April 29, 2022

FTV: Live Shows Revisited – Part 2


     In Part 1 of Live Shows Revisited (2-23-22), I asked for stories about your favorite concert memories.  Less than three days later, Howard Szaroletta from Reno, Nevada responded.  In terms of ‘mining data’ for interesting stories, I have to say I struck paydirt on the first try.  There is no way I could tell Howard’s story better than he did, so what follows is a direct quote (with a few additional comments from yours truly):

     “As a youth growing up my idea of a live concert had always been ‘it’s a waste of time and money’ because a person could just buy a band’s record and play it over and over for enjoyment and stay true to the frugality of the times (at least the frugality I was raised under!).  A great and special friend of mine in high school had tried to arrange a trip out to New York for a few of us on Greyhound to see a concert.  Our parents forbade it, otherwise Woodstock would’ve been my first taste of live bands and I’d be writing about IT!  We survived the disappointment of not going though as the time news coverage of the festival was not positive.  Looking back now at how close we came to being a part of that experience makes me wonder the effect on each of our lives (it would have had) if we’d have just jumped on a bus and gone and faced the music when we returned.” (My note:  At my house, I am pretty sure the locks would have been changed and I would have been disowned.)

     “Still hanging on to my ‘just buy the record’ mentality though, I came back to the U.P. for college at Michigan Tech in 1971 (I’m an Ontonagonite born in 1953 but raised from age 5 in the Lower Peninsula).  Sometime after my freshman year, we got tickets to a concert going on in Marquette at NMU in a large building there. (My note:  Howard and I agreed it would have been at Hedgecock Field House.  The Hedgecock database says it was 11-13-74).  The Heimlich Maneuver had just been invented and I studied it up for some reason when it came out.

     The concert was Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and between all my friends and I we had plenty of his records to play, (so was my thinking), but the tickets were purchased and we got set for the concert.  Several of us went and I was thinking it was going to be a waste with Frank up there doing gross stuff.  Well, was I mistaken!  The warmup band I don’t remember much of (no mention made in the database), however, THEY were a shocker how good the sound was.  When The Mothers came on and Frank joined them, they just flat out played one song to the next and I remember thinking he just showed us the part in his hair as he bent over his guitar and rocked out that hall.  What a blast, I was at my first concert and realizing how WRONG my earlier thoughts were all at the same time.  ‘Nothing beats a live performance,’ was ever after going to be the new mantra PLUS from now on, we’ll get the record to remember the performance by (I did not have money for t-shirts back then so no memento like that either).

     They encored with Johnny B. Goode and we (especially me!) went wild to hear someone jam out like that.  I was hooked and began a life of attending concerts and performances that continues to this day.  (My note:  At this point, I was still wondering how the Heimlich Maneuver fit in . . .)

There’s a small story that goes along with that day.  A friend, while getting out of the vehicle right before the concert, began choking on a piece of food and was struggling to get our attention.  Actually, I thought he was just kidding but it got serious when his color was changing blue so I got around on him and performed the Heimlich and out shot this chunk of sandwich.  He turned and said, ‘You just saved my life!’”

     I replied to Howard to tell him I missed this show but had gotten a first hand report from a classmate in the Geography Department at NMU.  My source raved about the concert and said on the way down a flight of stairs to a side exit on the lower level of Hedgecock, the crowd found Frank Zappa with a towel around his neck having a smoke by the open exit.  He nodded and smiled as everyone filed past him with many commenting on what a great show it had been.  Sad to say, I missed one for the ages.  Thank you, Howard, for sharing.

     My second response came from another former Ontonagonite now living in Green Bay, John Fischer.  John also traveled from MTU to his favorite concert but it wasn’t held in Marquette.  He had to travel from Houghton to Green Bay.  He and Bob ‘Rouse’ Colclasure were dedicated Kingston Trio fans so they made the pilgrimage to see the Trio perform (an act they repeated several times as John and Bob played Kingston Trio music with John’s brother Bobby).  Near the end of the show, the Trio asked if there were any volunteers who would like to come on stage and perform with them.  John said he almost yanked Bob C’s arm out of his socket to get the band’s attention.  What happened next could only be described as the Kingston Trio getting more than they bargained for.

