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Leif Zurmuhlen

Remembrance of Concerts Past
Or, bring back those lazy, hazy, crazy, shows of summer...
By Shawn Stone

The umbrella incident was the last straw. This was the moment I realized that the big outdoor concert experience had become overwhelmingly compromised, and that innocent summer fun at big rock shows was a thing of the past.

It was the last rock show of the SPAC season a couple of years ago. The headliners were Creed. The summer weather had ended a week too soon—a cold front had rolled in, bringing with it intermittently heavy rain. If you had lawn tickets (as I did), an umbrella would have been a handy item. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be weren’t allowing people to bring in umbrellas. There was a table set up where umbrellas had to be checked. The reason given was safety—apparently, it was feared that mock-swordfighting or rogue pranksterism would lead to eye-gougings or fatal impalements. Though music lovers were not allowed to keep their umbrellas, the powers-that-be made rain ponchos available for purchase. (I was willing to get wet.)

Could it only have been 15 or so years before that the top lawn seat for a rock show at SPAC was $12, and lawn tickets for the Philadelphia Orchestra were $6.50? And you could bring your own snacks and libations? And the lineup of bands was a varied mix of heavy hitters (Dylan and Tom Petty), popsters (Culture Club), R&B faves (Pointer Sisters), revitalized geezers (Moody Blues) and smooth MOR crooners (Julio Iglesias)? Now, too often it’s a princely sum for a plethora of geezers.

No wonder those nutty DIY kids have seceded from the music world and are having their own basement shows every other weekend.

I don’t want to romanticize things too much, but there was a Dazed and Confused-like sense of concertgoing, hanging out and partying as innocent fun. (All right, so drinking and driving isn’t kosher anymore, but my past pales in comparison to my father’s wild tales of the ’50s.) Among other things, it was the golden age of pre-corporate-controlled radio and Matt’s beer balls. Someone once told me he had his car rigged up so that the beer ball could be nestled in the trunk, and beer dispensed through the back seat.

Unsure if I was just being a crotchety old bastard, I checked with a few peers. (OK, three.) All said the same thing—they went to concerts all the time back then, and saw practically anything, because the price was right and the hassles were few. “I saw James Taylor like three times,” one remembered, speaking in a tone of voice suggesting that this was just a not-too-awful way of killing time. Another reminisced about a legendary venue in Stockbridge, Mass., called the Music Inn. At this venue the ’70s vibe was in full effect: The ticket-taker was often stoned and might let you in without a ticket, and the uncut grass grew higher than the wooden stage. Either we’re all on the road to terminal curmudgeonhood, or really big shows were better back in the day.

Does that mean the fun is over? Of course not. If you take a Zenlike attitude toward the corporate crap, SPAC (and places like it) are still great places to experience music. (Neil Young and Crazy Horse at SPAC on July 4 is the event of the summer.) Plus, there are numerous outdoor venues around the region to experience great music at no cost. From Washington Park in Albany to Riverfront Park in Troy to the sublime Agnes MacDonald Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park, a wide variety of music can be seen in a relaxed, congenial setting—and no one will confiscate that picnic basket you’ve brought along.


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