Ten years ago, I wrote about my love of music as a teenager here and how my current tastes reflected my early influences. Since then, I’ve raised four children to adulthood and have three-year-old twin grandchildren. As a middle aged adult, I’ve rediscovered my love of live music and even become a groupie of sorts for a band I’ve followed for the last twenty-five years.
When I was younger, I was so self-conscious and inhibited; I didn’t allow myself to cut loose or lose myself to the music at live shows. Once I hit the other side of 40, I no longer cared how I looked when I busted out my “mom dance” moves.
Four years ago, I was over the moon when I discovered that one of my favorite bands, The Mavericks, were reuniting after an eight-year hiatus. Raul Malo, the crooner who fronts this band, enjoyed success during the break as a solo artist, and I bought every album and song I could find on iTunes. But I missed the energy and the diversity of the music they produced collectively. Soon after announcing the reunion, a tour began. I snatched up two tickets to see them at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, grateful for the smaller venue size that allowed for more intimacy than an arena.
The night of the concert, I convinced my husband to join me. Ten years had passed since I’d last been to a concert, and never with Steve. With the opening chords of “Back in Your Arms Again,” I completely surrendered to the moment and the music. I sang along to every word, I whooped and catcalled and shook my booty. In dismay, Steve kept saying “I’ve never seen this side of you.” The truth? Neither had I.
Seeing the band live ignited a full-on obsession in me. I’ve seen them every year since, and last year I even started traveling to attend shows out of state. For me, the shows are a chance to dance, to sing (totally out of key) at the top of my lungs and best of all to share the joy of this band’s live shows with my friends. I bought thirty tickets to shows last year, introducing a couple of dozen new fans to the group.
Randy Lewis, a music critic writing for the LA Times observed, “This is why human beings make music,” in a review of one of their album “Mono.” The Mavericks churn out a discography that can’t be labeled with any one genre of music. The stage is shared by the four core members of the band, along with an upright bass player, an accordionist, a saxophonist, and a trumpet player. During any given show, you’ll hear their original songs and covers of artists from Frank Sinatra to Pink Floyd, Neil Young to Patsy Cline, Bruce Springsteen to KC and The Sunshine Band.
There is so much I love about this band, but their delight in performing and interacting with their fans, camaraderie, and absolute joy on stage keeps me coming back. Seeing The Mavericks in concert reignited a love of live music in me, and my concert attendance isn’t restricted to that band only.
Last year, I saw Chris Isaak with two friends. At the beginning of the show, Chris engaged in charming banter with the crowd and thanked everyone for coming out to enjoy live music. He emphasized how grateful he was that the crowd took time out of their lives to attend the show. (Personally, I would have walked barefoot over broken glass to see him.) The sincerity of his gratitude stuck with me. We live in an era when our phones are jukeboxes (and libraries, and televisions and newsstands and powerful computers) and music is so easily accessible that we take it for granted. I spent years of my life sifting through stacks of vinyl in used record stores looking for songs that I can access and listen to in seconds now. Video performances go viral thanks to YouTube and Facebook, diminishing the urgency to see a band live. The exceptions are the arena shows, which still seem to fare well, but I’m not willing to spend the per ticket price tag and sacrifice the intimacy of a smaller venue. So don’t look for me at Beyonce’s or Lady Gaga’s gigs.
Normally, I avoid any reason to be part of large crowds, it’s torture for me. Somehow, the collective mindset and sharing of music is an exception. Hearing a crowd of strangers sing the words to a loved song in unison is the stuff of goosebumps. Years ago, I saw Benjamin Zander, musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, give a motivational speech which riveted me. The most memorable part of his performance came when he handed out phonetically spelled lyrics to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and a crowd of several thousand Americans sang along in German to his piano accompaniment. More than a few people were brought to tears. Possibly yours truly.
It doesn’t matter how well produced the video in a digital medium is, you can’t capture the shared experience of a live show. You are purely in the moment at a live show, deeply connected to other attendees. There is no pause button. Take a few pictures, then put down the phone. Hear the music. Feel the music. Dance. Share a grin with a stranger next to you as you sing along to lyrics you both love. Realize that we all really are more alike than different.
Here’s a YouTube clip of The Mavericks performing Neil Young’s classic, Harvest Moon. Which rhymes with swoon. Which is the appropriate reaction while listening to Raul Malo’s silky smooth rendition.