I can remember pretty vividly walking across City Park in New Orleans at the second Voodoo Fest and hearing Paolo Nutini’s voice for the first time. It was late afternoon, cloudy and still warm in October, and this silky, soulful, wise old voice is coming from a second stage. Sherri and I went to listen, and there’s this 22-year-old Scottish boy on stage. Mesmerizing. I also remember the blueberry bread pudding. Voodoo Fest has the best food.
About the same time, maybe a few years before, I was walking across Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with my daughter Jesse at an early Outside Lands Festival. Again, on a secondary stage, we heard this mountain, Americana, bouncy sound and a couple of pure voices in raucous harmony. It was the Avett Brothers, and we were both hooked for life.
With the same daughter, a couple years earlier, I clearly remember the first time we saw Death Cab for Cutie. It was the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, our favorite venue, and since she was a huge fan I pulled the Mix card and got us backstage where we met their parents beforehand. Then, for the encore, we returned from the bowl to backstage and watched three songs from the band’s vantage point, to a lit-up crowd of 8,000. The thrill was immense. We’re ten feet away as Chris Walla closes the show by rubbing the strings of his guitar madly on the P.A. speaker, then dropping it, bowing to the screaming audience, and walking off stage five feet away from us. Simply stunning. I can remember leaning into her ear and shouting, “Now that is frickin’ rock and roll!”
Before that there was Michael Franti and Power to the Peaceful on a September Saturday in the park, k.d. lang in small theaters, Damian Marley and Ben Harper at the Greek, Bob Dylan, too. There was Habib Koite playing 12-string guitar at Yoshi’s, the first time I really heard music from West Africa.
So many, many great memories, and they all involve music. A whole lot of them involve the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band. From Dylan, Petty and the Dead in Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium to a magical night on Cincinnati’s Riverfront, when the rain stopped just as Jerry hit his first note and a rainbow came out. I’m not making that up, those who were with me still talk about it. As my dear friend Lauren once said to Jerry, “You and your friends have made me and my friends happy for a long time.” All good memories.
From the Editor: Musical Influences, by Tom Kenny, Jan. 31, 2018
It goes even further back, to Reggae on the River in 1985, as a 22-year-old transplant to the Bay Area. There I saw a naked woman in a river for the first time and tried Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for the first time. I also saw Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse and Judy Mowatt. I was a big reggae fan at the time.
And before I left Indiana for California, there was my first “big” concert, the Doobie Brothers at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin when I was 17. The Minute By Minute tour. The year before that, at 16, a friend’s older brother took me to ChicagoFest on Navy Pier, where I saw the first show that gave me a feel for what live music could be. It was Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel, He was tall, with long blond hair and a cowboy hat, and a woman dressed like a court jester danced and played the fiddle. “Route 66” hooked me.
So many good memories, and so many of them took place at the early Bonnaroos, from ZZ Top late at night, to Brandi Carlile on a day stage, to Michael Franti burning through “Yell Fire,” on up to McCartney just killing it on the main stage, driving my dear friend Dave to tears. I come from a large family and for many years a bunch of us would meet at Bonnaroo each June in Tennessee, “sound board left.”
My brother Kit and his daughters, Tonya and Megan, were regulars, and we’re all Wilco fans. The first couple of years, they didn’t play anything from Mermaid Avenue, a favorite record of ours they did with Billy Bragg. Sure enough, the third year, I have to sneak to the bathroom during the Wilco set, and at the worst possible moment, I hear the first notes of “California Stars.” I drop everything and sprint across the field, grab my 21-year-old niece Tonya, and we danced, danced, danced. I remember whispering in her ear, “I want to dance to this song at your wedding.”
Last month, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the DJ called my name and I got to dance, all alone, with the bride Tonya to our favorite song. Memories don’t get any better than that.
It’s summertime, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. It’s time to go see some more live music.