When I was a kid, my Dad would take us, usually once a year, to Shea Stadium for a Mets game. It was thrilling to be at the ballpark and, regardless of what was happening on the field, it was completely joyful. Even when I got pelted by a half-grapefruit thrown from the upper deck smack into the stomach area of my new Mets’ shirt, leaving pinkish citrus ooze, I was happy (once I got back the wind that had been knocked out of me).
Except if we went to Shea on a weekday. Then, no matter the score, we would leave. “It’s a work night,” my father would pronounce. Or, “It’s a school night.” Or both. It was eminently more important to out-exit the hordes and get home at a reasonable time. My collection of scorecards is marred by games that were left voluntarily, the results of the Mets-Astros game, at 2-2 going into the ninth, suspended by our departure. I’ve never forgotten that crushing, sinking feeling of being outside the park, the halo of lights behind and above me, hearing the roar of the crowd who either didn’t work, didn’t go to school, or had the proper sense of priority to realize that the rare game they got to see was worth a little less sleep. When I got older and had season tickets at Wrigley Field, I watched each game to its conclusion, and still managed to be a productive person the next day. It was false that beating the rush was important.
I swore I’d never do that to my kids, whether it was at a sports event, a concert, whatever. Joey wanted to see The Avett Brothers on Tuesday night. It was pouring. I mean buckets, but I wasn’t going to tell him no. Even my recent back surgery was no excuse, though Joey was sweetly solicitous. I had spent Monday night undergoing my first real test - an 8-hour Board of Trustees meeting. I was physically sore at the end, but, on the whole, in fine shape. Standing at a concert would be easier, I thought, and it was, though my feet hurt during the last hour.
Nicole Atkins was the first act and she was OK. Her lead guitarist, Irina Yalkowsky, was a stellar soloist. That girl knows the proper use of dynamics! Brandi Carlile was next. I don’t know. She’s pretty popular, but left me un-won over. There was something too stagy, too false, a bit overly enthusiastic for my taste. Atkins and Carlile share a vocal trait that I dislike, the sudden switch to upper register that always strikes me as affected and out of place. Anyway, the two lead-ins didn’t bother me. I was focused on the rain that never let up.
When Joey and I saw Wilco in June, he asked if we could be up front. I told him that nothing stops determined people from getting to the stage. The Avett crowd had scores of those types, healthy young college aged folks who strongly made their way wherever they wanted. It caused an occasional scene. Early in the Avett set, there was a lot of pushing. I held my ground for my own benefit, but also was keenly aware of where Joey was and what threats surrounded him. There was fun too, with much throwing of beer cups, one which ended up landing perfectly atop an umbrella
At one point, I overheard a guy yell “Joey Katz.” It turned out to be someone Joey worked with two years ago at The Hall of Fame. I listened in, especially when the guy’s girlfriend was talking to Joey. After a while, I heard Joey say to her, “I’m 15.” To that, the girl replied, “No way dude, I thought you were 21! I’m 21!”
I turned around at that point, and she said to me, “Are you his friend?” When I told her I was his father, she was dumbfounded and then began to heap praise upon the boy. It was pretty cool. By that time the crowd had settled into position, but there were some points of fun and violence to come.
In front of me stood a 20-something man who early on struck me as a douche, egging on a guy pissed off at someone trying to cut ahead of him. When the rain stopped for about 2 minutes, he began to elaborately disrobe, taking off his jacket, then his backpack. From his bag he brought out, and began to assemble, a pipe, a very long pipe. It was ridiculous. Pipe Guy grabbed some tobacco from a metallic pouch, bits sticking to his wet hand. He lit up, began puffing away like a 19th century burgomaster, and offered it around. I couldn’t believe Joey didn’t try some, and told him so, jokingly.
“What would you have done if I did?” I told him I probably wouldn’t have cared. Having shared a passed bottle of Jack Daniels at a Rolling Stones’ show in 1981, who was I to talk.
When a cowboy-hatted scruff-beard tried to make his way through the tightly packed audience, causing strife for some, Pipe Guy couldn’t quite get the negative vibes. I told him that perhaps not everyone had achieved the serenity he gained by taking up the pipe. He liked that.
The occasional rough stuff was a good thing for Joey to see. I told him that in packed concerts one had to be very vigilant and aware of what was happening around them. Soon after, a very out of it drunk or drugged dude came barreling through. The same person who had been taunted by Pipe Guy was not happy and viciously grabbed the intruder by the neck and literally threw him backward. Angry Guy was steaming, but Fucked Up Dude was unperturbed. He was so out of it that no signal would have been recognized.
I understood Angry Guy’s reaction but not his follow-up assault. Fucked Up Dude tried to bash through again, far from Angry Guy. FUD succeeded and was well past our area, when Angry Guy went deep into the crowd after him and pulled him back. “Why are you looking for a fight?” asked Joey’s former co-worker. It was odd.
The Avetts were truly spectacular. They seem a little mentally challenged to me, with their quirks and tics and verbal outbursts. All to good effect. Joe Qwan, their cellist, looks like an evil Mongol extra from a bad Genghis Khan movie. I was happy to have seen the show. Afterwards, the parking lot was a muddy morass and, to add squelching insult to the soggy injury of the evening, we got stuck. We weren’t alone. Happily, college kids are young, strong and willing to do goofy things for fun; packs of them were gleefully pushing cars out. We took full advantage of their services. The road never felt so good.
Was it worth it? I don't know. The headliners were terrific but standing for four plus hours in a monsoon, with painful feet and a soaked 1970's Atlanta Braves cap that became as heavy as a space helmet, made it memorable and that may be the better. We hung tough in miserable weather, Joey learned how passionate crowds operate, and we had awesome sugar waffles. We’ll be talking about this one for a long time.