The Mix Tape of My 50thYear

My 51st birthday has come and gone. Not sure if anyone remembers my goal for my 50th birthday year, but it proved to be quite the task. What I thought would be an easy and exciting journey of live music became a fun but formidable challenge. 50 live shows in honor of my 50th year. It seemed doable right out of the gate, what with Arlo Guthrie, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant and The Who leading the charge. But soon, and very soon, the choices became harder, the time between shows grew lengthier. By September, my purchase of concert tickets stalled and the voices in my head grew louder, “I told you it wasn’t feasible… I told you it was crazy.” The voices were wrong.

No, I didn’t hit my goal of 50 for 50, but it wasn’t crazy. It was amazing. And my goal was feasible, because what I truly wanted to accomplish was to spend my 50th year basking in the marquee lights, the beat of my heart one with the bass and drum, surrounded by sweating bodies in sync with the sounds and the feel of my body releasing itself the burden of every day stress and boredom. Live music. The healer.

It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how much live music was missing from my life. If anything, this goal I set encouraged me to go to shows I might have talked myself out of the previous year. Don’t get me wrong, I did excuse myself from some shows since I’d made a promise to myself not to go to a show simply to be going. There had to be an attraction, a desire, not just a “yeah, sure, I’d like to see that show…maybe…whatever.” No, it had to be a OMG decision complete with too many exclamation points and at the very least, a YES!! proclamation before scheduling in my calendar. I kept to my promise of seeing old school, new school, up and coming, and scratching bands off my music bucket list, as well as big arenas, intimate theaters, and a few outdoor pop-up stages and bar patios. My list also included many local bands from the ICT music scene, a handful we’d seen numerous times and a few first-timers. It was a whirlwind of diversity. So damn fun.

Each show was memorable in a unique way and many were shared with people I love. There was even a forfeited show (Amos Lee at the Stiefel Theater) when I chose to stay home to watch my Cubs win the World Series. I figured I’d get another opportunity to see Amos, but not live another 100 years to see the Cubs capture an MLB championship. But, I’ll never forget those first shows. Honestly, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant, and The Who should’ve been worth triple points, shouldn’t they? I mean, really. Black freaking Sabbath. The King, Robert Plant. Bloody Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. Now that I think about it, The Who should’ve been worth quadruple points since my brother and his wife joined us for the show in KC. A lifetime of memories in one year, set against the backdrop of stage lights and blue haze.

So, I might be 20 or so short on my goal, but overall, the soundtrack to my 50th year was like a really diverse and incredible mix tape your best friend would make just before a road trip to see one of your all-time favorite bands. Or the mix CD with the title only the two of you could appreciate and the songs that made you smile, laugh, and say, “No way…yes” with each opening chord. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

*Arlo Guthrie*Black Sabbath*Robert Plant*The Who*Aoogah*Dave Matthews Band*Cherokee Maidens*The Mischief Makers*Andy Frasco & the U.N*Wild Adriatic*Moreland and Arbuckle*Fishbone*80-proof Engine*Fun Girls*Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy*Bad Mother Hubbard*Mountain Sprout*Los Lonely Boys*Klondike 5 String Band*Calamity Cubes*Split Lip Rayfield*Lalanea Chastain & Alex Nordine*Haunted Windchimes*The Cult*Tom Page Trio* False Flag*Rosco Del Rio*Elvis Costello*Black Violin*Anthony Gomes*

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50 for 50: A Year Celebrated in Music

On February 14th, I will celebrate 50 years upon this planet. It is amazing to think I have spent 50 years breathing, walking, eating, experiencing, enjoying, laughing, crying, and loving this life. 50. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to begin a new decade. If my 50s are anything close to what my 40s were, it’s going to be one hell of a ride. I am not one to deny my age, as I believe growing older is to gain experience and with experience comes wisdom. My plan is to be brilliant by the time I reach the grave. Each year we celebrate the day of our birth, is one to cherish and embrace. I’ve earned this 50th year. I have fought hard for it, army crawling through my twenties, tiptoeing through my thirties, finally high-stepping through my forties, and hopefully, boot-walking into my fifties.

