I’ve gone to a lot of concerts over the years and seen some amazing shows.
But I’ve found the most memorable moments often have nothing to do with the musical magic happening on stage.
The good times are great, but the strange times make the best stories. Here are a few that have stuck with me…
Drinking Pepsi All Night Long
The first concert I ever saw was Lionel Richie (with opening act Tina Turner!) in 1984. As a 9-year-old aspiring break dancer myself at the time (in the suburban Jew category), I was excited to see what sweet backspins Lionel’s dancers would bust out on stage.
As an added bonus, I got the chance to go backstage before the show and meet Lionel because my uncle worked for Pepsi at the time and they sponsored the tour. I don’t remember much about meeting Lionel other than the photo I took with him which hung on the wall in my parents’ house for decades, but I do remember what was the highlight of the night for me – getting a free Pepsi.
That’s right, I got to meet Lionel Richie backstage at the height of his All Night Long-ness and the coolest thing about it to me was that there were unlimited free sodas backstage.
Peace, Love, and Hot Dogs
I went to Woodstock ’94 – that’s the muddy one, not the rapey one – thanks to free tickets I got from a friend. They weren’t exactly free – he was able to hook me up as long as I agreed to work at a festival food stand that was being run by Patch Adams (the real guy who inspired the awful Robin Williams movie) for a couple hours a day.
It was weird, but seemed like a sweet deal at the time and a free trip to an epic concert. It was, but thanks to torrential rain and terrible event organizers it also turned into an epic shit-show (pun sort-of intended).
That weekend is as close as I’ve ever been to a Lord of the Flies situation in my life (if Lord of the Flies had a Green Day soundtrack).
But as things on the grounds got more and more chaotic, I discovered my position as a hot dog vendor was suddenly one of an incredible power. I had access to food which, it turns out, is really important to people who have partied for days on end and can’t afford food because they spent all their hot dog money on the drugs that fueled their partying.
This situation made me feel like a Game of Thrones king who wields all the power (in this case, control of hot dog supply) while simultaneously realizing he could be killed at any moment by usurpers.
It was an odd experience to have play out in between sets by Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Please Don’t Kill Me Softly
I love hip hop and always tried to see whatever rap acts happened to come to campus when I was in college. I saw A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Run DMC among others – all of whom were incredible.
But the most memorable show had nothing to do with the actual concert. It had to do with a couple of my college friends who were from a slightly less diverse area of the country and who were slightly less familiar with rap music than I was. They wanted to go see a rap concert with me (sort of), but there was just one problem – they were terrified.
It turns out these upper middle class, white college students in the mid-1990s thought they were going to get killed (or shot, or robbed, or god knows what they were afraid of) if they went to a…wait for it…Fugees concert.
I thought that was crazy then and it still amazes me now. After all, the only thing you should be worried about when you go to see Lauryn Hill perform is if she’s going to show up and how many times she’ll thank Jesus if she does.
What Would You Say…To An Orgasm
In college, I went to a bunch of Dave Matthews Band concerts (as one does when one is a college student in the 1990s).
At one such concert, a group of friends and I wound up on the lawn of an outdoor theater and one of the girls in our group wound up in my arms as we sat on the grass field while the sun set and the band jammed.
We were a little intoxicated, but fully clothed and not romantically (or non-romantically) involved. I thought it was a nice moment, but apparently she thought it was a REALLY nice moment because she somehow had an orgasm as we watched DMB rattle on with one of their 8-minute violin solos.
Looking back on it, I can’t confirm whether or not she actually had a non-contact, non-nudity orgasm or not. But it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a girl would fake, because girls never do that…right?
Born To Run Gently
Decades after my first backstage concert appearance, I made another one – this time at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
But what stood out to me this time wasn’t the free beverages but rather what I saw when I had the chance to stand on the stage hours before the show began.
First, I noticed that the stage was padded and bouncy like a wrestling ring. Contrary to what it looks like when you see him perform, it turns out Springsteen is actually old. His stage is built to cushion his bad knees so he doesn’t hurt himself when he jumps around.
Second, I noticed there are TV monitors in the floor of the stage that show lyrics to all the songs
for when in case he forgets them.
But ultimately, who cares because Springsteen is still amazing.
That’s Not The Chronic
I used to go to a big outdoor festival in San Diego each year and one year Snoop Dogg headlined the show. Halfway through Snoop’s set, one of my friends disappeared.
These things happen when you go to concerts, so nobody in our crew thought much of it. But as the show ended and my friend still hadn’t surfaced, it started to seem weird.
Finally, he resurfaced and explained he had gone to use a Port-a-Potty (risky move) and met a group of random Latino guys who offered him up a joint (riskier move). Apparently, they had hung out and smoked it during Snoop’s set.
Seemed like an odd choice since this friend wasn’t a huge drug user, but whatever – Snoop does things to a man.
With the show now over, we all made our way to the train to go home and piled on to it with hundreds of other tired/wasted festival-goers. A couple minutes into the train ride, my friend got angry. Like, real angry. Like, PCP angry.
To this day I’ve never seen him like he was on that fateful train ride and while nobody’s quite sure what happened, we can only assume whatever weed he smoked with the random Latino guys by the Port-a-Potty at a concert festival while Snoop Dogg played might have been laced with a little something extra.
Live and learn I guess.
X Gonna Give It To You ‘Til You Make Him Stop
This last story comes from one of the more recent concerts I’ve attended. It was an old school hip hop show that featured a bunch of acts who were, let’s say, bigger several years ago than they are today.
The show’s closing act was DMX which, given his history, seemed like an optimistic bit of scheduling.
DMX has had some rough patches in his life so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but he came out and was amazing…for about two minutes.
Then, things got weird, bizarre, strange, and sad. He spun out of control ranting about god knows what to the point where they had to shut off the music and the mics because DMX wouldn’t wrap things up.
People were leaving and he was still on stage, with his mic turned off, just yelling crazy stuff at the crowd. They even tried to close the curtains on him and he just came back out from behind the curtain and kept going.
It wasn’t the best part of the concert, but it sure was the most memorable. And when it comes to concerts, isn’t that kind of the point?