OMG: 25 Years of Live Music

Spent part of last night moshing to The Legendary Shack-Shakers, and once again, I forgot my ear plugs. This time, I have no excuse. I bought six pairs for Burning Man, gave away one, and had another on standby. Why did I forget them again tonight!?

So, once again, my ears ring the tune of tinnitus. Back in 1984, after going to a Van Halen concert, I remember thinking how cool it was that my ears rang the next day during school. Now, after many musicians have “come out” and shared their stories of becoming deaf due to playing in front of huge PA systems, I keep forgetting my damn earplugs!


While the opening band for The Legendary Shack-Shakers shredded my ear drums, I realized that I’ve been going to see live music for 25 years. I ran through some of the highlights of all those live shows, and remembered that alot of the details were hazy. For about ten years, I kept a list of live music concerts I’d attended. In college, it became impossible for me to keep up with all the shows I was going to. Now, many of the shows run together, with memories not having specific dates or locations. I guess my past has fallen into dreamtime, a musical history of me.

When my co-worker Jess showed up for the main act, I asked her, “what year where you born?”


“My first concert was in 1982.” She laughed. “Cheap Trick with Blue Oyster Cult opening.” (I’m sure my ears rang after that concert.)

She laughed again and said, “I actually like BOC.”

Well, no matter, when I turn 60 like Eric Clapton, I guess I’ll have something in common with one of my early guitar heros. We’ll both have that buzz in our ears and it won’t go away.

So, in honor of my 25 years of hitting the auditoriums, clubs, amphitheaters, bars, and so on, I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments standing in front of a band, and most likely digging the tunes. Again dates and details remain hazy. I don’t have access to my early concert list, but know that I probably still have EVERY ticket stub for most of the main concerts I attended. If something is hazy, I’ve put a “?” by the detail.

Hope you enjoy the list and I bet you’ll discover something new about me from what I’ve seen over the years:

  • Rush, 1982 Signals Tour, Charlotte Coliseum (the old one), NC. Subdivisions is one of my favorite Rush songs, so I got to see it live on this tour. This was my second concert ever, and I went with my uncle Robert and a friend of his.
  • Van Halen, 1984 Tour, Carolina Coliseum, Columbia, SC. I helped my friend Russell stuff the votes for a Rock 101 contest, and he won! The show was on a school night, but we made it to class the next day with our ears ringing. Had great seats and got to drive there and back on a party bus (We didn’t party. Seriously!)
  • Motley Crue, 1985?, Charlotte Coliseum (old one), NC. A general admission show, Russell and I almost died while getting pushed around on the floor. At one point I saw a guy get lifted over the barricades, followed by his crushed wheelchair. The beginning of the end of my taste for big-hair metal shows, but man could those guys swig Jack Daniels.
  • KISS, 1986, Greenville Coliseum, SC. This show got evacuated after a light started a fire in the ceiling. Then, a local roadie fell through the ceiling and died by the stage. My dad ended up burying the roadie, John Addison, so KISS and other stars sent flowers to my house (the mortuary).
  • Widespread Panic, 1989, Studio B, Greenville, SC. I was underaged and in college, so my friends talked the doorman into letting me in. Maybe 50 people where there for the show. Several years later, I attended a WP show in Athens, GA where about 20,000 people where in attendance.
  • Eric Clapton, 1989, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK. What more do I need to say? Such a polite audience. All the exit signs said “Way Out” and glowed green around the Hall. I’ll never forget Sunshine of Your Love.
  • Paul Simon, 1989, Central Park, NYC. Was wandering around New Jersey and New York state for Woodstock’s 20th when my friend Chris and I took a train into NYC for this show. About 600,000 other people had the same idea. I used my concert-going skills to find a place close to the stage that was easy to find (I’m a Boy Scout that way).
  • Roger Waters and Friends, 1990, The Wall at Potsdammer Platz, Berlin, Germany. About 210,000 attended this show where the Berlin Wall had just gone down. A travel agent in SC talked someone into selling him four tickets to this sold out show. With a cast of hundreds, Roger Waters put up one of the largest spectacles I’ve ever seen outside of Burning Man.
  • Phish, 1991, Love Auditorium, Davidson, NC. With only 400 people in attendance, I got see my favorite band for the first time, and they blew me away. They played a bluegrass tune, a punk tune, told a story via four songs about a land called Gamehenge, and the drummer sucked an Electrolux vacuum and sang a Syd Barrett song. This show changed my attitude about music, and helped me see that being creative is a great thing to do.
  • Soul Coughing, 1992?, The Point, Little Five Points (L5P) Atlanta, GA. What an amazing show in a tiny club! My first ever hip hop influenced show, full of amazing lyrics, beats, and a scene I was just starting to open up to.
  • Ween, 1992?, The Point, L5P. I met a woman at a party Mark and I had who had connections with Electra Records. She was going to see Ween perform for an invitation-only crowd the next week, so I invited myself as her date. Promoting Pure Guava, Gene and Dean performed with a boombox for about 30 people. I’ve been a fan ever since.
  • Medeski, Martin, and Wood, 1992, a downtown Atlanta cafe. Creative Loafing promoted this show and I liked what I read about MMW’s sound and influence. Before any hippies knew the band, my girlfriend Meg and I showed up to this show on an early date (maybe the second or third one?). About 40 people were in attendance and I’ve been a fan ever since.
  • Mr. Bungle, 1993?, The Georgia Theater, Athens, GA. Maybe the weirdest show I’ve ever seen. They sold panties with their logo on them at the merchandise table (now that seems normal, but in 1993, it was hilarious). The drummer wore a black mask with christmas tree balls hanging off of it, while guitarist Trey Spruance was dressed as a Sufi priest. I think the audience left the show that night confused and angry due to the fact that Mike Patton never really let us mosh or rock out.
  • Phish, 1995, The Clifford Ball, Plattsburgh, NY. 170,000 fans attended this first-ever weekend event that had Phish billed as the only act. My first camping-at-a-concert experience, full of an insane road trip to get there and back, costumes to wear, crazy community art, surprises, and Ben & Jerry singing for one song. I knew something was up with Phish after noticing hippies, punks, hip hoppers, ravers, and other subcultures getting together for this event.
  • The Residents, 1997, The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA. My first Fillmore concert, and maybe the weirdest show I’ve seen there. I ran into a distant friend from SC, and spent the next day with him and a few hardcore Residents fans. I literally ran into Metallica’s lead guitarist at that show too.
  • Estradasphere, 2000, Center Camp, Burning Man (Black Rock City, NV). I first saw this band in passing at Burning Man in 1999 and was shocked to see cartoon heavy metal jazz being played live. This show was more of the same, played during a raging dust storm/white out. The band never stopped and the audience never left. I put my goggles on, closed my eyes (couldn’t see anything anyway), and dug the set.
  • Michael Franti and Spearhead, 2001, Mumia 911, Precita Park, SF, CA. Literally the weekend after the 911 attacks, Michael Franti changed the theme of his annual Mumia event and focused on prayer, healing, community, and understanding. The whole activist community was in shock and confusion of the horrible turn of events, and Michael Franti showed us joy again. And became a hero because of it.
  • Ozric Tentacles, 2002?, The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA. I danced my ass off at this show. At one point, coming out of my trance, I noticed three young women dancing their asses off next to me. After the show, we all looked at each other, nodded, and walked away. Nice “in the moment” experience that I’ll never forget, and what an amazing show from an amazing UK band.

