More Than One "First" Concert
You know what they say- you always remember your first. Concert, that is.
When new friends and acquaintances find out I’m a music and concert junkie, they’ll inevitably ask “What was your first concert?” It seems like a simple question, and my response should come quickly because there’s only one possible answer- right? For me, it’s always been more complicated than that because I have three “first” concerts – one I slept through, one I never wanted to attend, and one that truly embodied what you’d expect of the first.
If we want to get technical, the first concert I attended was in second grade. My father’s favorite band, The Pat Metheny Group, was playing at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. I was in the room when he was discussing with my mom that he wanted to go and I chimed in inviting myself to tag along. I remember how proud he was as he chatted with our seat neighbors in the Wolf Trap pavilion, explaining I’d asked to come because I liked the band. What eight-year-old is genuinely such an ardent fan of jazz and new age music that they ask their parents to go see The Pat Metheny Group live? Sure, I knew their music because he played it constantly, but that certainly wasn’t my motivation for going. As daddy’s little girl, I just wanted to spend time with him and love the same things he did. In the end, I slept through the majority of the concert, but my dad made sure to wake me for the song we both loved- First Circle. I still like to listen to that song from time to time because it reminds me of my father and our shared concert experience, how happy it made him that I showed interest in the same music he loved, and how music and concerts can create such amazing memories that have little to do with the music itself.
In the summer of 2000, my mother bought me tickets to see the Dixie Chicks. She gave them to me on my birthday that June and seemed so excited at having found the perfect gift that I couldn’t bear to break her heart and tell her I had no interest in seeing them live. I’d gone through a phase where I listed to Fly on a loop after it was released the year prior, but now going into my sophomore year of high school, I was beginning to identify with alternative and punk music and was more interested in Warped Tour. The day of the concert, I was surprised that actually I enjoyed the show and managed not to be a sullen, country-music-hating teenager for the evening. It was easy to do since there was almost no chance of me running into anyone I knew in the crowd at the MCI Center (now Capital One Arena) that evening. Even though I’d decided to cultivate my persona into someone who wouldn’t have been caught dead at that concert if it weren’t for my mother, that show helped me begin to understand that the image of a band or artist mattered much less than their songwriting and performing talent. Whatever your opinions of country music or the Dixie Chicks, it’s hard to deny that they put on a damn good show.
Later that year I attended the concert I’ll most often claim as my “first.” My friend Alison and I went to see Good Charlotte at the 9:30 Club. Fourteen year olds don’t have properly developed tastes after all, so please don’t hold this against me. Since this was in the days before every elementary school student had their own iPhone, the logistics of going unchaperoned were complicated. My mother insisted we do a dry-run about a week before, driving downtown from our home in northern Virginia to the club and back. She wanted to be familiar with the area surrounding the club and select a nearby street corner as a designated meeting place since she couldn’t just call me and ask where we were when the show was over.
The night of the show we posted up on the right side of the balcony against the railing. Having been some of the first people in line we had a perfect unobstructed view of the stage, as well as the venue floor. Sum 41 opened the show, and when their set was over, Alison spotted the band’s singer milling around on the floor and decided to go down and say hello. I was much too shy myself and couldn’t imagine why on earth he’d want to talk to a couple teenagers, so I told her I’d save our spot and asked her to buy me a Good Charlotte t-shirt while she was down there. I watched from above as she moved through the crowd directly towards him, and then as they chatted and she asked him to sign a pink index card she happened to have in her pocket. Then she looked up and pointed at me, his gaze followed, and they both waved. I instantly regretted my decision to stay put on the balcony.
The rest of the evening was an exciting blur and the experience sparked something in me. All my concert “firsts” had given me some reason to love live music, but THIS was how I wanted to experience it- standing amongst other fans in a small venue. Places where the band was close enough from any viewing spot that you could make out their facial expressions without the aid of a jumbo screen, and where you may actually meet a band member at the merch table. The crowd’s energy was electric and I wanted to be a part of it again as often as I could. I wore the 9:30 Club’s faded, underage stamps with the rat image on my hands the next day as a badge of honor, and would continue to let the stamps and Sharpie “X”s from future shows fade slowly in hopes that the memories would do the same. Hundreds of shows later and more than 20 years since that first concert, the excitement still never fades.