I grew up in suburbia. The primordial cesspool where teen angst spawned emo-pop-punk music. I played the alto sax in grade school sitting second chair to the now rock guitar player for Alkaline Trio and Blink 182. I was 14 when I went to see my first show at the Metro. The Blue Meanies opened for the Mighty Mighty BossTones. Shortly after it was Pennywise, a very young Green Day, Public Image Limited (post Sex Pistols) and Pegboy. I was in to that music mostly because that’s what my friends were listening to and creating. Secretly I was turning my radio dial to Lite FM when I was alone in the car or bedroom.
I Am grateful to be a product of the school band, even though I was always getting sent to the practice rooms or the principals office during band rehearsals for being a nuisance. I learned to read music in concert band. I learned to tune. I learned how it’s important to listen to the whole band and not just my part. Looking back, I feel terrible that my band teacher had to put up with me. When my jazz band teacher found out I didn’t sign up for jazz band the following semester he stopped rehearsal (red faced) and personally thanked me for ending his misery in putting up with me. Ironically, me and my punk rock partner, who were always getting in trouble, were the only kids who grew up to be professional musicians!
I was exposed to other live music at that age too. Some stoner friends of mine and I went to a Reggae Festival at Poplar Creek where we saw Daddy Freddy, the fastest rapper on the planet. We also took a road trip north to Milwaukee to check out Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, and saw Chubby Checker. We went and hung out at Lalapalooza at Alpine Valley and raged to Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Body Count (Ice T’s rock side-project). I almost went to a Steve Miller Band show, but couldn’t because I was arrested the morning of the concert (a story for another BLOG).
The first time music affected me on a molecular level was at Soldier Field in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert. I tagged along with a friend and we found a scalper who sold me a fake ticket. I didn’t get into the show, but for the first time in my life I met people who were nice for no other reason than to be nice. I went into a trance-like state while listening to a drum circle. It moved me, literally, and I started to dance. I still hadn’t heard a note of the Grateful Dead in my entire life, but I was hooked on the scene. Then, sadly, Jerry died.
So I did what every lost post-angst suburban kid who didn’t fit in with the dressed-in-black punk rockers would do. I went on Phish tour and started buying percussion instruments so I could participate in drum circles. No, I can’t count how many Phish shows I went to over the next few years. Needless to say, it was a lot. I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had on tour. I banged on drums till my hands bled.
It was during this time that I started to discover other types and genres of less popular music. I started frequenting Ani Difranco and Leftover Salmon shows. I have seen those two bands more than any other band. Both of them took the genre they were thrown into and busted out. They were my first experience in expanding creative limits. Anything seemed possibly! They inspired me to start writing my own music.
I went and saw Rusted Root, Herbie Hancock, BB King, moe, and the David Grisman Quintet. That was the first time I saw Joe Craven perform and marked another eye-opening moment in my view of what music was and what it could be. It would be ten years before I would meet him and be able to tell him what an influence he was. It would be another ten years before I would work with him in the studio.
I moved from Wisconsin to the West coast and saw bands like Keller Williams, String Cheese Incident, Tony Furtado, Ben Harper, Todd Snider, Stacy Earl (Steve Earls little sister), Yonder Mountain String Band, Lyle Lovett, Medeski/Martin & Wood, Bob Weir with Charlie Musselwhite, Bonnie Rait, John Lee Hooker, Mickey Hart Band at the Fillmore, John Prine at the Portland Zoo, George Clinton with the P-Funk Allstars at an ice rink in Vail, and Michael Franti & Spearhead.
I even Met Michael Franti and managed to piss him off when he misunderstood something I said about his poetry. I kept running into this guy named Fantuzzi in the Bay Area who isn’t as famous as all these other names, but he gets an honorable mention for having a lasting impact. I caught an amazing show in Arcadia, CA featuring the flute playing of R. Carlos Nakai and Paul Horn while on a bicycle tour down the coast.
Then, I spent a summer as a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior and volunteered at the Big Top Chataqua in exchange for tickets to shows. I saw a lot of great shows there including The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Greg Brown, Iris Dement, and Willie Nelson.
I saw some great shows in Stevens Point, WI at Sentry theater that include Bobby McFerrrin, Leon Redbone, Bela Fleck, Ladysmith Black Mumbazo, Leo Kottke and more.
While I was in Peru I went to a huge stadium show to see Sonya Morales. She was very big there. I would dance and the local people would watch me and laugh. I was a pale skinned red-headed giant bustin’ a move and they thought it was hilarious!
Other more recent shows I can remember going to are Tom Petty, Cake, Widespread Panic, and Lake Street Dive. All amaze-balls in there own way. This is a list of every popular live music show I've ever been to (that I can remember), except one, and it excludes lesser known artists & music festivals, where I've seen hundreds (maybe thousands) of bands.
Music has obviously had a lasting impact on my life. What has made an even bigger impression on me is the music scene. More specifically, Festivals. I Love the food, the campground, the late night jams, the friendly people, the vendors… pretty much everything! Blues Traveler put on a great one called Hordefest where I saw Natalie Merchant (or 10,000 maniacs?). I saw Sam Bush for the first time at Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival and would later meet him at Blue Ox Festival. Other highlights include Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Mountain Aire, High Sierra, Jazz Fest in New Orleans, The Great Went in Maine, Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, Boats and Bluegrass, and Bumbershoot in Seattle where I saw Modest Mouse for the first time.
Eventually I ended up starting my own festival that ran for five years and now I have been an MC, stage manager, sound an lighting tech, and consultant for over 10 festivals looking to up there game in kids programming, workshops, and non-music entertainment. I have slowly shied away from the large fests and now frequent what I call micro-festivals. Like microbrews, these little fests have become the renaissance of live and local music throughout the country. Still the good vibes without the crowds.
My taste in music is eclectic. My one rule is this: If it’s good, I like it. No matter what the genre. Just like nature needs biodiversity to thrive, music needs audio diversity to flourish, expand, and grow. If you can sing along, even better. If you can dance, that’s good too. Although I do like to sit, zone out, or study the musicians too.
I look back at that day at Soldier Field as where it all started. I look back at my days in the school concert band as giving me the foundation and understanding I needed. I hear the future sounds pretty good. See you at a show!
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