(While in San Francisco, I really backed off of big concerts, choosing instead to go to many, many smaller shows. Most do not stick to my memory as amazing experiences, though I enjoyed them all.)

  • World Remix, 1999-2006, CELLspace, SF, CA. I co-produced these shows with my friends in the Sound Lab. Each a labor of love, full of good music, will always be on the top of my list of amazing shows that I saw. I can die happy knowing that I got to work with and see Lumin, Mix Tape From Mars, the Ali Khan band, Yair Dalal, and Brass Menagerie.
  • Phish, 2004, Coventry, VT. Their final show ever, flooded out after three tropical storms blew over the concert area the week before. A nightmare scenario that made the end all the more painful and memorable. People turned away, fans leaving cars on the interstate and walking miles to get there, emotional songs and horrible playing. What a mess! I’m glad I got to be there in the shit-smelling mud with about 200,000 dedicated phans.
  • Secret Chiefs 3, 2005, The Great American Music Hall, SF, CA. My favorite music venue in the world with my current favorite band shredding music genres at high decibels (yep, forgot my ear plugs for that one too). Trey Spruance and his band of outstanding musicians blew my mind with a rare SF appearance.
  • Gogol Bordello, 2006, Slims, SF, CA. I’ve never moshed like that in my life, and I can blame Gogol Bordello for the ecstasy I felt as my friend Pod kept pushing me into the pit. Romani punk rock with theatrical moments. High energy songs that lightly touch on political themes of being an immigrant AND a Romani (gypsy). This show was a great outro for my departure to Vermont for my current job.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Morphine at the 40 Watt, Athens, GA 1992?
  • Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Greenville, SC, 1992?
  • Southern Culture on the Skids, Spartanburg, SC, 1994
  • Rush, Greenvile Auditorium, SC, 1989? (They played Xanadu in my hometown).
  • Neil Young, The Omni, Atlanta, GA, 1990 (An angry show and protest against Iraq War I. Helped me realize I needed to change my life.)
  • Allman Brothers Band, July 4 at the Lakewood Amph., Atlanta, GA, 1993? (Almost passed out from dancing nonstop.)
  • Grateful Dead, RFK, 1993? (Just a great roadtrip memory, complete with rain and rainbows.)
  • Primus, a club in London, 1995. Small venue, super nice fans, great show.
  • Yard Dogs, Great American Music Club, SF, CA, 2005 (Funky circus rock)
  • Beck, 1995?, Atlanta, GA (Part of an all-day event, Beck’s set rocked!)
  • Lenny Kravitz, 1990?, Columbia Coliseum, Columbia, SC. (My friend Todd and I had no idea who the dude was opening for Tom Petty, but we both bought Lenny’s first CD before he became a superstar.)