My son, Colin, has never known me not to work in the radio industry. Over the years we’ve shared a lot of music. We’ve talked about different bands and musical genres, customized playlists together and even imagined who would play at our ultimate fantasy music festival. Admittedly he’s had a head start to his musical education thanks to my job programming 91.1 The Globe. All that exposure to recorded music naturally extended to live shows. A few concerts really stand out. After some discussion we came up with our Top 5:
5. Lotus – Goshen, 2012.
This was a homecoming for Lotus, the first hometown show for the Goshen College band in more than seven years. For Colin it was his introduction to “the pit,” soaking it all in with college kids and twenty-somethings at the Goshen Theater.
I just let him go, joined by friends Ethan and Hank for three hours of a jam band light show. There really are no lyrics to learn. It’s more about catching the vibe and riding it like a wave to shore. He never left the front of the stage until the show was over. I watched from a distance, taking it all in. I knew exactly how he felt being that close to a band surrounded by energized fans. It’s addictive. Who knows, maybe someday he’ll be seeing Lotus with Ethan and Hank at some small club in Chicago 20 years from now. Hope he remembers the first time.
4. Lollapalooza – Chicago, 2008.
Yeah, I took my 11-year-old to a huge summer festival at Grant Park with 80,000 people. We crisscrossed the park for 12 hours seeing some or all of countless shows. Lollapalooza was a first for him.
Bang Camaro is a band from Boston. Their big song is “Bang Camaro” from their album Bang Camaro. This band travels with up to 20 members, a dozen of those all lead singing guitar players. Every song was full of simplistic lyrics and three chord harmonies, perfect for a soon to be sixth grader.
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco did an acoustic set at the Kidzapalooza tent that year. He made a point to have children up close telling parents to stay back. He really wanted to play for the kids, like some modern day Paul Stookey singing, “Puff the Magic Dragon” in-the-round. Through all the shuffling about Colin somehow ended up at Tweedy’s feet for the show.
To this day there are numerous online videos forever capturing the indifference of my pre-teen son during the Chicago alt-rock icon’s performance. Ironically, four years later, when Jenni and I went to see Wilco he asked us to bring him back a concert tee. With maturity comes wisdom.
Radiohead closed out the day. I had seen them six months prior and wanted Colin to catch the show, telling him he would thank me later. “This is ‘your Led Zeppelin.’ When you’re in college and guys in the dorm are discovering Radiohead for the first time you can tell them you saw the band when you were 11.”
They were the only artists scheduled to close on Friday night of the three-day festival. So where else do 80,000 people wind up the night? Radiohead.
We got to the stage area in plenty of time. A little far back but not bad considering their popularity. We staked out our spot. Made some temporary friends. And then Colin got thirsty. So I did something stupid. I told him to stay put. There still weren’t many people around us and I made a mental note of landmarks and the people nearby. I ran to the nearest vendor and bought two sodas. As I walked back I realized that everyone was headed to that end of the park. A sea of people had packed the field in minutes and I completely lost our location.
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that quickly rises into your chest and steals your breath? It’s called panic. By the time it gets to your head your mind is spinning. Trying to make sense of the landmarks became useless. All the banners were the same color. All the people looked the same. I checked my watch. Twenty minutes until show time. The sun was beginning to set. The crowd was getting tighter. I struggled with trying to decide how long to keep looking before I called his mother. What would I say?
I kept looking and got more desperate. I started asking people if they’d seen a fifth grader in black ball cap and blue backpack. Lots of shaking heads and a few puzzled looks from fans didn’t help my mental state. I kept walking toward where I thought I’d left him, the panic and anxiety growing more intense. My head was on a swivel. Looking for any sign of my son.
Then I began to hear some cheering from the crowd. I immediately checked my watch. It was still 15 minutes before the band was supposed to start. If they come on early there’s no way I’m going to find him. More cheers. Strangely they weren’t coming from the stage but to my right. I thought that was odd so I walked toward the noise.
As I got closer I could tell people were watching something but I couldn’t tell what it was. I kept moving toward the commotion. From about 30 feet away I noticed a small structure. It was a pyramid made out of tightly stacked empty beer cups. The architect? You guessed it.
When I walked up to Colin people were still passing plastic cups from every direction and cheering him on as he made his creation higher and wider. He was oblivious to everything but his newfound fame. I on the other hand was more relieved than words can express.
Radiohead put on a great show. I watched them on the video board while he sat on my shoulders and got the best view anyone could ask for. Lucky him. Grateful me.
3. Lollapalooza – Chicago, 2009.
Everything worked out just fine last year, right? Why not do it again? A few early shows we caught included Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears and The Gaslight Anthem. We chose the Friday lineup because Colin really wanted to see Ben Folds, another one of his favorites.
At the Ben Folds performance we ended up standing next to two girls a few years older than Colin, probably high school sophomores. It seemed as though they knew every lyric to the songs. Colin held his own singing along to most of the set, but none of that mattered once he heard them mouth every profane syllable of a Snoop Dogg cover Folds sang near the end of the show. I remember him staring at them without regard, then leaning to me and saying, “Dad, Dad … they’re singing profanity!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle,“Yeah, I know. It’s Snoop. Some girls just love Snoop. Why do you think he’s singing it?” Between Ben Folds and the two blondes I don’t think he could figure out where to stare. Life is full of tough choices.
We wrapped up the night with a great spot for the Depeche Mode performance. I gotta give him this one. He gave up seeing The Decemberists so we could be center stage within 25 feet of the security fence. A highlight for us was singing the words to “Never Let You Down Again” together into my cell phone camera. I wish I still had that clip.
2. Dispatch – Chicago, 2011.
Aside from three shows at Madison Square Garden in 2007, Dispatch hadn’t toured since 2004. This was a short June swing spanning three weeks and seven cities. Colin loves Dispatch. Before he had his own music collection he would call the radio station and request “The General” almost daily. By the time the tour was announced he was a qualified fan. I scored tickets to their show at the UIC Pavilion and we went up with a group of friends.
The band played a stellar show, akin to a greatest hits concert, including a five-song double encore. Colin had a great time; it helps when the band plays your all of your favorite songs from their catalog. The worst part of it for him, and I warned him not to leave during the encore, was when he and his friend, Tristan, left their seats to get a drink. As fate would have it, Chad Urmstrom appeared out of nowhere at the top of our aisle. He sang “Cut It Ya Match It,” stopping next to our seats to belt out the majority of the song. It could’ve been him on all those You Tube videos instead of me. Tough one.
1. Green Day – Clarkston, Mich., 2010.
Bribery will get you everywhere. A few summers ago just after Green Day released 21st Century Breakdown I gave my son a workbook of math and English exercises. I told him if he completed the workbook by the end of the summer I would take him to see his favorite band. He had nearly three months to get it done but kept putting it off. With time running out he got the workbook done on deadline day.
Green Day was playing at DTE Energy Music Theatre (old Pine Knob) later that week. When I bought the tickets back in May I didn’t realize the concert was on a school night. I always forget that school starts so early in August. But he had met my challenge and I was compelled to follow through on my end of the deal.
Colin knows I always honor agreements I make with him. Good or bad. So I did what any honorable dad would do in this situation. I took him out of school at lunch, drove four hours one way, went to a nearly three-hour, energy-packed show and drove home pumped full of Venom energy drink. He got two hours of sleep and went to school the next day wearing his filthy $38 concert T-shirt. In the words of Dewey Finn, “Well you’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore.”