With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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The first weekend of my freshman year in college I went alone to a Shakey Graves concert in Missoula, Montana. I couldn’t find anyone in my dorm who wanted to go, so I ended up convincing a senior nicknamed Shoeless Jake (who, for unknown reasons, eschewed the practice of wearing shoes) to drive me to the stadium. I’d never been to a concert before. I was from a small town and had been painfully shy in high school. I wanted to reinvent myself as someone braver, more badass. The concert had one of the largest crowds I had ever seen. I’d been away from my parents for only a few days, and this was a terrifyingly big step for me.
I made my way to the front of the crowd and danced throughout the entire show. Some guy spilled beer all over me, but I didn’t care. I was too busy experiencing the music and the palpable energy that flowed between the band and the audience.
When the show was over, Shoeless Jake was nowhere to be found. I was stranded along the highway at 1 AM, soaked in beer and clutching a CD I’d bought at the merch table. A family friend who lived in Missoula had told me when I went to college that if I was ever in trouble, no matter what, I should call her. I don’t think she expected to hear from me within the first week.
That’s the only time I had to call her in four years of college. Now I’m about to graduate, and I think of that concert as a turning point. I keep that CD on my shelf like a trophy.
At the age of fourteen I had never been to a concert. (My parents had their own priorities: Clarinet lessons, yes. Pop concerts, no.) But I listened to the radio, and I knew stations sometimes gave away tickets to callers.
One day the DJ announced the station had tickets for Kenny G, the curly-haired saxophonist who could hold a note for ages. The seventh caller would be the winner. I waited, trying to estimate the timing, then dialed excitedly and pressed the phone to my ear.
Instead of a ring, I heard the beeps of someone else dialing. “Hello?” I said.
My father’s voice came through the line. “Hello?”
“Dad!” I yelled. “I’m trying to call the radio station!”
He hung up, and I tried again, but of course I was not the seventh caller.
The incident felt like just one more example of how little my parents understood me.
The next day Dad came home from work with a surprise: two tickets to Kenny G for my mom and me. I was astonished.
Thirty years later I can remember sitting on the lawn in the dark summer evening while the distant figure of Kenny G, glowing in a hot-pink spotlight, tilted his saxophone to the crowd. But even more clearly than the concert, I remember the surprise of realizing that my dad was listening and cared.
Hudson Valley, New York
In the summer of 1969 I was fifteen years old and living in Montreal, Canada. A local radio station was organizing a chartered bus trip to the Woodstock music festival three hundred miles south in New York, and I persuaded my parents to let me go. My friend Lianna and I packed sleeping bags, a few changes of clothes, and some food. We arrived on Thursday afternoon, joining the thousands of other concertgoers streaming into the site.
On Friday we had planned to meet our friends Steve and Dougie at the main gate, but there was no gate. We were on our own. We sprawled on our blanket in front of the stage and basked in the hot sunshine, listening to Richie Havens. Later that night we saw Melanie and Arlo Guthrie, and I fell asleep in a light rain at 2 AM to the haunting voice of Joan Baez. On Saturday the drizzle persisted as one amazing band after another performed throughout the day and long into the night: Santana, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Who.
By Sunday morning our clothes and sleeping bags were soaked, and we were coming down, hungry, and overwhelmed by the huge crowd. We wandered through the mud to an area where food was being served and miraculously ran into the friends we’d planned to meet.
Dougie had just returned from Vietnam. Though he was Canadian, he’d volunteered to serve in combat with the U.S. Army. As an idealistic teenager opposed to the war, I was curious about Dougie’s experience but too shy to bring it up.
That afternoon Dougie and I made our way toward the stage, drawn by Joe Cocker’s soulful singing. The crowd stretched far into the distance, but with Dougie by my side I felt safe and happy.
Someone close by set off firecrackers, and in seconds Dougie was face-down in the mud, hands over his head. Slowly he sat up, confused and embarrassed. I put my arms around him, and we sat together in silence.
