I will never forget the day my wife and I went into live music hibernation.
We were watching Rod Stewart in Las Vegas on March 6, 2020, around the time the word “coronavirus” was bulldozing its way into the national consciousness. Sometime between “Maggie May” and “The First Cut is the Deepest,” my wife asked, “Do you think they’ll end up canceling any shows because of the virus?” And without thinking about it at all as Rod pranced around the stage, I said, “No way they’re stopping. There’s too much money at stake here.
It turns out that wasn’t the first or the last time I was terribly wrong about something.
Luckily, after a hiatus of over a year while humanity dealt with bigger issues, live music is back, and my wife and I even played another round of our favorite game, “What’s the best gig we’ve ever seen?” the other day. Here are some of my favorite concert memories — and if you want to send me your answers to the same questions, I’d love to read them:
FIRST CONCERT: Johnny Cash, Redding Civic Auditorium, May 12, 1976. I was 16. The Carter family was the opening act, and after hearing some grunts from an eager audience midway through their set, June Carter grabbed the mic and said “Aw, don’t worry, Old Golden Throat will be out in a minute, okay?” Cash finally came out and set the bar incredibly high for any show I would ever see again. Best of all, he looked like Johnny Cash.
FAVORITE CONCERT: Still a moving target, but I’ll say it’s a triple tie between first time I saw The Who, last time I saw The Rolling Stones, and only time I saw Hank3. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
THE GROUPS I HAVE SEEN THE MOST TIMES: My math might be a little fuzzy, but I believe it’s a four-way tie for second place between The Who, Rolling Stones, Eagles and Dwight Yoakam at four apiece. As for the top spot, well, full disclosure: I’ve seen Jimmy Buffett 17 times. (Do not judge.)
MOST SPECIAL MOMENT OF A CONCERT: I first saw Bob Dylan he was opening for Santana at the old Concord Pavilion in the early 1990s. About halfway through the second song, Bob decided he didn’t like the sound coming out of his monitor. So while his band was playing, Bob stepped away from his microphone, scratched his head for a minute, and started tweaking the knobs on his amp, occasionally hitting a chord to see how it sounded. Then he shook his head and turned the knobs again. Meanwhile, his band continued to play the song he had abruptly dropped minutes earlier. It went on for a rather uncomfortable amount of time, with Bob seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were 10,000 people waiting for him to stop scratching his head and finally turn around. I half expected him to look up and say “When did all these people get here?”
BEST GIG STORY INVOLVING A WET DATE: A friend of mine in the Bay Area once made an appointment with Don McLean. They had a backstage pass, so he and his date got to meet Don McLean. Shortly after, his date dumped him – for Don McLean. They ended up getting married. It’s a true story.
THE TIME I WAS SCALED BY A ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME MEMBER: When 30 years ago I sat a few feet away from The Who bassist John Entwistle, I started shouting his name as Roger Daltrey spoke between songs. Entwistle looked at me sternly, put his index finger in front of his mouth and said “Shhhhh!” then held his hand to his left ear while gesturing towards Daltrey, slowly saying the word “listen!” I nodded quickly and apologized. He nodded. And then it hit me: I had just been reprimanded by a member of the loudest band in rock history for making too much noise at a concert.
THE MOST IRONIC CONCERT MOMENT INVOLVING A ONE-SHOT WONDER: On a The Knack reunion tour, I saw them play “That Thing You Do,” the title track from a movie about a band that broke up after recording a hit. I guess it would be like watching The Oneders perform “My Sharona”.
PERFORM THAT I NEVER SEEN AGAIN: Neil Young. If I ever hear another 45 second note guitar solo, it will be too soon.
TO SHOW THAT I DIDN’T EXPECT MUCH, BUT THAT: My wife and I didn’t know what to expect when we stood in line to see Shelton Hank Williams – aka “Hank3”, grandson of Hank Williams The First – for a show in Reno in October 2014. The crowd was the craziest mix of people dressed in country, metalheads and overweight men in flower shirts that I had never seen in the same place at the same time, and I quickly understood why – it’s because Hank3 plays such a crazy range of genres. It started with two hours of some of the best fiddle-driven country music I’ve heard; then he said politely, “Those of you who came to listen to country music might want to leave now. Good night and thank you for coming. About half the crowd left, and Hank3 took off his cowboy hat and let his hair down, playing something I imagine you’d call “Country hardcore punk power metal” for another 90 minutes. Then he stayed and signed autographs until the very last person left the room. I became a lifelong fan. Of course, he hasn’t toured since.
THE BEST GUITAR MIDDLE I HAVE EVER TAKEN: Joe Walsh.
BEST LIVE BAND I’VE SEEN ONCE: The Clash, though it cost me some hearing in my left ear.
FAVORITE SMACK TALK MOMENT INSIDE THE BAND: Tom Petty bassist Howie Epstein missed opening a song at a show I saw in Sacramento. Before the next song, Tom looked over and slowly said “Well, what do you want to play next, Howie?”
I WISH I HAD SEEN: Many others, but especially John Prine.
AND JUST TO NAME MORE: Between 1976 and 2022 I saw Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Elton John, Merle Haggard, Janet Jackson, Jewel, Steve Poltz, Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Robert Plant, the Zac Brown Band, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Hank Williams Jr., Peter Gabriel, the B-52s, the Pretenders, Santana, Buck Owens, Marty Stuart, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Bobby Bare and Connie Smith (at the Grand Ole Opry), Luke Bryan, War, the Steve Miller Band, George Clinton and Parliament, Emmylou Harris, Asleep at the Wheel, Kid Rock, John Fogerty, Celine Dion, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roy Clark, REM, Night Ranger, Exile, Ricky Nelson, Warren Zevon and the Last But Not Mean the least, the one and only Sheb Wooley.
Almost a year has passed since the last one. I better go get Stubhubbin’.
What is your favorite concert memory? Mike Wolcott loves to hear your stories. You can email him at [email protected] Bonus points if you were previously married to Don McLean.