My wife scored tickets to J-Lo at Summerfest this year. She’s excited about seeing a legendary singer and movie star, and it got me thinking about my favorite concert experience.
With four decades of broadcasting behind me, not to mention being an omnivorous music fan, I’ve seen hundreds of concerts. But the most memorable one was also one of my earliest.
The year was 1979, I was home from college, working a summer job in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the town where I grew up. I bought tickets to see America in Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, with a friend and co-worker, Steve Haberman.
I wasn’t a huge America fan. The reason I went was to see the opening act, a new group named McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, who had just released their debut album. I say new, but these guys had been around and had an exceptional pedigree. The astute music fan has already recognized Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman as founding members of the Byrds.
I liked the MCH album, and was also intrigued to see what Byrds chestnuts, or Chestnut Mares (See what I did there?) they might pull out during their set.
In retrospect, I must have been even more of a fanboy than I really remember, as I chose this concert over seeing Eric Clapton, who was playing a day or two later in the same venue.
So, the concert arrives, my friend Steve and I have seats in the first balcony with a good view of the stage. There’s a middle aged man with brown hair and a beard a couple of rows behind us, who we laughingly decide is an incognito Clapton.
(anyone besides me remember this tune?)
The MCH set is good, including their minor Top 40 hit, “Don’t You Write Her Off,” but it was the encore that made it memorable. My sharp-eyed friend picked up some commotion just offstage and said “let’s go to the main floor.”
So, we run downstairs, and arrive in front of the stage just in time to hear Roger McGuinn say, “Here’s a great old song, and a great friend to help us out… Eric Clapton!”
Clapton had, in fact, arrived a day early before his own concert. In retrospect, I don’t know why we would have thought the guitar god would have been sitting BEHIND US, IN THE BALCONY, but since Steve was also the person who introduced me to weed, it is possible my thought processes were somewhat cloudy.
Wearing a faded jean jacket, Clapton walked onstage. He was clean-shaven, so had it not been for McGuinn’s introduction, we might not have recognized him.
Until he started to play, of course.
Clapton buckled a Fender strat around his shoulders, and proceeded to rip through a torrid version of “Eight Miles High.”
We would have listened to that band jam all night, but unfortunately the headliners wanted to go on, so the ex-Byrds and EC left the stage. We went back to our seats and dozed through an unremarkable set from America.
Nearly forty years later, that 15 minutes still ranks as my most memorable concert experience. And I’m happy to say that Steve, Eric, and I are all still around to reminisce about it.
Okay, probably Steve and me more than Eric.
What’s your most memorable live music experience? Tell me in the comments!