Desert Trip 2016

Desert Trip 2016

Desert Trip? You know, the one with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones on night one, Neil Young and Paul McCartney (playing 35 songs) on night two, and The Who and then Roger Waters finishing things up the final night.

We almost didn’t make it to the concert. Four of us tried to get tickets in the spring when tickets first went on sale. Even with all of us dialing constantly, we didn’t get through. Some after-market tickets were in the thousands. So we thought that was that.

Flash forward to a week before the October concert (2nd Weekend). Got a call from my buddy Randy and he said he could get tickets for all three nights for about $200. I said I’d call him the next day and asked him what he was smoking. I didn’t think that was possible. I checked on the internet and, sure enough, due to various reasons there was a glut of last-minute, low-priced tickets available. I called him back first thing in the morning and got two tickets. Our friends, who we had just dined with the night before, jumped on board and bought tickets too.

So there we were with our friends a week later at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Ca., the scene of Coachella Stagecoach Music Festivals, and in 2016, Desert Trip (see photo). There were about 75,000 paying customers each weekend. The estimated gross was at least $130 million, according to Billboard, which made it the highest-grossing festival ever. Even with all the people the experience was terrific. Clearly the promoters were way up the learning curve in terms of providing a great concert, festival-seating experience. The monitors were huge. You could see the wrinkles on the faces of most of the performers from wherever you were sitting. And the sounds was fantastic.

Dylan started things off on Friday night. He had just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He played a lot of the old songs, although often with different arrangements. When The Rollings Stones came on stage and hit the opening riff of “Start Me Up,” the place exploded! I’d seen the Stones twice before: in the late 60s and in the 70s. This performance was by far the best Stones concert of the three. Mick was moving and dancing for two hours almost nonstop. And he was charming and even a little self-deprecating: “I hear this is being called the ‘Catch ’em Before They Croak’ tour.” My wife had never seen them live and she was extremely impressed. When Keith broke into what is probably the most famous opening guitar riff in rock history (for “Satisfaction”) if there had been a roof on the place, it would have blown clean away.

The second night was more of the same with hits and long jams from Neil Young and an incredible 36-song set from Paul McCartney covering Beatles songs, Wings songs and several more recent songs. He was animated, in great voice and his band was energetic and phenomenal.

The third night featured The Who. During the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” there one of Daltrey’s–and rock music’s–most famous screams. At one point near the end of the song, the music drops to almost nothing, just an organ playing a repetitive riff. Then the drums come in. And then… The scream! When the band got to that point, the music came down and we all waited. Could he still do it? Could he still hit that vocal and emotional peak? We continued to wait. And then… Wow! He could still deliver. Roger Waters finished off the set that included several “Pink Floyd” favorites.

Whether or not Desert Trip was the greatest concert event of all time is debatable. What is not debatable, however, is that it was, and will probably remain a unique music experience. Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time List ranks The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones as the top four. That means that during Desert Trip three of the top four were represented: The Beatles (in the form of Paul McCartney,Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, 

It is unlikely that such an event will ever happen again. I was there. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

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Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride

I looked at the name on my concert ticket: Paul McCartney.

I sat and waited, along with 42,000 other people in Vancouver’s B.C. Stadium, for McCartney to take the stage. I was part of a group of 17 and we had talked about our expectations and the songs we wanted to hear. Every song mentioned was a Beatles song. Every one.

It wasn’t a knock McCartney’s solo career. He had written and recorded lots of good songs since the Beatles. But every person in our group was a Baby Boomer. The ticket got us in to see McCartney. But the ride we really wanted to go on was the Magical Mystery Tour.

The Beatles provided the soundtrack of our youth. Our formative years. The years when emotions, and sometimes youthful arrogance, informed our thoughts and actions. We were carefree and, maybe, even a little careless.

The cultural impact of the Beatles will be debated for as long as there is music, but clearly they influenced the way tens of millions of people dressed, wore their hair, and how they thought: politically, philosophically, about drugs, and many other important aspects of life. I know they didn’t set out to accomplish that, but it happened. That the effects have been so long lasting is astounding. Just a little more astounding than a 77-year-old rock star selling out stadiums around the world.

As McCartney played each Beatles song, memories rewound and played from the middle: From the part where that song helped me get by with a little help from my friends. From the part where love fell apart and I longed for yesterday. From the part where I tried to take a sad song and make it better. Sad, melancholy, happy… Beatles songs made me feel all those things deeply. Not for the first or last time, but in way that I remember every time I hear the music.

When McCartney wrote “When I’m 64,” and when we all heard it back then, 64 seemed as far off as Mars. Yet whenever he sings that song now (although he didn’t tonight), it probably still seems far off to McCartney, even though he now sees it in the review mirror.

But the man looked good. Maybe even better than when he was 64.

McCartney’s voice was not as strong or as smooth as it was back then. Yet for as ragged as it sometimes sounded, we filled in the rough spots with memories of the voice we had heard thousands of times. It was this specific voice that we’ve heard for more than 50 years and will hear every time those songs are played for the rest of our lives. And though other singers might sing them more proficiently, no one will ever sing them better.

As I looked around B.C Stadium, as our group of 17 sang as one, occasionally out of tune, we all looked pretty good too. Didn’t seem quite as old.

People look younger when they smile.

And they feel younger when they sing.