Saturday, July 6, 2024

My First

The very first concert I ever attended was at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, in September 1981. I saw Barry Manilow.

I’d arrived as a clueless freshman at Brigham Young University three weeks before. During my time at BYU, I was confused about my own sexual orientation. I was also oblivious to the fact that most of my college friends were gay, too. And the fact that Barry Manilow is gay.

Years later, a friend who had been part of BYU’s secret gay underground told me a story about the Barry Manilow concert. Apparently afterwards an unmarked car full of BYU security officers followed Manilow and his posse forty-five mile north to the Sun Tavern, Salt Lake City’s gay bar.

Last week I drove with my daughter Eleanor for seven hours so we could see singer-songwriter Noah Kahan at The Gorge Amphitheater. I waited for five hours in the desert, mostly in arbitrary lines fueling monopolistic profit. It was too hot, too muggy, and then too cold. We got home at 3:30 am the next morning. It was amazing.

I’ve been to other classic outdoor concert venues, like Red Rocks and Ravinia. I saw Sting play Park City, with Stewart Copeland sitting in on drums. Seattle used to host concerts on a waterfront pier where I saw artists like Indigo Girls and Lyle Lovett sing as sailboats passed by.  

I’d heard of the Gorge, of course, and its reputation as a concert venue. I’d had opportunities to attend shows before. My inevitable response: “All that driving just to sit in the desert?”

I’ve always been more into theater than music performances anyway, except for eras when I’ve gone to concerts with the handful of partners whose musical taste I absorbed. With my mother I’ve seen Great American Songbook masters like Barbara Cook and Kristin Chenoweth. My boyfriend in Chicago was a lesbian, at least musically, so he dragged me to Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Alanis Morrisette, and Natalie Merchant. My ex in Seattle was more twee – we saw Belle & Sebastian twice. 

Now Eleanor is my go-to concert date. Our first show after covid was Harry Styles at the Tacoma Dome.

Eleanor went to her first concert with a friend. It was also Eleanor’s first outdoor concert, at the Muckleshoot Tribe’s Wind River Amphitheater near Seattle. She saw the Jonas Brothers. As we drove to the Gorge, I asked Eleanor which Jonas brother is “the cute one.” She picked Joe. (Wrong – the correct answer is Nick.) 

According to Eleanor, the highlight of the Jonas Brothers concert was their opening act, a rising country star named Kelsea Ballerini. On the same day we went to the Gorge, Noah Kahan released a new duet with Kelsea:  “Cowboys Cry Too.”

Noah Kahan’s concert at the Gorge sold out long ago. Thirty thousand people stood on the darkening hillside for his entire two hour set. We watched a talented and suddenly successful young musician connect with the crowd for a one-night-only performance on the day his breakthrough single “Stick Season” hit a billion Spotify streams.

Kahan writes openly about living with anxiety and depression. His charity benefits mental illness programs. As an extra encore at the Gorge, Kahan performed “Young Blood.” He introduced it as the first song he ever wrote. Looking out at the vast crowd, he told us “I remember feeling really lost. I wrote this song so that when I got older and if I had a music career, I could remember where I came from and what it was like to feel alone.”

It Gets Better and Better. If I were a little smarter, I would have recognized fatherhood was my destiny a little sooner. But then I wouldn’t be going to amazing concerts with Eleanor.