     Anyone who had the privilege to see the two Bobs and John play Kingston Trio tunes will recall two things:  They performed flawless renditions of the KT songs and between numbers, Bob C would get on a roll with funny asides and imitations of actors like Jimmy Stuart.  True to form, Bob bantered back and forth with the band before they handed him a guitar.  Bob C grabbed the lead vocal part he was used to singing and Bob Shane (from the Trio) sang backup for him.

     John says the people around him were absolutely sure that Rouse had been planted in the audience just for this moment.  He says now, “His performance was so good, I had to convince them that it wasn’t a set up and that Bob C was just another concert goer like them.”  John had told me this story once before:  I had picked up tickets to see The Kingston Trio perform during one of their anniversary tours at the Calumet Theater in 2007.  Ironically, John had to drive from Green Bay to L’Anse (where I met him at a commuter lot so he could relax a bit after his four hour drive) and he shared this tale with me on the way to Calumet.  Had the trio asked for volunteers that night, it would have been me yanking John’s arm out of joint to try and get him up on stage, but alas, they weren’t looking to be upstaged that night.  We had to settle for me taking a picture of John with the newest member of the Kingston Trio’s (then) current lineup.

     WOAS-FM West Coast Bureau rep Todd and I had our share of memorable concert moments when the WCB was still in Los Angeles.  Having seen the Black Crowes with him twice in L.A., I had a feeling his favorite moment would be Crowe based.  Sure enough, it involved them (daughter Elizabeth being the other half of the WCB) traveling from L.A. to San Francisco to see a couple of Crowe’s shows at the fabled Fillmore Auditorium.  According to Todd, the Crowes played six consecutive nights and each night, they did a different theme for their encore.  The shows were great and he said the most memorable night, they closed the second set with Midnight Rambler and followed that up by doing an encore of Rolling Stones covers.

     Not to leave Elizabeth out of the concert picture, she had good words to say about both Cher and Lady Gaga shows.  As for Cher, she reports, “It was great to see Cher because her performance included songs from every decade of her career, and her voice was still spectacular!  Hearing her perform Believe live (complete with the famous ‘Cher effect’ on Auto Tune was a particular highlight.”  Lady Gaga gets similar high praise:  “It was fun seeing Gaga at the height of her Monster Ball fame, as those shows were over the top!  She skillfully played keyboard and keytar at various points during her performances.  We (Todd was a good sport and went along in light of all the shows that Elizabeth had taken in with bands he follows) had the good fortune of seeing her perform on her 25th birthday, and although the show started late because she had been having a wild birthday dinner beforehand (according to the tabloids), it was still special to see her band and dancers present her with a cake and sing Happy Birthday at the end of the show.”  (At the time, I recall her adding, “I danced and screamed like a thirteen year old” which is one reason I figured this show might show up on her list).  

     My wife has also been able to see some great shows, both in L.A. and Eugene, Oregon.  I would not be stretching the truth to say two of her favorites involved Neil Young.  The first was a solo acoustic show she attended with the WCB at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.  Neil switched between acoustic guitar and piano throughout the show and she said guitars sounded phenomenal.  Between adoring fans (“Neiiillll – you’re still changing the world, Neil!”) and his dry sense of humor, it was a wonderful show.  You can clearly hear the crowd gasp when he performs Thashser in the soundboard recording Todd sent my wife later.  The last time NY played Thrasher was with Crazy Horse in Inglewood back on October 24, 1978 (the song is about his departure from CSN&Y).  Those in attendance in Hollywood on March 29, 2014 got quite a treat to hear this deep cut after a 35 year absence from his live shows. 

