Earlier this month, I caught the best concert I’ve ever been to, which is a pretty high bar for a guy who was in the stadium when the Rolling Stones last came to town.
The spectacle those rock ‘n’ roll legends put on is going to stay with me forever. But it was a much quieter concert in a dark honky-tonk that drove home the truth that music’s real power is in the connections it makes between people.
The revelation came powerfully, but it had whispered to me before.
There was the time a rockabilly group I love rushed onto a stage full of surf-rockers for a 10-man jam session at the end of a concert. It was one of those shows where the crowd was small enough and the musicians cool enough for a little back-and-forth between songs, and energy built all evening until it exploded into a dance party as soon as the two bands joined up.
Then, there was the night in 2006 when my wife missed seeing her Cardinals win the World Series because we left home before Game 5, so we could see for ourselves why Kris Kristofferson is an American treasure. As sorry as we both were to miss the season’s last ballgame, that was a better-than-fair trade for losing ourselves for the night in Bobby McGee’s wanderings and Mr. Darby’s anguish.
But those shows were just the opening acts for what was waiting for me in that bar this month.
My 9-year-old son has been after me for a couple of years to buy him a ticket whenever his favorite musician, Canadian country artist Corb Lund, was in town. But the band always played a bar and took the stage late, which fit the music perfectly but didn’t seem like the best atmosphere for a little kid.
This time, though, Lund left his Hurtin’ Albertans band behind in the Northern Rockies for a solo tour. With just the man and his guitar — and no opening act to stretch out the night — I figured the time was right for my boy to dip a toe into the honky-tonk world.
We bellied up to the low bar that serves as the second row at Knuckleheads with a couple of sodas and waited for Lund to start into colorful songs about moonshiners, gravediggers, and broken-hearted cowboys. My son was mesmerized within the first notes.
Before long, he was was leaning back with his little legs hooked over mine, the better to tap his foot to his hero’s strumming. He quietly sang along with Lund about cows and pickpockets, was thrilled by what to him was the novelty of an encore, and later waited in line for his first autograph.
I caught my boy’s eye on the way out the door and saw in the glimmer that he had two heroes that night — the country star and the guy who let him stay up too late to catch the show.
I remember seeing that look when he was just a few months old. He was a baby who rarely cried, but when he did, there was only one thing that would consistently quiet him. I’d rock him in my arms while I sang a sad song about a milkman in love with the moon, and the tears would stop as he stared up at me, happy and spellbound as he’d become years later at that show.
I was surprised — and relieved — that I wasn’t the only parent with a kid in the bar that night. Lund wished a girl seated right in front of us a happy 12th birthday, and two boys who looked about my son’s age were also up late for their first concert.
If their parents got the same look on the way home that I did, I know it was the best concert they’ve ever caught, too — no matter how many times they’ve seen the Stones.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.