Friday, September 28, 2007


There once was a time when I actually went to a concert now and then. That was years ago when I didn't mind being in a crowd for a couple of hours. I'm not ruling out the possibility that I will attend another concert, but I doubt seriously I will be going to another one that sells out the Frank Erwin Center. I'm more inclined to the small venues now.

Be that as it may, I bought a CD the other day at Half-Price Books that reminded me of a particular concert in my past, which got me to thinking about other concerts in my past. So here we go down memory lane once again.

The first major concert I ever attended was the first official Willie Nelson Picnic at Dripping Springs, an event I wrote about before in a blog post dated July 4, 2005, if you want to look it up in the archives. That was quite an introduction to world of concerts, involving an unruly crowd with everything from basic country music fans to stoned out undesirables.

The next two concerts were at the old Palmer Auditorium on Town Lake. That was back when you could take a tape recorder with you and for years I had multiple tapes from a concert featuring Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Billy Swan and surprise guest Willie Nelson. That was a fun evening despite the bad acoustics. My mother and I were sitting about a dozen rows from the front and I can remember a steady stream of fans making their way up close to the stage to take photos and pass a glass of liquid refreshment to the performers. No way would that happen in this day and age.

Tom T. Hall also performed at the Palmer Auditorium and again my mother and I were sitting up fairly close to the stage. Tom T. was at his most popular at the time and he gave a really great performance and I happily snapped most of a roll of film with my old Instamatic. I still have those photos that show Tom T. as an indistinct speck on the stage. Amazing how far we've come in the matters of photography since then. I was happy with those photos at the time. Zoom lens? What's that?

We never went to another musical performance at the auditorium, because about that time the Frank Erwin Center came into existence. (Speaking of the old auditorium, that was where Elvis gave his Austin concert. That's one I missed attending because I did not come to appreciate Elvis until later.)

When Linda Ronstadt came to Austin, I was accompanied by both Mother and David. She performed in the round and I can remember being up and behind her and I think one of us remarked that if she kept wiggling her butt like that she was going to come right through that red dress before the night was out. She was at the height of her popularity then and the place was pretty much full. The difference between going to a concert at the Drum and going to a concert at Palmer Auditorium was like night and day.

Along about the same time we went to the Drum to see Kenny Rogers and if memory serves, Dottie West was there for a couple of duets. I could be wrong about that. My outstanding memory of that concert was Kenny's growing frustration with the incompetent lighting techs. They just could not seem to get the spotlight situated on the right people at the right time. I can remember Kenny whistling and arcing his hand toward where the spotlight was supposed to be.

When Billy Joel came to town, my mother was willing to try a rock concert because she liked his records I played frequently. That concert was a lot different from the other two because now we were in a heavy contingent of rock fans. Illicit marijuana cigarettes were being passed up and down the row in front of us and we probably came out of there smelling like pot heads. The crowd didn't have that comfortable down-home flavor that country/rock crossover concerts had and we were a little ill-at-ease that night.

I saw Peter, Paul and Mary at the Drum. They performed on the half-arena stage and the crowd was definitely a mellow one. No unease there, just pure enjoyment.

I made the trip to the Drum twice to see John Denver. I can remember the first time he came to Austin was during his "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" era in the mid-70s and sang to a sold-out crowd of which I was not a member. When he came back to Austin in 1989, I attended with Mother and a friend from work. His popularity had waned, but his voice was better than ever and the performance was outstanding. I came to enjoy his music even better as he aged and when he came to Austin in late September of 1997, I went to see him again. I can remember how wonderful his voice was at that concert. I don't think I had ever heard him sing more beautifully. It was about two weeks after that concert that he died in an air crash. I was never able to bring myself to wear the T-shirt I bought at that concert and it still sits in the closet in pristine condition, along with the concert program and magazines that paid him tribute after his death. It was a long time afterwards before I could bring myself to listen to his CDs without feeling pain. I am so glad that I took the opportunity to attend that last concert.

I've been to several Mary Chapin-Carpenter concerts in various venues. She always delivers an enjoyable concert and attracts more of the old country fan base. By far the most enjoyable was in the Bass Performing Arts Center after the release of Come On, Come On. There are no bad seats at the PAC and they put on a heckuva show. I also saw her at the Drum and had to tolerate a loud-mouthed drunk that sat in front of us and who only settled down when one of my companions "accidentally" dumped a cold drink down his back. Instant semi-sobriety. And the concert was entertaining, too.

Finally, I attended two Carlos Nakai concerts in Austin. One at the Hogg Auditorium and one at One World Theater. Both were small, intimate affairs that filled your senses with his Native Indian flute.

The ultimate concert for me, however, was along about 1967 or 1968 when we made a trip to Nashville and attended the Grand Ole Op'ry at the original Ryman Auditorium. What concert can compare to an evening spent listening to one great country artist after another. I think it was that night that caused me to flip my radio dial from rock and roll to country, where it has stayed for most of my life.

I can't really think of anyone today who would entice me to a concert. Maybe I'm getting old and maybe I'm getting smart. And maybe I would change my mind if Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder should happen through Austin.


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