As I stood outside the Mohegan Sun Arena awaiting our escort to lead us down onto the floor to shoot Friday night’s Jay Z concert, I must admit I spent most of the half hour or so people watching.
Black people, white people, all kinds of people strolled through the security lines, disappearing into the Arena in search of the same thing: a good time. Young people, older people — OK, maybe not as old as me — but it was in that moment that I realized how powerful a thing music can be.
Everybody was here to see a 44-year-old Brooklyn-born gentleman named Shawn Carter, an artist who rose out of Mercy Housing Projects in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvestant neighborhood to reach for the stars and surpass them.
Needless to say, the projects are a world and a place that me, a native Mainer, could not even begin to comprehend, but his life has played out like a fairy tale — at least if you take away the drugs and violence that left him with three gun shot injuries over the course of his life.
In the mid 1990s, though, Carter — who was known as “Jazzy” in his neighborhood — began recording his raps and selling the CDs out of his car. Just like that Jay Z was born.
Two decades later, nearly 10,000 people of all races, creeds and colors were paying more than $100 per ticket to see him perform.
Jay Z is one of the city’s success stories. He’s a multi-millionaire, not just through his music business (he has his own record label) but through a handful of other business ventures. Included in this vast portfolio are part ownership of an NBA team (Brooklyn Nets), a sports agency (Roc Nation Sports) and his own clothing line. Oh yeah, and he’s considered an executive producer for an NBA video game from 2K Sports.
Plus, the lucky bastard even proved to be the one who ended up with the beautiful Beyonce as his wife.
He really does have it all.
Going into a full-fledged rap concert, though, I didn’t what to expect. I’m not a huge rap fan — Sugar Hill Gang and Eminem pretty much top the list — but I was curious.
And, much to my surprise — nay, let’s make that utter shock — was the one comparison that I could make. I walked out of the Arena thinking back to a Phish show I attended at Radio City Music Hall in the year 2000.
Jay Z? Phish? In the same breath.
What stood out to me during my first Phish show was how from the opening chords, the crowd was instantly into it, moving, dancing; just an instantaneous ignition that once lit burned brightly through the night and grew in intensity. And there was the smell of pot wafting through the Music Hall.
When Jay Z took to the stage on Friday, that same energy was there. By the fourth song, after shooting the first two songs down in the pit below the stage, I found my way to my seat — which went unused, might I add. A quick glance around the arena reminded me of the Phish show as everybody was up and moving as Jay Z rapped to them, sung to them and serenaded them with lyrics that rhymed and were well-timed (my bad, don’t be mad). And there was the smell of pot wafting through the arena.
But, it was so cool to see the entire place moving in multiple motions — 10,000 people acting as one — like arms raised off a single body, moving in unison that was so different yet so beautiful to see.
Another infamous black man once asked, “Can’t we all get along” and yes we certainly can, though sometimes it’s hard to believe with what the way the world is going.
I only knew about three Jay Z songs going into the night, including “99 Problems” and, of course, the legendary “Empire State of Mind.”
But I walked out of the Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday with a new look at such music and the people who like and enjoy it. Black. White. Blue, yellow or purple, I don’t care. If music touches us, it touches us
Over the last 18 months, I’ve had the pleasure to see 18 different concerts, ranging from 1970 rock Gods (Styx, REO Speedwagon) to Disney-created heroes and heroines (Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez), and some have poked fun at me for choosing to go to such concerts.
The worlds that are created inside each and every venue, however, has given me new appreciation for the music and the artists who create it, not to mention a new look and nod of understanding to those who listen and like such music.
With Jay Z on Friday night, though, it probably hit me more, like the deep thudding bass of many of his beats.
But it’s also why there are times in this October Weekend of my life — where far too often it feels like I’m dying — that I’m also very glad I’m still living to appreciate such moments.