Anger and a profound sadness washed over me. Whatever Dougie had experienced in the war was unfathomable to me, but I understood that he would never again be the same neighborhood boy I’d known. Years later I learned that he’d become addicted to heroin in Vietnam, struggled mightily, and died young.
I lost my innocence at Woodstock, but it had nothing to do with sex, drugs, or rock and roll.
Vancouver, British Columbia
In the late eighties I began teaching an English course for high-school seniors who had previously failed English. Most of the students were male and wore black leather jackets, prompting one friend who peeked into the room to ask, “Is this a motorcycle class?”
I got off to a rocky start with the kids. My car was keyed within the first few weeks, and when I questioned a student about the scent of alcohol on his breath (at nine in the morning), he smugly pulled out a tube of toothpaste and ate some.
Our first assignment was to read Great Expectations, and, try as I might, I could not get the students to engage. I eavesdropped on their chatter in the hallways, hoping to find something in common with them. A frequent topic of conversation was an upcoming Kiss concert at the nearby coliseum. I knew nothing about the band.
One day a student raised his hand — a rare occurrence — and reported apathetically, “Kiss has a song called ‘Great Expectations.’ ”
Delighted, I replied, “Wonderful! That’s an allusion to our novel.” But before I could start explaining the difference between an allusion and an illusion, laughter broke out in the room.
With obvious contempt the student said, “Those guys have never heard of Charles Dickens.”
I maintained that the title couldn’t be just a coincidence and made a five-dollar bet that the song had been written with Dickens’s novel in mind.
To settle it, I found an address for a Kiss fan club in a music magazine, typed a letter explaining the situation, and sent it off. A few weeks later a response came back: “You’re right — it’s Dickens’s Great Expectations.” It was signed “Gene Simmons,” the bass player in Kiss. The next morning, at my desk, students pored over the note until one Kiss aficionado proclaimed Simmons’s signature to be genuine.
I would like to report that the letter inspired the class to develop a new appreciation for literature, but the buzz came and went along with the concert. Although I doubt my students remember the plot of Great Expectations, maybe it broadened their minds to learn that their hard-rock idols had more to them than makeup and costumes.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
After I had breast-cancer surgery and lost some dear family members, my psychologist suggested I return to playing the oboe as a way to access joy. I had stopped playing more than twenty-five years earlier, so I signed up for some lessons.
My teacher’s kind patience and deep knowledge encouraged me, but when he proposed I play in a concert that paired amateur musicians with our local philharmonic, I told him it was a terrible idea. When he suggested I could play the solos in the concert, I laughed at him. It wasn’t until after the concert — at which I did play the oboe solos — that I realized it had been fun.
When people make music, the brain emits oxytocin, the same hormone that bonds mother to baby, lover to lover, friend to friend. Oxytocin turns the fear of playing in front of others into a sense of connection. I don’t know whether this feeling will turn into joy for me, but I think it might. In the meantime I keep playing every day for the beauty of it.
Bonita Springs, Florida
My first year out of prison I was living in an efficiency apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida, and working as a dishwasher. When my friend Robert was also released, he moved in with me.
To help Robert get used to being free, I gave him a tour of downtown. He wanted to see a rock concert, but I pointed out that ticket prices had gone way up since the last time we’d been able to attend one. I said I’d take him to First Friday, the monthly block party near our building. They always had a country or blues band, with people dancing in the street and trucks serving beer and snacks.
On our walk to the block party, we passed an outdoor concert venue that was featuring the band Kansas that night. I told Robert I had seen them in Pittsburgh more than twenty years earlier and would have loved to hear them play “Dust in the Wind” again. But Kansas tickets cost money, and First Friday was free, so we headed there and mingled with the crowd, drinking beer and eating chips. Still, I could hear Kansas in the distance.
The party ended at 10 PM, but neither of us was ready to go back to our little hole-in-the-wall, so we went to a nearby bar and had a couple of beers. The back door was open, and we stepped into the alleyway, where I could hear Kansas clearly. The venue was just beyond the alley wall. We climbed up on a dumpster to see the band.
