Sunday, August 21, 2011

By the Time We Got to Woodstock, We Were Half a Million Strong

Aren't concerts great?  Over the weekend, Adrienne and I went to Owensboro to see Chris Knight live.  It was my second time seeing him perform, the first coming in Lexington a few years ago.  For those that don't know of him, I'll give you a brief rundown, thanks to the greatest research tool on planet Earth...Wikipedia.  Knight is a native of Slaughters, Kentucky, and released his first full-length album in 1998.  He is more famous as a songwriter than a singer, having written songs for acts such as John Anderson, Randy Travis, Confederate Railroad, Travis Tritt, and others.  "She Couldn't Change Me" by Montgomery Gentry is probably his most famous work.  I, for one, appreciate the songs he actually performs...Here's an example of one of my favorites.  Give it a listen:

It was great to see him play live again.  It's funny, because just a few years ago, I wouldn't have been caught dead at a country show.  My taste in music has changed several times throughout my life...I remember being a huge country fan when I was little, then my dad turned me on to Motown and classic rock when I was a bit older.  He didn't like country music, so I decided I didn't either because I wanted to be like him.  In high school, I listened to emo rock almost exclusively and thought I was more mature and aware than anyone around me.  I wasn't.  While I still dabble in it from time to time, it's not something I'm proud of.  Then in college, I started listening to classic rock more in depth and got tuned back into country music as well.  I started using Pandora to find acts I had never heard of.  My friend, Eric, played a Chris Knight song for me once, and when I created a Chris Knight station on Pandora, it opened me up to a whole new world of acts that I fell in love with.  Knight, Micky and the Motorcars, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Ryan Bales, Tyler McCumber...Great Texas country acts that aren't well known in this part of the country, but are just amazing song-writers and performers.  Basically, my music collection is a microcosm of my life, and literally has something for every taste.  Hit shuffle and you might find Led Zeppelin, then some Frank Sinatra, followed up by Dr. Dre, and then the Temptations.  I know everybody says this, but my music collection is eclectic to say the least.

Most concerts you go to, the vast majority of the people are there to see the headlining act.  But, this was not one of those cases.  John Capps, a Burkesville native and the brother of Adrienne's best friend, was the biggest draw.  Most of the folks there were from Burkesville or the surrounding area, and were there to support John.  While on stage, John said Chris Knight was his inspiration to become a songwriter, and the similarities between the two are unavoidable.  But, if you want to be a songwriter in the country genre, there are few people better to emulate than Chris Knight.  Even without the personal and emotional ties that most of the audience there share with John and his music, I can recognize a great musical talent when I see one.  And, without a doubt, he's extremely talented.  It was a joy to watch and see his family and friends enjoying the moment with him.

While I was there listening to the music, drinking a cold beverage, and people watching...I got to thinking about a phenomenon that is as American as apple pie and baseball...The outdoor music concert.  Now, I know they occur in other countries; and despite the fact that I have yet to leave the borders of this great country, I think I can say with a strong amount of confidence that nowhere else in the world is the outdoor concert so engrained in the culture as it is here. 

You have the obvious huge festivals that dot the calendar every year in this country:  Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, Bonnaroo.  Woodstock started it all in 1969, and is one of the most recognizable cultural events to ever take place in the U.S.  They have even tried to resurrect Woodstock in 1979, '89, '94, and '99, but none have even come close to matching the enormity of the original.  You've got live music at every state fair in the country, smaller festivals that often take place at huge amphitheaters or race tracks...Outdoor music is all over the place.

But mixing the outdoors with live music certainly doesn't stop there.  In fact, it probably hits closest to home for most people...At small, community or county-based festivals.  Every small town has one.  I've personally witnessed multiple Octoberfests, Court Days, the Persimmon Festival, Burkesville's Bicentennial, and my hometown's claim to fame: Tater Day in Benton, Kentucky.  Other than flea markets full of junk and cart vendors selling anything from stink bombs to funnel cakes, these all have one thing in common:  Music.

Outdoor concerts are fantastic places to hear great (or mediocre) music, to socialize with friends and family, or to just relax.  But my favorite thing to do is people watch.  Because, you will literally see people from EVERY walk of life...Even walks of life you didn't know existed.

As an example, let's look at last night.  For one, I'm fairly certain the stage was a flat-bed trailer.  Secondly, the venue was a small patch of grass on the grounds of a local distillery.  Third, you were instructed to bring your own lawn chair.  From my perch, just by moving your head 180 degrees you could see rednecks, good ol' boys, frat guys, slutty women, cowgirls, average joes...It was a cornucopia of people.  We saw couples holding hands, dancing, standing with their hands in each other's back pockets.  I really wish I had photographic evidence of this, because it's one of my biggest pet peeves when I see that.  There were at least three fights that we actually witnessed, probably over nothing of any importance whatsoever, and a guy sitting in a plastic chair that looked like it was about to explode.  Honestly, the people watching was worth the price of admission alone.  And it's like that every time, no matter the artist, no matter the venue.

You know what the bands are going to play before they even begin.  You can tell by just looking at the crowd.  There's a certain ratio of Nascar and wrestling shirts that must be present for a country show.  The same can be said for a has-been band from the 70s or 80s that's trying to hold onto glory.  When I was in high school, my friend Blake and I went to the Paducah riverfront one Friday night to see Skid Row live.  Why?  Because it was only $5 a ticket.  And it was SKID ROW!  I mean, a real band!  And what was even better?  The opening act called themselves Slut Magnet.

Let me say that again.  Slut.  Magnet.  You simply cannot make this stuff up.

I don't even have to tell you about Slut Magnet.  I think you can picture their amazing talent for yourself.  But, even if you had never even heard of "18 and Life" or "Youth Gone Wild," you could have taken one look around at the crowd and known exactly what you were going to hear.  It's like that everywhere.

When I was younger, my family used to camp at Hillman Ferry Campground on Kentucky Lake every summer and on Saturday nights they always had bands come play.  Most of the time they played mediocre covers of popular country songs, but they always mixed in some surprises like "The Wall," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," or "Hotel California."  Poorly equipped, and lacking in talent, they were never great performances, but, looking back on it, it's like an American social experiment laid out in front of you.  You see familial structures, social circles, expression through music, verbal and non-verbal communication, social rituals, food...Everything that defines us as a culture.  And one of the biggest aspects of our culture, music, is always at the forefront.

Perhaps the clashing of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles like there were last night isn't that odd after all.  This country was built on it.  Perhaps mixing different people, music, food and drink, and throwing them outdoors isn't totally unique to the United States.  Perhaps it is.  Perhaps I'm just being over-analytical.

But, no matter what they do elsewhere, to me, there's something inherently American about it.


  1. Perhaps, indeed. ...:)

    I really love seeing new sides to people...and I'm enjoying Zach, the writer/ponderer.:)

    I don't think it's unique to American culture, but that doesn't mean it isn't awesome and fun and - you're right - a social education, all the same.

  2. Ha, I realize that it's not just American...I was just saying that for point's sake. But you understand I think :) Thanks for reading!