Damn it’s fun to go out and see live music. Pick your act, pick your night. Pick your heroes, pick an unknown. I was lucky enough in early June to be in the Fox Oakland audience for one of only six Buffalo Springfield shows in California, leading up to their headlining gig at Bonnaroo. Stephen Stills can definitely still play that ol’ guitar, Richie Furay looked like the happiest kid at the dance and Neil Young—well, he is a bona fide rock star. The guitar chops, the voice, the humble swagger and punch of a man who has lived the life. The sweet purity of “I Am a Child,” followed by the heart and depth of “Mr. Soul” and the raucousness of “Rockin’ In the Free World.” You didn’t have to be over 40 to appreciate the sound. When it’s live, you don’t even have to like the genre (though I do). You can just tell when magic is happening.
There’s nothing like it in the world when a band is onstage and in the zone. It can happen in front of 70,000 fans jacked-up on a festival high or it can happen at church. It can happen in a dive club in Jackson or at The Pearl at the Palms in Vegas. It can come out of an Asheville studio in front of 30,000 Web viewers or it can happen in a living room. You can pay $250 for front row or you can see it for free in the park. It doesn’t matter. If it’s good music and it’s live and you’re there, then that’s a great night.
Think about it. There’s no logical reason in today’s economic climate that touring should be as strong or as solid as it is. It’s something of an anomaly in the crowded entertainment market. We live in a short-attention-span age, with YouTube concert clips and a flood of On Demand performances in hi def. We can watch from home! We can hit Pause! Concerts are a full-day commitment, but we still go out to shows. High ticket prices killed a few acts, but not many. Having an album release doesn’t seem to matter as much as long as you have fans. Bon Jovi can still hit it big, and so can James Taylor. Mumford & Sons can hire a train for 10 stops, and Kenny Chesney can still pack a stadium. People predicted the death of festivals five years ago, and here in 2011 we have sold-out weekends from Indio, Calif., to Manchester, Tenn., to Austin. Why? Because it’s live. And you can’t get it anywhere else. As I write this, my daughter Molly is hitting me up for tickets to see Stephen Marley at the Fillmore in San Francisco. It was Florence and the Machine at the Greek Theater the week before. The next generation wants it, too.
One of the reasons touring continues to thrive, despite a normal cycle of up and down years, is that sound systems are better than ever, and manufacturers continue to innovate through network topologies, remote apps, better steering, more power in smaller packages—constant innovation and, quite simply, better sound. The impact and thrill of a well-mixed show through a powerful P.A., with the energy provided by 20,000 rabid fans, cannot be duplicated. You just can’t get it at home.
We are in a Golden Age of Concert Sound right now. Get out there this summer and listen to your favorite musicians playing together, feeding off an audience and turning it up to 11. The acts are out there. The sound is better than ever. And what the heck, it will put you smack dab in the middle of people who love music. What more could you ask for?