“Free tickets,” Robert told me.
As we watched, we heard someone behind us. “Help us up!” Four young women in bright summer dresses were waving their beer bottles at us. Robert and I hoisted them onto the dumpster just as Kansas started playing “Dust in the Wind.” We took turns dancing with the women.
After the song, the band called a break, and we all climbed down. Robert and I headed back to our apartment.
“So, how do you like being a free man?” I asked him.
He looked at me and laughed. “I love it!”
St. Petersburg, Florida
When I was growing up, my parents played a lot of Jimmy Buffett. I remember singing along to songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and one time, to my parents’ horror, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” at a restaurant. They quickly hushed me, too embarrassed to explain why it was not OK to sing that song.
When, at twelve, I learned my parents were going to a Jimmy Buffett concert without me, I was heartbroken. The night before the concert, my dad informed me that Mom was staying home and I was going to the show in her place. I wasn’t sure why all three of us couldn’t go together, but I celebrated anyway.
I enjoyed the concert, even though I was still unsure of the reason for my good luck. I can’t remember if Jimmy played “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” or whether I sang along. I hope not.
A week or so later I learned that my parents were getting divorced. I was sure it was my fault for putting up a stink about going to the concert. As our family split into two households, Jimmy Buffett’s songs began to represent the consequences of my selfishness.
Now, of course, I can see that my parents were just very different people, and it made sense for them to go their separate ways. On the rare occasion that I hear “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” it brings up mixed emotions, but I’ve come to accept that my parents’ divorce was never my fault. Or Jimmy Buffett’s.
My right ear is my good one. If I lie on my right side and only my left ear is uncovered, I cannot hear my husband speaking or my kids hollering at me or the dog whining. I’m young to have hearing loss — only forty-three — although my body has been up to some mutinous tricks in the past decade: neck seizing when I look over my shoulder, knees complaining on long runs, metabolism deciding it simply cannot keep up anymore.
My hearing loss, though, is not from aging — it’s from concerts I attended decades ago. I grew up in a conservative Christian home in a small town where everyone knew my name, and I was expected to behave properly. Attending music festivals like Lollapalooza and Endfest gave me a taste of individuality and freedom. I met people who had no interest in Christian conformity, engaged in activities that were a little (and sometimes a lot) dangerous, and let my body move to the loud music without thinking about purity or decency.
I have a vivid memory of leaving a concert with my ears ringing as though a bomb had just gone off. Even at fifteen I knew this would affect my hearing one day. But I also remember thinking the damage was worth it.
I still feel that way. I would not trade those experiences for better hearing any more than I would trade the scar across my abdomen for my daughter or the sun spots on my chest for afternoons sea kayaking in Mexico. My hearing loss is a reminder of my journey. It also comes in handy when I want to take a nap — I just lie on my right side.
Bethany Hull Somers
San Antonio, Texas
I wasn’t a rude or disrespectful teen by nature, but in high school I found myself drawn to the misfits and outsiders. It was 1985, and the common language among us was punk rock: Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys. The bands’ names were scrawled in marker on the beat-up cassettes that played constantly from a boom box at our local skate ramp. The overriding message of this music was seething anger: anger at the System, at the Man, at our parents. Something had been taken away, these singers screamed, and it was our job to take it back.
My parents, out of what I can only assume was complete naivete, let me attend all-ages punk shows as long as I was home by 11 PM and there was no beer involved. There was always beer involved, and the concerts were often just an excuse to sit in the parking lot, smoke cigarettes, and drink. That’s probably why one night I attended a show by a group I’d never heard of called Fishbone.
A local punk band opened, and then Fishbone began to set up. Already something was different: There were horns. Some members of the band wore suits. They had dreadlocks and Afros. My friends and I went inside to watch rather than sitting on the hood of someone’s parents’ station wagon.
