“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
I have always loved music. I can’t carry a tune from here to the shower, and can’t play any instrument worth a potato, but do I love the music from those who can.
For as long as I can remember, a radio, a record player, a cassette player, a CD player, an iPod, and Spotify have always been one of my closest friends.
And live music?
It has become a pretty big part of my life over the past 10 years.
On Thursday night, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena and watched Bryan Adams in concert.
It was the 100th concert of my life, a milestone moment that nobody but me truly cares about, but that’s OK.
Music is personal. Music is memories.
It was probably early in 2016 when I hit my 75th concert – seeing The Ballroom Thieves for the second time, at Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut – that I realized my 100th show was fast approaching.
I wondered back then who would it be. Phish or the Barenaked Ladies, perhaps? I’ve seen them both seven times each, as they lead the pack of the bands I’ve seen the most.
Or, would it be somebody more obscure, or unique?
It wound up being Bryan Adams.
Somebody mentioned to me in passing that it was too bad it couldn’t be somebody better, but the more I thought about it that more I realized that I was alright with Adams being my milestone 100th.
And here’s why:
One of the reasons I love music so much – and sometimes hate it, I suppose – is because of its uncanny ability to take us back in time, to a place we will never forget.
More often than not, it’s a happy time. But it can also take us to places we don’t want to go, too.
That’s the power music has over all of us, and why we join together as one – as an audience – to see our performers do what they do best.
During the sixth song of my 100th show, that’s what Adams did to me … he took me back in time in an instant.
“Oh, thinkin’ about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free
Now nothin’ can take you away from me
We’ve been down that road before
But that’s over now
You keep me comin’ back for more
Baby, you’re all that I want
When you’re lyin’ here in my arms
I’m findin’ it hard to believe
We’re in heaven.”
All of a sudden I was 19 again. Young and wild and free, and I was dancing with the girl of my dreams at her prom.
Just like that I could remember everything about that relationship and what it meant to me at that time of my life. I could remember her face, her beauty, every essence of her being — her eyes, her smell, her touch.
It all came back through a single song.
And it happens a lot.
When I hear America sing “Sister Goldenhair,” I think of standing in my sister’s bedroom at 9 or 10 years old, listening to that song and her trying to get me to guess the title.
When I hear Nazereth sing “Love Hurts” or ELO sing “Telephone Line” I think of middle school dances where a force field of nerves and teacher’s prying eyes would keep the boys and girls, stiff-armed, slow dancing two feet from each other.
When I hear “Hotel California” by the Eagles, of “If” by Bread, or “Baby Come Back” by Player, I think of the girl that got away.
When I hear “Careless Whisper” by George Michael or “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf, I think of a girl who was taken from us far too soon.
It’s the music, I tell you. It’s inside of us and the fastest way to our emotions.
It’s makes us dance. It makes us cry.
Sometimes at the same time.
I remember my first concert like it was yesterday, even if it was 34 years ago.
It was my senior year of high school and a friend, Pat Ross, had a ticket to Duran Duran at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, two hours south from where I lived.
I ended up going with him and everything fell into place. It was the perfect evening. The lights, the music, the energy from the crowd. I even met a girl that night – Valerie from Brunswick – and went home knowing my life had changed a bit from that one show.
Later that school year, I saw Aerosmith in concert at the Bangor Auditorium.
Talk about “Sweet Emotion.”
In 1999, my affection for live music and attending concerts went to the next level. I started photographing the bands as they performed.
The Barenaked Ladies came to Manchester, NH, and I put in a request for a photo pass to shoot them while they performed.
Three songs. That’s all they give you, you know. Then they usually kick you out of the building, unless you have a ticket.
(For the record, Bryan Adams was one song. “Do What You Gotta Do” – which has a run time of 2 minutes, XX seconds. I banged out 159 shots, of which nine different ones were useable).
But back to BNL. As I developed the film from that night’s show, and saw my images come to life, I realized I had a new hobby.
Concert photographer. Soon after, I shot Green Day. And so began a new chapter of my life.
Before 2013, I had seen one show at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was, of course, the Barenaked Ladies.
I had gone to the Eastern Connecticut area to see a baseball game, but stopped by The Sun to kill some time before the first pitch, and realized the Ladies were playing.
I had already seen them twice, yet instead of going to the baseball game, I shelled out $35 for a ticket and went to the show.
Three years later, I was shooting my first show at the Sun when a lady naked “Pink” emerged from the sky and started performing.
Since that night in 2013, I’ve shot 62 different shows at Mohegan Sun, and have even started writing reviews of the shows I’ve attended.
People ask me what my favorite concerts have been and once you’ve hit 100, you’d think it’d be hard to pin-point a top five.
I think my favorite of all-time was Phish at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was the first time I had ever seen the band and the energy created at such a magical venue was intense and enveloping. That single show is a big reason why I keep going back.
Seeing Prince meant a lot to me, too. I was a big fan of his when I was growing up and he was one helluva performer. I only wish I had the chance to shoot him (Photographers weren’t allowed … typical Prince).
Bruce Springsteen was another show that stands out. I’ve heard how good he is live, but you just don’t understand how good he and the E Street Band really are until you see it for yourself.
The first time I saw Bob Segar stands out, too, as does seeing Sting perform.
I think that’s my top five with my first Duran, Duran show coming in a close sixth.
The worst I’ve ever seen are much easier – Jackson Browne and Avril Lavigne.
I saw Browne at the Oakdale Theater and his setlist that night was a major disappointment that left most of the crowd sitting on its hands.
And, Lavigne, who I saw at the Foxwoods Casino’s Grand Theater, was closing her tour that night and she short-shifted the crowd with a 12-song set list that lasted a little more than hour.
One thing I’ll never be accused of, though, is being a fair-weather concert-goer.
I don’t just pick and choose the bands I want to see. I try to get to as many shows as I can, which is why I’ve seen Jay Z, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Kid Rock, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Paramour, The Killers, Hunter Hayes, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.
I try to embrace the music, no matter the performer, and rate the show on the effect it has on the crowd and myself.
Sometimes I get surprised by how good a band is – O.A.R. and Twenty One Pilots, quickly come to mind – while sometimes I walk away with less than I expected.
I’ve seen a lot, too.
Mosh pits. Drunken fools being carried away by security. A girl breaking off her engagement and giving back her ring, with the man storming off and leaving her alone. People throwing up or urinating against a fence (outdoor venues are fun). And, of course, boobs …. But not as much as when I was younger. That’s not as much of a thing anymore.
What will I see and who will I see in the future?
All I know for sure is as I sit there letting the music in, I hear the word of Friedrich Nietzsche ring true: Without music, life would be a mistake.”