America, In a Sea of Gray

Most of the concerts I attend these days attract an audience who are my age or older. This is truly My Generation. In the audience, everywhere I look there is gray hair or no hair, wrinkles, bulging waistlines and even a few wheel chairs. AARP time it. I have to say, even for hot, outdoor concerts, when the men are in t-shirts and shorts, many of the women are in “expensive casual” dress and have spent a lot of time at the stylist. It might be rock & roll but you can still look good. It didn’t seem that long ago it was bell-bottoms, long hair, tank tops, and skinny kids.

The Grateful Dead had a hit song with “Touch of Grey” about 30 years ago when they were beginning to gray and get thick around the middle. Interesting, the Dead are holding a series of 50th Anniversary concerts this summer as a sort of closure to the group, two decades after the passing of Jerry Garcia. Sorry, I digress.

A couple of nights ago we were entertained by the band America. I don’t know whether to call them a pop or rock group, classic rock band, singer-songwriters, a Seventies band or just refer to them as a great band. Their fans don’t care about what label you file them under. You might also call them survivors, as co-founder Dewey Bunnell said, they’ve been at this now for 45 years and still selling out venues. Hugely successful in the first half of the 1970s, America have continued to tour and release albums, although lately, they are self-releasing their CDs and digital downloads. The music business has changed since 1971 and their self-titled debut album.

In concert, America focused on their first five albums, mixing in a few covers and some songs from more recent CDs. They played the hits bAmericaut also dug deep to play albums cuts that longtime fans appreciated. The touring band is a five-piece group of very versatile and talented musicians, often moving between stringed instruments to keyboards, and providing very effective harmonies on songs that were designed for multiple voices. Known for sweet AM radio love songs and journeys in the desert and down Ventura highway, America can also rock hard with screaming guitars.

The crowds at these oldies shows are always enthusiastic, loyal and free spending at the merchandise table, and especially the bar. Everywhere you see large bodies squeezed into band t-shirts, usually the overpriced ones sold at the concert. Not to be outdone, I had my Led Zeppelin replica ’75 tour shirt. Every venue must have a bar as it is a moneymaker and keeps the fans happy. I prefer an aisle seat, easy to get in and out.

In the 1970s I recall how many concertgoers would party hardy in the parking lot before the show. The idea was to give the music an extra groove. Wine, beer or any alcohol to supercharge the event. Buying alcohol usually wasn’t an option at many venues so if you wanted any boost to your concert experience you had drink before hand, or inevitably, someone would spark the weed. You could easily smell it wafting through the aisles. The only problem was if the concert ran long or the drugs peaked too soon. The result would be slumped over bodies or eyes with no sparkle behind them. Bummer, man. I wonder what those folks remember of the concerts. I suspect, not much.

These days, if concertgoers drink, they seem to drink a lot. I prefer seats along the aisle so you have to deal with people who are up and down, in and out, repeatedly bringing drinks back for himself and his date or buddies. They seem to miss half the show and are distracting to everyone they step over or stand up in front of. Grumpy old concertgoer here.

In the old days to call a band back out for an encore you would see a sea of lighters in the dark. Now, you it is a sea of Smartphones. This sea of gray seems in love with their Smartphones; taking selfies, pictures of the stage, recording entire songs, and posting them online during the concert. You are there.

Concert going is communal as well as a personal experience. It is not like a movie where viewers mostly sit in silence. The experience unites the audience, transporting us back to our youth as memories wash over us. Not all of my concerts are the oldies type, but these are the ones I enjoy the most. The music is great and I do like to reach back and touch my youth occasionally, those pre-gray days.


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