Fishbone launched into a down-tempo rock song, but nobody moved. We just stared. There was something interesting in the look of this band, but if they didn’t pick up the pace, we were ready to turn on them.
As Fishbone started up a second number, it was clear that the crowd was not swayed. The lead singer and saxophone player, Angelo Moore, held up a hand to halt the song. “You all came here to have a good time, right?”
“Right!” We were starting to lean toward our default: anger. We’d booed bands off the stage in the past.
“Well, you all are pretty uptight, and I’ve got just the thing to loosen you up.” He sprinted across the stage, leapt over the dance floor, and landed on a table covered in beer pitchers and whiskey tumblers. Drinks and ashtrays went flying as he slid its entire length. Dumbfounded, the crowd cheered, and the band kicked into one of their high-energy ska tunes, “Party at Ground Zero.” The rest of the tables were thrown aside, and every person in the club started dancing.
I didn’t know what to think, but the two hours of unselfconscious fun that night unlocked something in me. The carefree spirit of the band offered the possibility of a new identity not mired in anger.
My friends and I stayed out late that night, hanging on till the very last note of Fishbone’s explosive set. I went home smelling of smoke and beer and got grounded the minute I arrived, but it was worth it for the new outlook that had dawned in me.
I lost my wife Judy to breast cancer in the summer of 2017. She understood how much I love music and usually supported (or at least tolerated) the fact that the Grateful Dead provided the soundtrack to our marriage. In a journal she left for me, she wished me much music in my future.
About two weeks after Judy died, it was announced that Dead & Company, a touring band including three members of the Grateful Dead, would be playing for three nights at a resort in Mexico that winter. I could hear Judy saying, Go, sweetheart, so I bought tickets and took my sister Laura.
During the last of the three shows, the band played a few notes of “If I Had the World to Give,” the song Judy and I had chosen for our first dance at our wedding. It was also the last song Judy heard before she died; I played it for her as she slipped away on a hot July morning. The Grateful Dead had performed this song only three times in more than 2,300 concerts, and Dead & Company had played it just twice. When we heard the opening lines — “If I had the world to give, I’d give it to you / Long as you live” — Laura poked me, and I put my hands together and looked to the sky.
There is another Grateful Dead song, “Brokedown Palace,” that I shared with Judy in the months before her death. I told her that I would listen to it often after she died, and she wrote out the lyrics in the journal, so I’d have those words in her handwriting. Dead & Company played it for the encore of the last show, finishing with the words “Fare you well, fare you well / I love you more than words can tell / Listen to the river sing sweet songs / To rock my soul.”
My current partner, Michele, whom I met almost a year after Judy died, played “Brokedown Palace” at her late husband’s memorial service when he passed away in 2015.
Durham, North Carolina
When Mr. Harvey, our high-school music teacher, chose me to play the solo in the orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 in G Major, I felt like I had finally become someone. At the time I had few friends and a sagging load of depression. The concerto became my reason to live. I practiced several hours a day for months, until I’d perfected every note. My beloved violin teacher, Mrs. Van Valkenburgh, did everything she could to prepare me, including showing me how to bow to the audience and to the conductor.
On the day of the concert I wore a new dress I’d purchased on a special trip to San Francisco with my mother and sisters. I was excited but mostly scared. I stepped onto the stage, bowed to the blur of faces in the audience, and put my violin to my chin. Mr. Harvey raised his baton, and the orchestra commenced. My notes were perfect, just like I had practiced. I sank into each movement as my fingers did what I had trained them to.
Then came the cadenza for the last movement. Mrs. Van Valkenburgh and I had worked on this part repeatedly, and I had often felt the beauty of Mozart’s composition as I’d played it in her studio. The orchestra was silent as I began the solo passage.
After several bars something happened. Blankness invaded my mind, turning it into an empty space that housed no notes, no music. My violin transformed into a simple piece of wood. I could not remember what I was supposed to play.