Everyone has asked how I plan to celebrate the “big 5-0.” A party? No. I put the kibosh on a party more than a year ago. Parties are fun for those invited, but for the honoree parties are work. Honorees spend so much time mingling and ensuring everyone is greeted and thanked that soon the big day is over and all that’s left is a half-sipped lukewarm beer, a dry piece of cake someone wrapped in a napkin ‘to save for you,’ gifts you explicitly asked not to bring, and the realization you hardly danced or sang, never truly celebrated. No thank you.

A trip? Yes…well, maybe. Last year, I began planning a trip for my 50th, but scratched out Paris, Key West, and New Orleans when I realized each of those destinations would be packed with Valentine’s Day lovers and hungover Mardi Gras revelers. Then, I couldn’t decide between a cabin in the mountains or a resort on a beach. When I began to exhibit signs of stress at the mere mention of my 50th birthday plans, I realized a trip and all of its planning was not the route I needed to take. Plus, since it is my 50th year upon this earth and not my 50th day, why not celebrate for an entire year. But, how?

History of Concerts II

This photo is just a sampling of keepsakes I affectionately call my “history of concerts.” I believe my first concert was, now don’t laugh, the Osmond Brothers. But, since no one in my family will own up to taking me, as I was only eight or nine years old, I’ll defer to my first self-purchased concert ticket: Foreigner at Henry Levitt Arena with opening act, Bryan Adams. I was sixteen. From that moment, I was smitten, not with Foreigner or Adams, but with live shows.

I don’t know the exact number of concerts I’ve attended, as I’ve never counted my ticket stubs (yes, I’ve kept them all), but it has to be a couple of hundred or more. Concerts have included: Foreigner, Journey, Rush, Def Leppard (with a two-armed drummer), Van Halen (with DLR and with Sammy), Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Cheap Trick, John Mellencamp when he was John Mellencamp and one year as John Cougar, Metallica (with Cliff Burton), Ozzy (with Jake E. Lee), W.A.S.P (that was a memorable show with Stormtroopers of Death and Slayer at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago), Dio, Duran Duran, U2 in Chicago during their Joshua Tree tour and later, Arrowhead Stadium during their Achtung Baby tour, The Rolling Stones, Alice in Chains (with and without Layne), Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Grateful Dead (including Jerry’s final show), The Wallflowers, The Police, The Cult, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, James Brown, Luciano Pavarotti, The Black Crowes, Counting Crows, Elton John…and on and on.

From this history was born the idea of attending 50 shows during my 50th year, or “50 for 50.” My plan is to see 50 live shows: big name, up and coming, old school, new school, big venues, intimate venues, and local. I’ll have my photo taken in front of every marquee with its allotted number. My hope is to have others join me for some of these shows; after all, some of the best concerts I’ve attended were with the people I love the most.

I have a few tickets already in hand and will be kicking off 50 for 50 tonight with Arlo Guthrie at The Orpheum. My husband gave me an early birthday gift, so we’ll be heading to Kansas City to see Black Sabbath on February 17 and less than a month later, Robert Plant at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In April, The Who and I will celebrate 50 years in KC. That’s four artists off my Concert Bucket List.

Music has always been such a big part of my life: dancing with my parents to Little Joe or Vicente Fernandez; sleeping with my Beatles Help album; listening to Barry White on my sister’s eight track player; picking out 45s at David’s Department Store; sitting for hours listening to a new album while reading the liner notes; creating mix tapes of my favorite bands; and saving my hard earned money to attend concerts.

No jumping out of a plane or base jumping for me. I want to welcome 50 with dancing and singing and the kind of euphoria that can only come from a live show. I hope you’ll join me and if you are unable, please offer up some suggestions. I’m always open to hearing and seeing artists who are new, at least to me. So, here we go…

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It’s been two weeks since our whirlwind weekend of back-to-back concerts and I am still stirred by each of the performances. While we hadn’t planned to travel from Wichita to Kansas City on a Friday, then travel from Kansas City to Salina on Saturday (I bought the tickets thinking the concerts were a week a part, not realizing they were 24 hours apart until about three weeks prior), it was one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made. The combined performances, the venues, the company, even the travel, made for one memorable weekend. And, while the acts could not have been more different musically, I was slightly surprised by their similarities.

