Music touched many parts of my life. Like a lot of kids, I took piano lessons, played flute in the school band, got vocal lessons, had fun with the ukulele, tried my hand at writing some songs, and still dabble with the guitar. But one of my very first memories at around the age of 5 or 6 was sitting on my bed with my portable box record player. I would watch the yellow and orange single record spin of Tommy James & The Shondells “Crimson and Clover”, listening over and over and over again. I was mesmerized by the sounds hitting my ears in a crazy way. My young life was spent absorbing all the music I could listen to in whatever way was available to me. Of course, I had my favorites from mom’s record collection of Carol King, James Taylor, Tracy Nelson, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash, or I recorded Casey Kasem’s top 40 onto cassettes for use in mix tapes later, or played Nat King Cole on Gramma’s turntable cabinet, or I was glued to CMT and MTV when we had cable, or took my Walkman on a bike ride with Rod Stewart being forever young. Every way of listening to music is a special experience.
In my mind, I picked apart every thing I heard so I could isolate each sound to discover it’s unique characteristics. I still do this all the time. Maybe it’s why I loved being a sound engineer in my past career. For instance, a typical live sound check for a rock band starts with the single kick drum on a medium beat until the amplification is replicating a true sound and then you add the snare, and then the toms, and the cymbals, the bass guitar, the rhythm guitar, electric lead guitar, maybe a piano, backup vocals and then main singer. The single instruments become a mix and produce a concert that if you’re lucky, will help the audience have an unforgettable event. When I really concentrate and listen with my full ear to every frequency I can hear in the audio spectrum, I am constantly inspired.
But it’s not just the sounds themselves that I love, it’s also the meaning of the lyrics, the talent of the musicians, the vocal surprises, the dynamics, the tempo, the rhythm. I like discovering various genre’s and appreciating era’s and learning about new cultures and understanding geographic locations. Let alone the epic collaborations, or the unique instrumental combinations, or acoustic vs electric vs electronic vs a cappella vs orchestrated vs impromptu vs rehearsed to the point of blooming something new. Music is used for special occasions like weddings, exercise workouts, proms, house cleaning, parties, singing in the shower, healing from grief, long road trips, camp hangs, family gatherings, and movie soundtracks… it’s also the backing soundtrack to my memorable life experiences.
There are songs that bring back memories and there are songs that make new ones. I remember who I was with, what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it made me feel. I’ll never forget that when I was old enough to choose my first live concert, it was Reba, of course. I can recall the many festivals with my brother, the ‘Sissy’ sets of Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer with my own sister, discovering new bands with some of my best friends, sneaking down to broadway on my lunch break to catch Sheryl Crow, or falling in love with Chris on the patio of a Mexican restaurant listening to our blues buddy, Steamer Adams. All the numerous epic performances like Harry Connick Jr., Jose Gonzalez, The Infamous Stringdusters, Paramore, Tony Bennett, Alison Krauss, Ray LaMontagne, NKOTB (sarcastic wink), Band of Horses, Manhattan Transfer, Bonnie Raitt, Bobby McFerrin, Tommy Emmanuel, Willie Nelson, as well as the local unknowns who rival the famous talent. Some of the funniest times revolved around the unexpected… like watching the dancing festival guy in the crowd who was so sad because he broke his glow necklace and the band made him feel better… or going to a restaurant in the Florida Keys on a work trip with my boss expecting a reggae band only to hear “John” from Nashville do his Keith Urban impression… or meeting Pam Tillis the first time when I worked at a venue in college in Idaho, the second time when I ran sound for her at a theatre in Branson, again when I moved to Nashville to work at the University, and again when I gave her a ride from one end of a random parking lot to the other… or on another work trip, the impromptu decision to convince a jazz club in Baton Rouge that the show was halfway over so if we could sneak in we would pay half price, only to be surprised as security escorted us to front left second row seats for free, creating a most memorable night for my colleague that we still fondly talk about.
Although I’ve invested in high quality listening speakers and have enjoyed keeping music alive for myself throughout this period of isolation, nothing beats a live experience. The audience travels to a beautiful venue with a common purpose, love, and desire to participate in something that will inspire them… as everyone finds their spot, the energy is palpable with anticipation for what the evening will bring… the house lights dim and the murmurs of the crowd die down only to swell back up again with applause before the first note hits… the stage lights slowly raise, the sound fades in, and the band invites us to join them on a musical journey. When it’s your favorite artist or you go with someone you love, it makes it that much sweeter. As you listen, you are transported into another world and it seems time stands still at the same moment that it moves you into a deeper place. You dial into the the dynamics of the chorus that swell into the bridge and then that epic voice cuts through, making your soul perk up. Then your favorite song starts and not only do you know all the words, but you vocally try to replicate every single musical lick, along with the rest of the crowd and before you know it, the entire venue is singing along. You observe the instrumentalists play off each other and magnify their energy, resonating with the entire band along with the audience to create a shared experience that raises to the level of spiritual exhilaration. And all of this because of math… magical music made of math.
So, yeah, I miss live music but it’s not just live music that I miss… it’s the shared experience. I’m thankful to have the memories and I’m eager to create new ones.
Side note: As I was working through this writing, I created a “listen” playlist and added songs that brought back memories, or were epic classics, or my favorite artists, or interesting creations, or made me really listen. I encourage you do the same and then turn on your best speakers or put on your best headphones, sit back with your favorite beverage, and let your ears get some exercise.