Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crowds and Aging Cool

Thanks to the hipness of Steve's daughter Catherine and her partner, our son-in-love Homer, we got free passes to one of the best summer events in the Twin Cities, Rock the Garden. It's an outdoor concert in back of the Walker Museum of Modern Art in Minneapolis that happens in June each year. I wanted to go last year when Calexico played. This year, all 12,000 tickets sold out in six days. There were four bands, of which only one, the first one, was bad. The major attractions were OK Go, who have made their name because of two YouTube videos for the same song, Homer's band, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and MGMT.

We wanted to see the two middle bands, and caught most of the first one (which was unfortunate). We weren't really listening to the first band, however, because mostly we were engaged by the logistics of Rock the Garden. It is set on a hill with a big plateau. By the time we met our other party (Tim and Annie, Sophia and Chloe and one of Chloe's friends) and got inside, the hill was full, and we made our way up to the plateau, a large lawn that was also quickly filling in. The problem with sitting on that lawn was that you couldn't see anything and you really couldn't hear. Tim and Annie staked out great standing spots along a little picnic area that people must have thought was reserved or certainly more people would have been in there. Where they were, you could see pretty much everything, though the sound was still pretty bad. We joined them halfway through OK Go and, except for the jostling by the totally wasted shirtless guy and his two girlfriends, and the increasingly direct sunlight from the dropping sun, it was a good place to be.

Which is to say, we're too old for this. Not that it was anything I actually really enjoyed-- crowds are not my thing and live music is too often terribly, terribly loud. However, there was a time when I liked concerts in small venues, and have seen my share of shows that, if not really great, were totally enjoyable. (The one that really stands out is a Tuesday-night show in the small Park Avenue venue in Chicago where Bob Dylan played a sort of last-minute show in the late 1990s.)

The two best things at Rock the Garden were the Haagen Dasz cones we got as we were leaving, along with the pleasure of eating them while walking through the actual sculpture garden, and visiting with Homer up on the lawn.

Homer is enjoying the success of the band, and more than that, the band seems to have moved into a new phase. They, too, are getting older. Some are married and a few have kids. They don't tour endlessly, and on this tour for their record, I Learned the Hard Way, they are staying in nicer places, touring in a nicer bus, and making more money at bigger venues. It was clear that many people at Rock the Garden had come particularly to see them.

Also, Homer looks great! Despite the fact that he's been adding to his food blog, consisting mostly of accounts of road food, he's lost some weight and is in great shape. This, he let us know, is because a few of the guys are working out daily-- with a trainer in a park in Brooklyn when they're in NYC, and on their own in urban parks when they're traveling. He gets up every morning at 6:45 and bikes to the park for the workout. Unlike the recent stories of all-nighters in his own studio, Dunham Records, he now works somewhat reliable hours, sleeps, eats better, and does core training.

That is so grown up! Of course, when the music starts blaring and you realize that these ten-twelve people go out in all kinds of venues and play this show over and over again, sometimes really late at night and sometimes in the heat of a June day, sometimes at a festival in some crazy slot on some side stage and sometimes as the biggest show in town, the whole thing seems like quite a grind to me. What a way to make a living! When you think about the years of vans and little venues and splitting the fee ten ways and late nights in a studio doing take after take... and most of all the incredible charity and tolerance it must take to work with a large band for years... well, it definitely makes me happy for their success. I could not do it at all.

I can confindently say that this will be our last Rock the Garden, although I'm very glad we went. The crowd-watching was good (the only fashion trend we spotted was women in floor-length, kind of loungy-looking sundresses). The music is better listened to at home, though seeing Sharon strut her stuff and the horn section and Homer wail on it is always fun. Mostly, it was so nice to visit with Homer, and the ice cream was fantastic.

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