On Friday, we were treated to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at The Folly Theater. If you get the opportunity, you should experience a show at the Folly, a beautifully renovated venue whose history began in 1900 and included such acts as the Marx Brothers and the Gypsy Rose Lee. Currently, they feature a Chamber Music series, a Discovery Series featuring young talent, and they have a Folly Jazz Series that is tempting our immediate return. We first saw Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at Wichita’s own historic theater, The Orpheum, in 2011. As she has not released any new music and announced they “are not really on tour, so there’s no set list,” the show seemed impromptu with the two of them deciding songs between sips of water and tuning guitars. The set up was simple, their performance captivating, and I was moved to tears when their third song of the evening was The Way It Will Be, a song which seems to haunt its way into my dreams and linger as backdrop music for days and days. Rawlings was remarkable, at times shooting notes machine gun-like into the audience while Welch lulled us into their stories. Mike Warren with The Pitch does an excellent job of describing the evening, so I won’t go into much more detail but, as is every time I listen to Gillian Welch, I hear the creak of footsteps on an overused wood porch, taste the tartness of loneliness, smell the warmth of whiskey breath, and sense the long days and dark nights of dust-smattered hope. I thought they were brilliant. Friday night came to a close with late night conversations over beer with my brother and sister-in-law in the comfort of their living room in Overland Park. Success.

Round Two: Rodrigo and Gabriela at The Stiefel Theater in Salina, Kansas. I have been waiting to see this duo since we discovered their live show with the Cuban orchestra, C.U.B.A, on Palladia one Friday night. I was immediately drawn in by their intensity, an intensity most likely drawn from their heavy metal background. Yes, heavy metal. As Rodrigo stated during one of their breaks, “when you think of two Mexican acoustic guitar players, you think traditional, flamenco, maybe mariachi, not…rock band.” But, that is exactly who they are. A rock band. Their style is unique and while many describe their music as Nuevo-flamenco-folk-rock-instrumental, I’m not sure it can be clearly labeled, other than Jose Feliciano meets Metallica. They are concise, melodic, quick-fingered, energetic, aggressive, and a hell of a lot of fun. When Rodrigo inquired if there were any metal heads in the audience, I knew we were in for a hip-swaying-head-banging evening. Again, with no set list, they took requests from the audience, playing Metallica’s Orion and segueing into Battery. Within a lengthier solo, they tucked in refrains of Stairway to Heaven, and Rodrigo even performed and sang Radiohead’s Creep, again, at the request of an audience member. Soon, the audience was standing, dancing, throwing the goat, head banging, clapping, and completely fueled by their frenetic playing on stage. (Performing Hanuman in 2010)

When it was her turn to engage the audience while Rodrigo took a break, Gabriela spoke truth when she said she was “the drummer of the band.” Throughout the night, I was mesmerized by the shapeshifting of her hand beating against the body of the guitar, her hand  at times appearing deformed or fingerless beneath the red hue of the lights. I recalled reading an article about how they’d had to take a hiatus due to stress fractures in her hand and the how and why of that hiatus became evident. She utilized every part of her guitar, swinging her long black hair over the frets, reminiscent of adolescent boys at a Megadeth concert. She blew me away. Their long relationship and musical partnership was evident in how they read one another as they played, with one look or quick movement they would shift into a different song, stop, or turn up the intensity. Simpatico. They are an act you hope never leaves the stage. True to their hard rock influence, they exited as ACDC’s For Those About to Rock blasted through the speakers.

As we stepped out into the humid night, still reeling from the show, I thought about the similarities between the two concerts. Two couples, two guitars. Simple stage set up. No tour. No set lists. Familiarity. A shared secret of rhythm and song between each couple. Musically different, captivatingly the same. There was even dancing. Gillian Welch performed a little hambone/clogging during Six White Horses. And, while it wasn’t Rodrigo Y Gabriela, their opening act, a local Kansas City band Making Movies, featured their percussionist dancing a traditional sones de tarima, where a dancer performs atop a wooden pallet or crate, amplifying the sounds of their feet. The dance pushes itself into the beating of your heart, increasing the pulse of the music, which was definitely experienced in both performances.

Two nights, two cities, two couples, two guitars, and two old theaters. A weekend long to remember.