I looked at Mr. Harvey pleadingly, and he mouthed words I couldn’t understand. I wanted to bolt from the stage, but something told me to stay put. I closed my eyes and moved my bow along the strings, inventing a line of music. The notes were wrong, but they led me back to the right ones in the final bars of the cadenza, when the orchestra came back in. At the end of the piece the audience applauded, and I walked off the stage.
It has been decades since I played the violin. I have fibromyalgia and cannot play even a scale without a flare-up. I am still depressed and still have no friends, job, or partner to bring me joy. When the limitations of my life threaten to overwhelm me, I remember that moment on stage forty years ago when I produced something from the edges of my imagination and pulled myself out of the abyss.
San Francisco, California
In 1980 I was a junior at a New York City high school. For money I worked pumping gas at a Hess station and also moved marijuana from one dealer to another. The year before, my dad had taken me to the bank to open a savings account, and I was filling my little book with deposits. I had long blond hair, a leather pouch filled with baggies of weed, and great luck. Good things always happened to me.
I loved Bruce Springsteen’s song “Spirit in the Night” and had listened to it so often that I’d scratched the record. One day I heard an announcement on the radio about how to send away for tickets to Springsteen’s The River Tour. If you mailed in a money order and a self-addressed stamped envelope, you could get up to four tickets. They promised to send your money order back if they ran out.
I rode the bus to the bank, took out a pile of cash, and sent away for tickets to five shows. My strategy was to try for as many tickets as possible, and maybe I’d get lucky. But there was so much hype about the tour, it seemed unlikely I would really get tickets.
Over a joint I told my girlfriends what I’d done. They thought I was a lunatic. We were New Yorkers, and in that milieu the first thing you expect people to do is rip you off. My friends told me to kiss that money goodbye and laughed at me for weeks.
One day after school my mom told me I had a lot of mail. Every single envelope I’d sent had come back with four tickets in it, including for the New Year’s Eve show at the Nassau Coliseum. My finger soon hurt from dialing up all my girlfriends to invite them to come.
The New Year’s Eve concert turned out to be the longest show Bruce Springsteen had ever played up to that point. I would love to tell you it was the best concert of my life, but unfortunately I took too many quaaludes that night and remember only the first four songs.
© Forest Woodward
When I was in eighth grade and living in Bangkok, Thailand, with my missionary family, I discovered an American oldies station on the radio in my bedroom. Before that, I had been exposed only to church music: hymns, modern praise songs, and Handel’s Messiah once a year at a cathedral in town.
My parents were not excited about my interest in “worldly” music. I remember my father praying over dinner that I would stop listening to that station. But I knew my parents had enjoyed pop music themselves at one time. We loved to tease my mom about her crush on Rod Stewart, and there were still a couple of John Denver cassettes among our collection of Psalty the Singing Songbook albums.
Over the next two years I went through various obsessions with pop artists who filled me with joy but weren’t too edgy. While my school friends enjoyed Weezer, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins, I stuck with Don McLean and Elvis Presley.
Then I discovered The Phantom of the Opera. Alone in my bedroom with the windows shuttered, I turned the volume up and listened to each haunting song. Christine’s sugary-sweet voice annoyed me, but I loved when she began to boldly sing of the masked phantom, “In sleep he sang to me / In dreams he came.” I was sucked in by the story of the threatening, hideous creature living below the opera house and Christine’s risky choice to visit him.
My family was hesitantly supportive of my new musical addiction. (I suppose something with “opera” in the title seemed better than Elvis.) I still didn’t quite understand the spell I fell under when Christine succumbed to the temptation of the phantom.
We moved back to the United States at the end of my freshman year of high school. On our return we flew to Boston to visit friends. As it turned out, The Phantom of the Opera was being performed in the city that summer. Knowing how much it would mean to me, my father asked our friends to get us tickets. I couldn’t quite believe it when my parents told me we would be seeing the musical in person. I hadn’t grasped that The Phantom of the Opera was still being performed. I’d been under the impression it was something from long ago.