     The second show they took in was at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon and it was  different for a couple of reasons.  Neil’s tour just before the COVID pandemic hit was with The Promise of the Real (Lucas Nelson’s band).  The show opened with NY doing his solo thing and when the whole band joined him in the second half, they tore the house down.  Weather complications involving a canceled flight from Ironwood and a hastily rebooked flight the next day from Houghton plunked my wife in Eugene the day of the concert.  By the time they were making the three mile trek back to the car, she was running on fumes – but still elated by the energy of the show.  Todd gets a particular kick out of sending Neil music to my wife on a regular basis.  I may have missed these shows but again, the WCB has been able to find soundboard recordings of many of them so I can at least hear what I missed.

     My wife and I have been to many great shows here in our own backyard (including the Ontonagon Theater, The Calumet Theater and the Rozsa Center at MTU).  When Ladysmith Black Mambazo appeared at the Rozsa, my wife had worked the phones and gotten us seats at stage left only two rows back.  It would have been a wonderful show from anywhere in the  theater, but being that close to the stage gave us an up close and personal view of the group’s choreography.  We were in almost the exact same location in 2011 to see Rockland the Opera that was commissioned by the Pine Mountain Music Festival.  The original true story had been written by Alfred Laakso, one of the miners involved in the events of 1906 and his grandson Andy Hill of Wakefield was instrumental in getting it turned into a stage production.  Having known Andy for many years, we had heard about Rockland as it was being developed so finally seeing it on stage was another highlight for us.  When the national touring production of Porgy & Bess came to the Rozsa, it was notable because of the quality of the performances and the sub zero blizzard we had to navigate on the way home.

     There have been a number of shows we also enjoyed at the Calumet Theater over the years.  My wife loves George Winston and this was one of our first concerts in this long string.  Winston makes fine albums, but the variety of styles he puts into his live shows make his concerts very entertaining.  Judy Collins’ explanation of how she began formal voice training late in her career made sense when she unleashed her remarkable voice.  Even in her late 70s, her voice had lost none of its crystal clear sparkle.  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Roger McGuinn, Arlo Guthrie, Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and The LowRider Band were all enjoyable live shows hosted by the Calumet Theater.  The LowRider Band is the name used by the band formerly known as War because they were contractually banned from using their more familiar name.  I had seen them previously as War at Lakeview Arena in Marquette so I was not sure what to expect of them thirty years later.  As I told the theater manager during the intermission, The Lowrider Band put on an even better show than they did back then.  Seeing guitarist/vocalist Howard Scott take to the audience to pass around a mic for a Why Can’t We Be Friends sing-along was a lot of fun.  When he got to an enthusiastic teenage boy in the middle of the main floor, Scott let the kid shine and lingered there long enough to bring the house to its feet.  Maybe they should have offered him a contract on the spot.

     Back in part one of Live Shows Revisited, I mentioned there have been too many great shows for me to pick any one favorite.  This statement still stands as I haven’t even gotten to gems like the two Alan Parsons Project shows done with the MTU Symphony, The Outfield, Flo and Eddie (The Turtles), Blue Oyster Cult (twice), Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, Dave Loggins, Catfish Hodge, Chicago, Brownsville Station . . . I am sure you get the idea by now.  Need I add I have never been to a live music event that has left me disappointed?

     Last note on live shows.  Over a couple of birthdays, I was gifted three volumes compiled by Richard Houghton and put out by Red Planet Books.  The series bears the title I Was There and contains many first hand accounts of regular people seeing bands both as they were coming up and after they were famous.  Having absorbed many interesting stories from these three books, I  donated them to the Ontonagon Township Library for others to also enjoy.  I don’t normally give away birthday presents, but my bookshelves are getting more and more crowded so in this case, I can accomplish the dual goals of thinning my collection while sharing interesting tales with other music lovers.  Many thanks to adjunct West Coast Bureau member Brian for the excellent reading material.

     The other thing I promised back in Part 1 was a more detailed accounting of the second Measured Chaos show put on at the Ontonagon Theater in June of 2009.  Some of that story has already been told in FTV:  Al J Returns (Ontonagon Herald 3-30-22).  We will wrap up Part 3 of Live Shows Revisited a little closer to Al Jacquez’s OTPA show in August of 2022.

FTV:  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from 2006 Farm Aide concert – they were another favorite concert moment for my wife and I when they appeared at the Calumet Theater.