Published on November 24, 2016
1. You Never Forget Your First Concert “So what was the first concert you attended?” It’s a question I’ve been asked, and posed to others many times as a conversation starter. It has helped to ease awkward first dates, lunch gatherings in new communities, and extended car trips with strangers. It even once came up as an icebreaker on a job interview.
2. If you are fortunate enough to have seen a “brand-name” for your first show, well, the answer should roll right off your tongue with the greatest of pride. For others, the occasional, long forgotten flash-in-the-pan performer can provoke big laughs, or at least help others to pinpoint your approximate age. And then there is that third category: Those who were brought to their first show by their parents, or older siblings, long before they knew who their favorite artists would be. In my novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation, my protagonist, Johnny Elias emerges on the pop music scene as an overnight superstar. He quickly finds himself performing concerts across America. On the long bus-rides between cities, he and his bandmates fill the hours by recounting their first concert-going experiences and favorite musical memories of yesteryear. For just about everyone, the details of your first concert probably stick in your memory like it was yesterday. Where was the show? Who did you go with? Where were your seats? What songs were played? How late did you get home?
3. My wife remembers going with her parents to see Roberta Flack at Ontario Place theme park in Toronto as a teenager. My friend, Rachel, proudly describes seeing Rick Springfield with a group of screeching girlfriends back in 1983. My mom recalls seeing Tommy James and the Shondells play a few hits at her high-school prom in New Brunswick, NJ in 1967. For my friend, Harriet, it was Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees (and being booed off stage) at Forrest Hills Tennis Center. And my college radio co-host, Ron Rudaitis vaguely remembers being taken to Nassau Coliseum by his parents back in 1975. He was four at the time, but he has fuzzy recollections of a man in a white jumpsuit adorned with glittery rhinestones
4. singing Jailhouse Rock andLove Me Tender. Elvis Aaron Presley! For me, I happen to have two answers to the first-concert question. Thankfully, both artists are all-time legends. I separate my first concert experiences into two categories because of the circumstances. There are concerts that you pay to see with assigned seating. And then there are bonus events, where a star performer just happens to be playing in an unlikely venue that you stumble upon. The latter is my first concert memory – and it is a doozy! It was August of 1982. I was eleven. My parents had taken my brothers and me to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. This was in the week after summer camp had ended, just before the start of the school year. We had spent a superlative day riding roller coasters, log flumes and bumper cars under scorching sunshine. Then nightfall arrived. We were all looking forward to the grand finale -- the fireworks extravaganza. But there
5. was still time between our dinner break and the shimmering sendoff. I am certain that my parents were entirely unaware as to what performance would be taking place that evening on the stage by the lake. There was no particular hype or anticipation. We simply found an empty row in the metal bleachers of the half-round theater awaiting a musical performance. I distinctly remember the relief of resting my tired feet after a day of standing in long lines. And then it happened. The overhead lights dimmed. A center spotlight shone upon the stage. And a group of musicians emerged from behind a backdrop. That’s when the loud cheering began. I can’t recall if the artist was introduced over the PA system. But at age 11, I very much doubt that I would have known Roy Orbison by name. I have vivid childhood memories of sitting in the backseat of my father’s car, listening to his 8-track tapes, and whatever songs he had playing on the radio. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was truly blessed to have been exposed to the best pop music ever made – that of the 1950s and 60s - over the airwaves of New York’s oldies station, WCBS-FM.
6. Roy Orbison dressed in black and wore his trademark dark sunglasses. It wasn’t a full-length concert, but rather a mini-show in which he performed about ten of his classic hits. His uncanny operatic voice was in fine form. He belted out the high-notes on Running Scared, Only The Lonely and Crying. I knew most of these tunes from the radio, which made this experience all the more satisfying. The roar of the crowd after each song only further validated my appreciation for Mr. Orbison’s massive talent.
7. I can’t recall any details of the fireworks show that night, or whether I fell asleep on the long car ride home. But I will never forget the thrill of being in the audience of perhaps the greatest male vocalist of the pop music era for what turned out to be my initial concert experience. Fast forward to October of 1988. I was a senior in high school. My independence had evolved, as had my musical tastes. Friends of mine were getting their driver’s licenses, earning money with summer jobs… and saving up to attend concerts. These were the days when buying tickets required you to visit the arena box office, or to call in an order by phone with Ticketmaster.
8. I had wanted to attend a variety of shows over the prior months. U2’s concert at Giant Stadium in ‘87 sold out in minutes. An REM show at Madison Square Garden had only single scattered seats by the time I got through on constant re-dial to a Ticketmaster operator. Going alone was hardly an option. I’d even attempted to buy tickets from a scalper to a sold-out concert by The Cars at MSG, only to realize that scalping required far more cash than I had to my name. Elton John had long been a favorite of mine. His string of radio hits stretched back to 1970, the year I was born. It was hard to recall any year to that point in which there wasn’t an Elton John tune somewhere in the top-40.
9. I’d long heard about Elton’s flamboyant performances that accompanied his catalog of hits. There was his rendition of Crocodile Rock on theMuppet Show that first caught my eye. He was covered in colorful feathers, wearing a pair of orange glasses and a rhinestone studded shower cap. Then came his 1980 concert in Central Park – the one in which he played piano in a full Donald Duck costume. A handful of my high school classmates were hard-core fans of the British hit maker. Kenny, Robert and Scott had twice been to see him at the old Spectrum arena in Philadelphia. They spoke of his shows as the pinnacle of musical entertainment. My curiosity was piqued. I remember the night I stood in line on 8th Avenue, outside Madison Square Garden with my schoolmates, hoping for a shot at a ticket. It was hours before we reached the box office window. Most unfortunately, the show we were aiming for was sold out by the time we got to the front of the
10. line. However, to our great satisfaction, a second and a third show had just been added. We were in! Just $25 for a seat in the 300-level, facing directly at the center of the stage for the Thursday night show. A massive bargain by today’s inflated standards. October of ’88 was something of a comeback for Elton John. He’d recently sold off most of his old costumes, and overcome a recent throat surgery. His then-recent concert album Live In Australia was a return to playing his earlier, classic material. In fact, the first eight songs he sung at the Garden that night were straight from that track-list.
11. There weren’t many outrageous wardrobe changes that I can recall. But from the moment he hit the stage, until the final encore, it was his remarkable showmanship and virtuoso piano playing that had the crowd howling for more. Altogether, twenty four hits were performed, of which we and some 18,000 others all seemed to know the words to. So much energy in the building that night. Our throats were sore from screaming and our hands from constant high-fives. It was absolute magic. These days I’m the dad of two daughters, one a teenager and the other a 4th grader. Eventually, I knew the day would arrive when I’d be asked to bring them to their first live show. Given my first- concert pedigree, well, I knew I’d have to make it a good one. For Amber, our older daughter, we picked the biggest living legend of all. Paul McCartney. 2009
12. at Boston’s Fenway Park. Her second live show was the first for our younger daughter, Casey. They dragged us to Jones Beach last September for a teenage shriek-fest by an Aussie boy-band called Five Seconds Of Summer. A flash in the pan? Only time will tell. But no matter the performer, one thing is for certain: For my girls, just like for me, the memories of that first show will never fade. In fact, they only get more legendary with time and perspective. Poet Of The Wrong Generation by Lonnie Ostrow is now available on AMAZON in paperback and eBook format.