I borrowed a long black dress to wear to the theater. I clearly remember the dramatic old playhouse, with red velvet upholstery, gilded staircases, and chandeliers. It was uncannily similar to where I’d pictured the musical itself taking place and nothing like anywhere I had been in Thailand. I could easily imagine myself as Christine, lured away to some dark labyrinth beneath that magnificent stone building, far from the protective gaze of my parents and my sheltered upbringing.
Oak Park, Illinois
My first underground rave was in the basement of a Mexican restaurant, and there were maybe forty people in attendance. My high-school boyfriend had introduced me to the scene. I took half a pill of ecstasy and rolled for sixteen hours straight. I had never experienced an environment where I felt completely accepted; where I could talk to strangers about deep topics; where I could dance for hours as the music reverberated through my body. From then on, raves were a regular part of my life.
In college my boyfriend and I started attending multiday festivals, where I would dance hard and party harder. By then our relationship had grown toxic. As long as we were at a show, the euphoria fabricated by the ecstasy made everything OK, but those feelings never lasted. After our break-up I sought out romantic connections at every event I went to, only to have them all fizzle out or blow up in my face. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had been conditioned to believe love meant going to a show and doing drugs together.
When COVID hit and large events were postponed, I saw it as an opportunity to take a break from the music scene. I used that time to think, heal, and find God. I finally understood what I had been searching for all those years. The time off also helped me remember what had made me go to raves in the first place: the music, the dancing, and connecting with people.
With things slowly returning to normal, I’ve started going out again, but I no longer take party drugs, nor do I look for someone to hook up with. I’ve dubbed myself the “rave grandma,” and I often help newcomers have a good time or simply listen to anyone who needs to talk. Even when I’m too old to dance anymore, I think a piece of my heart will always belong to the group of misfits who’ve found a home among the lasers and thumping bass.
When I met my husband, he was a drummer in a Led Zeppelin tribute band in Madrid, Spain. My friend knew the band’s singer, and we all chatted at their concert during a set break. I left with someone else that night, but about a month later that drummer and I hung out at my friend’s apartment, drinking beer and talking till dawn. He walked me home and kissed me at my front door.
During our courtship he played George Harrison and Bob Dylan on vinyl while making me fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast. I blasted the Pixies and Beastie Boys from my laptop while chopping vegetables for dinner.
By the time we saw Lila Downs live in a small amphitheater, we were in love. I walked home hand in hand with him that night, wearing his leather coat over my dress to ward off the chill and feeling like the luckiest woman in the world.
At our wedding in the Spanish countryside, a Louis Prima–inspired band played, and we danced under string lights. Our extended families didn’t speak the same language, but it didn’t seem to matter as we spun and twirled.
Our love began to fade after I watched him flirt with other women while packing up after shows. He called it “networking with fans,” but I found unfamiliar phone numbers in his pockets when I did the wash.
As our marriage crumbled, we went to see Neil Young in a packed basketball stadium. Silent tears rolled down my face as Neil sang the words to “Harvest Moon”: “Because I’m still in love with you / I want to see you dance again.”
My husband and I decided to divorce but went to one last concert together — Neutral Milk Hotel, one of my favorite bands. While he stood in the back with his beer, I wiggled to the front to dance and scream my heart out to songs I adored. The fact that it was the band’s last tour felt significant. They were ending an important era of their lives, and so was I. Together we bid the past a loud, glorious, messy goodbye.
In high school I went to an evangelical church that told us God was our only protection against the evil forces of a secular world. Wednesday nights I went to youth-group meetings with worship music and kids sobbing with closed eyes and lifted hands, hoping their souls would be redeemed. It was how we were supposed to demonstrate our faith. I gave it a try, but when I raised my arms and tried to find God’s spirit in the poorly tuned guitars and the lyrics about how beautifully broken we all are, I never really felt that “worship high” others talked about. Over time, however, this awkward charade became less uncomfortable, and I took that as a sign my holy journey was going well.
