My first concert was the Osmonds, Bismarck, North Dakota, 1973. A Canadian band called Munch opened. They had brown and white tuxes. The Osmonds were just the brothers – no Marie yet. They wore white sequin jumpers and platform shoes that would have made Bowie weep. I remember someone called in a bomb threat. There was a huddle on stage between the siblings before Wayne took to the mic: “We’re staying…. How about YOU!??!” These were heady days for the group. They transitioned from bubble gum and heartthrob status to progressive hard rock with the album Crazy Horses a year earlier, although, at the tender age of eight, I was rather clueless about the whims of pop music.
I couldn’t have known it that winter evening, my brother and I bookended between my mom and my aunt in the arena, but that concert lodged into my psyche where it remains to this day. I can still remember the smell of popcorn, the souvenir photos of Donny, and the most people I had ever seen gathered in one place during my young life. It is a signpost for me. A totem. Nostalgic, sure, but it’s much more than that. That experience laid the foundation of hundreds of other live music events I have seen in my life, each building and informing the others, past and present, a massive kaleidoscope and mixtape of images, sounds, and emotions that make up a surprisingly large chunk of what I consider my life. Music can do that to you. Live music can multiply that feeling of euphoria infinitely.
I saw Elvis in Rapid four years later at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. At first, my brother and I were reluctant to go. It was our parent’s music after all. I’m so glad we went, because June 21, 1977, was part of Elvis In Concert, being videotaped by CBS in Omaha and Rapid City, and aired in October of that year. As one pundit noted, “The camera gives a shocking picture of Elvis’ poor health in his final days. Still, some of the song performances are great. He still had his voice” (Elvis Australia). I distinctly remember him forgetting words to a few songs and introducing his new girlfriend, and I could swear that he actually cried during one of the songs, although I could be confusing this with his Elvis in Hawaii TV special (memory is a funny thing). The King would be dead in less than two months.
Since then, I’ve seen everything from a (very young) Green Day at Nordic Hall in Sioux Falls, to Behemoth in St. Louis, from the Flaming Lips performing under the Arch in the Lou one incredible July Fourth evening, to Charley Crockett up in Deadwood last year. Styx, REM, Camper Van Beethoven, Metallica, Black Angels, X, the Damned, Jonathan Richman, Slayer, TSOL, Dead Kennedys, Sunn 0))), Melvins, Lauren Hill, Charles Bradley, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, LCD Sound System, and everything between, I’ve tried to soak it all in.
We’ve been lucky here at the Matt to host some incredible live performances. Sierra Ferrell with Nick Shoulders comes to mind as one of the greatest experiences of my life. Sicard Hollow, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Dead Horses, Jason Dea West are up there as well.
What makes these performances stand out — all of them — is that they are one moment in time, never to be repeated, that fade and blend with other memories. These memories are ultimately what define us to ourselves, and make us who we are– for better or worse.
Memory is a funny thing.