thought more than appealing.  I arrived early in the day, and was tempted to jump on some rides before the show began but then I saw that a crowd had already formed and I decided to go ahead and secure my place in line.  As it turned out, I needn't have worried; the majority of attendees flocked to the bleachers inside the amphitheater.  I elected instead to stand in front of the stage.  In fact, I was so close that for a while I leaned with my arm propped up on the stage!  Mickey Raphael, who plays harmonica, stood about six to ten feet away from me throughout most of the concert.  He knew the woman standing directly behind me; between songs the chattered for a bit and discussed a party they were attending with some friends after the concert.  I never did quite catch onto the location, or I might have pressed my luck and crashed it.

What surprised me most was that Willie would begin playing a song while the band was still finishing the last one...and he sustained that breakneck pace throughout nearly three entire hours!  I don't think there was a song I remotely imagined him playing that didn't appear throughout the set.  It was also a memorable show because numerous women--of various ages--kept running onto the stage!  Willie graciously hugged 'em and let security escort them off the stage, never once flummoxed by an intruder.  I've seen a few enthusiastic fans dash onto the stage during other shows, but nothing like the nearly endless train of women who needed to get closer to the Red Headed Stranger!  Being there by myself allowed me to just get lost in the concert, and I don't know that I've ever had a better time at a show.

In case you care to see my list of attended concerts, here it is on setlist.fm.