Two weeks before I started college, I ditched youth group to go to a concert by my favorite band. I had been listening to their music for years even though it didn’t fit my church’s values. My favorite song told a story of coming to terms with being gay. Being a good, God-fearing girl, I had convinced myself that my obsession with this song was nothing more than an expression of my kindheartedness. (Hate the sin; love the sinner.)
At the concert I stood at the front, pressed hard against the security barrier by the sea of people behind me. (My waist would be covered in bruises for weeks.) Rainbow lights flashed over the crowd, and the first notes of my favorite song rang out. In that moment, all of the secular desires that I’d spent years trying to pray away finally consumed me. I wasn’t worried about what anyone else thought or if what I was doing was right. I finally felt that worship high.
In 2011 my seventeen-year-old son, Eric, was stricken with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had to put his senior year of high school on hold while receiving chemotherapy and radiation. Fortunately he completed treatment and was able to graduate and start his freshman year at Ithaca College.
I was living on Long Island, New York, at the time and found out the singer-songwriter Andrew McMahon was playing a few shows on the East Coast. In 2005 McMahon had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia; he’d survived with the help of a stem-cell transplant from his sister and penned a song called “Swim” about his illness. Eric and I had listened to McMahon’s music during our car rides to and from the hospital, and I’d cried every time we’d heard “Swim.”
We got tickets to one of McMahon’s nearby shows, and prior to the concert I wrote something about what the song had meant to me. I brought a copy of the essay to the show, hoping somehow to get it into McMahon’s hands.
The concert was emotional. Toward the end a fortuitous toss landed my essay on the stage next to McMahon’s piano. He picked it up and said he enjoyed receiving presents from the audience. “It’s from my mom!” my son yelled. “Read it!” People around us started chanting, “Read it, read it!” McMahon demurred but took the paper with him as he walked off the stage.
I left the theater a bit dejected that the piece had not been read aloud.
My son and I both live in Colorado now and plan to see McMahon in concert when he comes to Denver. I’ll be sure to print this essay and throw it onto the stage.
When I was young, I saw footage of the Beatles performing at New York City’s Shea Stadium, where they could not hear themselves over the audience’s screams. After I graduated from high school, I embarked on a career as a musician with the goal of performing to an audience as enthusiastic as that. After thirty years of being a humble, working-class musician, I’d given up on that dream, but I’d also learned there were much more meaningful aspects to the job.
From 2017 to 2019 I was able to travel four times to Nepal as the singer, guitarist, and musical director of a band whose mission was to inspire environmental activism. We played concerts all over the country, mostly at schools, many of which wound up starting “green clubs” and taking on local environmental projects. Near the end of our last tour we played a concert at Vajra Academy, Nepal’s first “green school.” We’d been there a number of times on previous trips and had a special relationship with the kids. Some recent graduates had even returned for our final performance.
At the end of the concert we played a Nepali folk song, and the students all sang along, growing louder and rowdier. After we’d finished, they chanted, “Once more, once more.” We played the song over and over. The last time through I realized I could not hear the band over the children’s singing.
On top of all the other gifts those children gave me, they made my dream come true.
Fred Gillen Jr.
Athens, New York
I always enjoy the Readers Write section, but the April 2022 selections on “Concerts” were especially good. The stories took me back to September 1964, when I was fourteen and my dad and I made the drive from Tennessee to Jacksonville, Florida, to see the Beatles in concert. Back then tickets must have been first come, first served, because my dad dropped me off at the Gator Bowl around noon — eight hours before the concert.
I met another fourteen-year-old in line. Her name was Kay Sistrunk, and we ended up sitting together near the front of the crowd of screaming teenagers. The Beatles were great, of course, and Kay and I decided to go steady, regardless of the fact that we lived five hundred miles apart.
We talked on the phone a few times after the concert and exchanged letters. I even wore a cheesy pin with her name inscribed on it to school. But as most teenage sweethearts do, we drifted apart, and I never saw her again. I wonder where she is now.