What Live Music Means to Me

I’ve been meaning to write about live music for some time now, and I guess the day after attending a major festival in Oshkosh WI is as good a time as any. Rock USA, you rule, and I’ll be going back next year (unless Rockfest in Cadott WI has a better lineup that is (sorry, them’s the breaks)).

I have this little internal joke that going to a concert is like going to church. I’m not religious at all, but I do believe spirituality can be found anywhere if you’re looking hard enough. To connect with something greater than you is powerful. To feel small is powerful. To feel exhilarated is powerful. To feel part of a whole is powerful. Hell, to feel is powerful.

When David Draiman of Disturbed humbly asked us all to hold our phones and lighters up for his cover of “The Sound of Silence,” I turned around and looked at the giant field that is the Ford Festival concert venue. I lost my breath. The scene was gorgeous: almost a hundred thousand people in a pitch-blackness holding up little dots of light. It was like being on the same plane as space itself.

In that moment, I helped turn a dark field into a work of art.

It’s funny. During the day at work, I feel like a little piece too, a cog in a machine that will run and run until it burns me out and I’m replaced. It’s not fun feeling small there. Yet at a concert, when I’m one voice in thousands, I feel special, important. I feel like I’m helping to make something amazing.

“Get the fuck up!” Corey Taylor of Slipknot screams, and everyone jumps up and down on command. The ground doesn’t shake, but I like to pretend it does. “Oshkosh, show me your horns!” Caleb Shomo of Beartooth demands, and every fist isin the air. If the devil is real, then his grin is probably as big as mine.

We are all loud. We are all sweaty. We are all smiling like people gone mad! And for a full hour, we are all one, this big, amorphous mass of bodies all focused on a group of artists who are having just as much fun as we were, if not more.

It’s not about deadlines or money or acting like an adult in a world that’s hard; its’ about letting loose and having as much fun as possible. It’s about swearing and jumping and looking at the stranger next to you and grinning because damn it, yes you can scream louder than he can.

It’s gorgeous. It’s fucking gorgeous.

My first concert was in 2008. I was a freshman in college and unable to drink in public. I had no real interest in live music at that point, figuring if I wanted to jam, I could throw a CD on and be content. But my mom wanted to see Shinedown and Avenged Sevenfold and Buckcherry, and she was treating. I went along.

I want to say I was hooked after that show, because I remember it vividly. Shinedown blew me away. I didn’t think you could get that kind of quality music live. It just didn’t seem possible, not with all the mixing, mastering, second takes, and general work that goes into creating the perfect sound. Avenged Sevenfold blew me away. I didn’t think you could get that kind of energy in one place. We broke the barricade between the stage and the floor! It took twenty minutes to get it back up so they could continue their set.

I want to say I was hooked, but I wasn’t. It wouldn’t be until 2011 when Avenged Sevenfold came back to La Crosse that I’d go to my second concert. I needed to see them again! Plus, they promised to come back, and I promised to return. It was an audible contract between a good few thousand people, and if they were holding up their end, then I had to as well.

That show. That’s when it clicked that I had to go to these things whenever I could. Between 2011 and 2016, I’ve gone to at least five concerts a year, tallying up 79 different bands and tons of repeats. I’ve seen Shinedown five times, and in a few weeks, I’ll be seeing Bobaflex for my sixth time.

I have stories. None of them are the crazy, the kind you’d expect. I’ve never done drugs or gotten laid or snuck backstage to do blow and hookers with a rock star. I was once invited to watch to people have sex though, and I did once sneak backstage with my drunken mother and her friend to meet Monkey Wrench (local cover band) and Royal Bliss. I walked out of that scenario with a birthday cake.

Not a piece of birthday cake. A full fucking birthday cake.

I’ve witnessed fights at Five Finger Death Punch concerts, I’ve almost been in fights at Five Finger Death Punch concerts, I did shots of Jager with Bobaflex, I’ve talked concept albums with Starset, I talked crowd funding with Royal Bliss, I told Otherwise that tracking them down to get their signatures was harder than collecting Pokemon cards, I watched three people play one guitar at a Nothing More show, and I was almost thrust into a circle pit at a Nonpoint show.

I’ve met and connected with more people than I can count for minutes or seconds as we talked bands, moshed, or maybe just exchanged knowing smiles.

I say none of this to brag but to try and showcase how each live show is its own special, unforgettable event about people coming together and connecting over something they love.

I’ll end this on a quick story. Back in March I went to the Minneapolis to see Nightwish. I enjoyed Delain as an opening act, and then out come a Finnish power metal band called Sonata Artica. I only knew a few of their songs from Youtube, and judging by the crowd, I wasn’t alone there. We were all there to see Nightwish and anyone else was just icing on that lovely cake.

So Sonata Artica start playing and it becomes pretty apparent that they’re amazing. They quickly steel all of our hearts, and damned if none of us are upset about that.

Then they start playing this song called, “I Have a Right” which is 90% chorus. The lyrics are, “I have a right to be heard, / To be seen, to be loved, to be free, / To be everything I need to be me, /To be safe, to believe in something.” The first time they sing this, it’s awesome. I catch all the words and the melody, and damn if I don’t agree with what is being said. Then they sing them again. And again. And again.

By the time that song was done, the whole crowd was singing alongside them, so loud you could no longer hear the band. We went from knowing zero of those lyrics to all of them.

In that moment, we were all on the same page, all one big voice, and whatever the “something” is in that song, we all believed it at the same time.

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