Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Once upon a time I went to a lot of rock concerts. It all began back in high school with Jethro Tull -- I sat in the 4th row and wore my concert T-shirt to school the next day. I saw Yes (cool laser light show), Jeff Beck (loudest show ever) and Pink Floyd (giant floating animal balloons). Once I got to college I went to my first of at least a dozen Grateful Dead shows, I saw Springsteen when he used to run up and down the aisles, The Rolling Stones when they still had Bill Wyman on bass, The Who at Madison Square before Keith Moon died, Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters, the original Little Feat, the great late Frank Zappa and the legendary Bob Dylan. I saw Dylan with the Dead, Dylan with Tom Petty, Dylan when he was very good, Dylan when he was not so good and Dylan unplugged. I saw Crosby Stills and Nash without Neil Young. I saw George Harrison and Ringo Starr play 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' with Eric Clapton at Wembley Arena with Princess Di in the audience wearing a Sergeant Pepper outfit. That was pretty cool.

But at some point I stopped going to concerts. There weren't as many acts around that I really wanted to see. I tried to get tickets to U2 a couple of times but was never successful. And the ticket prices got so high, it didn't really seem worth it. I never heard of half the bands out there anyway and the ones I knew had either broken up or died.

So when my niece and nephew announced that they were going to a two-day concert festival in Las Vegas, I thought it might be fun to tag along. I didn't think that I would actually be going to the concert -- I figured I would lounge around the hotel all day and hang out with them after the show. But they went ahead and bought me a ticket and the next thing I knew I was road-tripping to the Vegoose festival with Chris (age 19), Annie (age 24) and Annie's boyfriend Tony (also 24).

We left fairly early Saturday morning, stopping for a ridiculously unhealthy breakfast at a fast food place along the way. People say it is a four hour drive to Vegas but those people are generally liars. Either that or they do not drive 4-cylinder Hondas with three passengers and they do not have bladders. Apparently you have to cross some type of mountain range in order to get to Vegas and in my car that means top speeds of 40-50 mph. Also I was guzzling iced tea the whole way, so pit stops were essential.

We arrived in Vegas around three after fighting some crosstown traffic to get to Sam Boyd stadium where the Vegoose festival was located. It was a pretty big deal -- there was a main stage inside the stadium and two or three other stages set up in a large field next to the stadium. There was also a carnival-like midway with various booths selling everything from vegetarian burritos to tie-dyed underwear.

We went straight to the main stage to see a band called "String Cheese Incident" -- they were pretty good, but the most entertaining part was the crowd. It seems that the hula hoop has made a comeback among the clove-cigarette-and-patchouli set and there were several slinky young girls gyrating quite impressively with their oversized and decorated hoops. Of course there were also plenty of skinny guys playing hacky-sack and frisbee as well. And since it was almost Halloween, about half the people there were wearing wacky costumes. There were a lot of pixies and fairies and other magical creatures flitting about. They all seemed to know each other.

I couldn't help noticing a familiar and rather pungent aroma wafting around the stadium. And this time it wasn't clove cigarettes. I guess concerts haven't changed that much after all.

The next band was former Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh and friends playing good old Dead chestnuts, but with a crispness and polish that you didn't always get back in the day. It helped a lot that Joan Osborne was singing vocals -- I swear those old songs never sounded so good. I was actually getting into it, standing up and swaying back and forth, singing along to every word. It was fun.

The last band of the day was Dave Matthews, who was joined by former Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. They played a few of Dave's tunes but the songs that really rocked the house were the oldies. They did Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round In Circles", Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)", "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan, a scorching "Rocky Mountain Way" from Joe Walsh and "Up On Cripple Creek" by The Band. That's my kind of music.

We had a little trouble getting back to the hotel that night. Annie and Tony had dropped Chris and me off at the stadium earlier and gone back to check in at the hotel. They took a taxi to the show, so we had no car. There were supposed to be shuttle buses, but the line for buses was quite long and there were no buses in sight. We stood in a taxi line in the cold night air for about a half hour with no luck and finally ended up paying a limo driver $100 bucks to drive us back. That's Vegas, baby!

The next day I toured around the other venues a little more and checked out the midway. We saw quite a variety of acts including The Flaming Lips, Jack Johnson and Beck. I even shopped for a Grateful Dead T-shirt. I was really getting caught up in the spirit of things. The final two acts of the weekend were Trey Anastasio and Widespread Panic. Trey is accorded demi-godlike status by the post-Phish pseudo-hippie crowd and his every move was lauded and acclaimed. Widespread Panic is a band I've never heard before but they sure did rock the joint.

The drive back was kind of an ordeal as my three young companions conked out on me within minutes of crossing the Clark County line. I drove from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. with only a couple of breaks for iced tea and almonds. It was a challenge, but it also brought me back to the good old days, like the time I had to drive home from the Who concert on the old CT turnpike when they still had tolls in an old VW that kept stalling -- so I had to glide through the tollbooths with the car in neutral and keep the engine revving while rolling down the window and tossing coins into the basket then pop the clutch back in before the engine died.

We had such a good time at the Vegoose festival that we decided to make it an annual event. And I had such a good time that I've started going to concerts again. Last week, on my birthday, I finally got to see U2. And they were amazing. For Thanksgiving weekend I'm going back to Vegas with Annie and Tony and I'm seeing Paul McCartney at the MGM Grand. Paul will be the third Beatle I've seen in concert. Now I just have to see Neil Young and I'll be all set.


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