Every generation has its own vernacular, and every region of the world has its own idiomatic take on what is hip and happening and in the “now.” Here in the States, if something was a “wicked pissah” in Boston in the 1980s, it was likely “hella cool” in the Bay Area in the ’90s. If an experience, an event or a thing was “far out” in late-’60s Los Angeles, it was probably “dope” in early-’80s Brooklyn.
In 1970s small-town Indiana, my teenage training ground, things “rocked.” If you had a friend move outside of town to a bigger house with an inground pool, well, that pool rocked. When Danny Ogle got an under-dash equalizer to trick out the audio system in his 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass, both the EQ and the car rocked. The new Steak & Shake in West Lafayette definitely rocked, as did Star Wars when it opened. A weekend in Chicago to see the Cubs was always a rockin’ good time. If your friend asked what you thought of his new girlfriend, it was simple: She rocks.
When I bought Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, Crazy Horse rocked my Advent speakers. Steve Dahl, the original shock jock, and WLUP, the Loop, both rocked it on radio, though I thought WXRT rocked harder. At my first real concert, age 16 or so, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel rocked Chicago’s Navy Pier to the point that it felt like waves might leap the concrete barriers and crash across Lake Shore Drive. I was told later that it was Texas Swing and blues and rockabilly and country fiddle all rolled into one. To me, the band just rocked out.
All this to say, I think that this summer’s touring season is going to rock, both figuratively and literally, for a number of reasons.
First, the demand for live music is off the charts. It’s been two years, two summer seasons, of total disruption, and finally the gates are opening up. Ed Sheeran is selling out stadiums in five minutes and considering adding shows. Coachella, taking place next weekend, sold out long ago, while Billie Eilish is still filling up makeup shows while adding others. All to capacity. The Stones, celebrating 60 years (!), sell out six shows in Europe over a weekend. Try getting an Olivia Rodrigo or BTS ticket for under $250. It won’t happen. Fans were ready to bust out last summer; they are ready to rock this summer. In a big way.
Second, artists have been backstage waiting, bouncing up and down, shaking out their arms and legs and limbering up their vocal cords, and it’s now two hours past showtime! I know that artists have been playing live these past two years, mostly on mini-runs or one-offs, but this summer will bring the first real sense of regularity in a while. Artists need an audience to bounce off of; they need a stage to run around. For the past two years, most have been writing, writing and writing, and many of these songs will be debuting on stage this summer, being worked on from show to show. They are inspired, and they are ready. I have a feeling that we are going to witness some explosive performances this summer.
Third, the return of the crews and the return of the touring “community” is something to celebrate. Touring sound is a way of life, with its own rhythms and pace and sense of kinship. In the early weeks, I’m sure every new night and every new town will feel like a reunion stop, building back the muscle memory and remembering the long hours. And loving it. Clair, Rat Sound, Eighth Day Sound, Solotech, Sound Image, LD Systems, SES, UltraSound, Spectrum Sound and all you others … it’s good to have you back on the road.
And finally, quite literally, it’s gonna rock this summer because rock, the genre, is on its way back! Much has been written over the past decade about the demise of rock and the rise of hip hop, both economically and as a cultural marker. All true. But rock is far from dead. At Lollapalooza last summer, acts like Band of Horses, Young the Giant, Backseat Lovers and Foo Fighters stole the show. Guitars, drums, bass and sometimes keys. All playing together.
But forget genres. There are too many of them anyway. I’ve seen Damian Marley absolutely rock the Greek Theatre on “Welcome to Jamrock,” and I’ve watched Martina McBride’s band kick it in and rock the rafters as she belts out Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” I’m with Dave Grohl: Rock is more about an approach, and a state of mind.
The past two years have taken their toll on the live sound and touring industries, no question. Countless venues have closed, many of them longtime staples of the club-tour set. A lot of talented sound people, victims of furloughs and layoffs, have left to pursue other careers. And we’re not out of it yet. But new venues will pop up, new stars will emerge, and old favorites will perform in new ways.
This summer marks the return. And it’s gonna rock.