Friday night, 07/24/09, 11:30 p.m.
When I was 12 years old, my father gave me a cassette tape: August and Everything After. Even in his early 50s at the time, he enjoyed listening to college radio and picked up on the best of what was to come in the music world. Counting Crows was one of the bands he exposed me to and I absorbed every song as if it was the first time I had heard music.
The lyrics didn’t particularly resonate with my angst-free junior high self, but I heard sorrow in Adam Duritz’s vocals on one song and joyous celebration on the next track. Within a few weeks, I had every word memorized. The fact that my dad gifted me with this one single album led me to discover other new music, add to my tape collection and possibly inspired me to work in the music industry many years later.
Without following trends, Counting Crows have been able to create a collection of songs that speak to people on a multitude of levels. Perhaps that’s why after almost 20 years, I was among a crowd of fans that came out to see them at the Red Rock Pool yesterday evening.
Joined on stage by Augustana for the Traveling Circus & Medicine Show (Michael Franti, who was also on the bill, did not perform due to emergency surgery after a ruptured appendix), over a dozen musicians from both bands performed an extensive catalog.
I could regurgitate a set list right now, comment on what songs stood out, how the stage show portrayed the theme, but, to me, what spoke most was simply seeing Counting Crows on stage—the first time I’ve seen them live.
I couldn’t help but recall driving with my father during the rare moments I got to spend with him and singing along to “Rain King” or “Anna Begins” and “Perfect Blue Buildings.” (A little background: My parents divorced when I was very young and I only saw Dad periodically throughout the year thanks to thousand of miles of geography between my parents after my mother remarried.)
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Listening to Counting Crows was one of the poignant instances I shared with my father. Throughout the years, it was the go-to record for long car rides and even a cross-country trip we took the summer I turned 15.
August and Everything After was also playing during one of the last moments we shared. A few months after my 16th birthday, I boarded a plane from Las Vegas to Florida to be by Dad’s bedside. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his health deteriorated quickly. Hospice was the only option. I packed up a Walkman and cassettes to bring to my dad – from Fiona Apple to The Cranberries and even Nirvana and Green Day, he enjoyed them all.
Even when my father was on intensive pain medication and in and out of lucidity he kept listening to music. Sometimes, he’d conduct imaginary orchestras for string arrangements in songs. Sometimes, he’d mumble and try to sing along. Often, all he could do was drum his index finger in time, because his feet were too weak to tap out the beat. Yet, August and Everything After still made him smile, and when he was conscious, he’d remember the times we spent turning up the stereo and belting our lungs out. As the headphones slipped down from his ears—one red headphone foam cover, one black—he smiled and said to me, “This really is a good band.”
It would be one of the last band’s he ever listen to before passing away in his sleep that night.
Nearly 12 years later, I finally saw that “really good band” in concert. And they’re still really good.
On occasion, it’s a particular song that makes you recalls a time in you life: the good, the bad, the silly, the sad. Not necessarily nostalgia, but the spark of fleeting moments. Sometimes it’s the overall experience, or just the performers themselves coming together to create something wonderful. Joyous songs might make you weep. Depressing lyrics could make you smile. It isn’t the words being sung or a specific arrangement, but where you first heard them that elicits a reaction.
My father would have enjoyed the show last night. He would have clapped and cheered after every song. But he never got the chance to see one of his favorite bands take the stage. So I went for him.
I won’t begin to hypothesize what happens when we’re gone, if anything at all. Yet somewhere, he may have been smiling as Adam Duritz held the microphone over the crowd to sing along. And to me, that makes Counting Crows at the Red Rock Pool the best concert I’ve experienced in a very long time.