Frank Zappa to Steve Miller with a few stops in between

Son Aaron and daughter Tiffany ganged up on me this year. In recognition of Father’s Day 2023, they treated their shufflin’ old dad to the Steve Miller Band the other night at the outdoor Pinewood Bowl Theater in Lincoln.

It was a hoot as I am confident the accompanying photo makes obvious: While my namesake and his troupe of musicians bang out their encore number on the stage behind us, the kids step in while I support the grand Mr. Miller on my cane guitar. Whew, that was close. Thank goodness I saw this coming and had it professionally tuned on the odd chance my namesake would ask me to sit in.

The place was packed and folks were rockin’ non-stop as this unique and legendary band knocked out two hours of its own hits without a break. The Steve Miller Band is one of few groups both my children and I have in common. Most times we all knew what song was coming the moment the opening guitar chord was struck, then picked up the lyrics and sang along from memory.

The audience ranged in age from (a few) 20-somethings through folks in their 40s and on to gray panthers like me deep in their seventh decade. I mean, Miller himself is 79, though you couldn’t tell from watching and listening to him ply his lifelong trade. He’s a lively fellow, that one.

In reflecting on this invigorating night, memory took me back – as memories will do – to other live concerts over these past 74 years.

Among the first was at Ravinia Park in Chicago. The date was August 6, 1969. No, I didn’t pluck that date from memory, silly, I Googled it up.

A military policeman at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, at the time, a few fellow soldier boys and I came up with tickets for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Ravinia is an outdoor amphitheater with seats up the sides of the bowl facing the stage. We didn’t have any of those seats. Our tickets were out in the flat expanse of grass and trees beyond, which turned out to be more special anyway.

Our group spread a couple blankets in the grass under a tree among a slew of other folks and listened via speakers scattered out there in the dark. We had ‘party supplies’ for sure, however my requirement to stand guard mount inspection and go on patrol duty later that night nixed any and all imbibement on my part. A policeman, even the military variety, packing a .45 automatic with a snoot full is deeply frowned upon. Though only 19, I sensed lack of discipline at that moment could lead straight to a bunk in my own jail.

We would wander over to the edge of the amphitheater to look down and watch Frank and his friends for a while, then go back to the blankets and listen as tunes descended upon us from the night sky.

This was one of my very first concerts. Steve Miller will almost certainly be the last. In between was an eclectic variety of artists over the years.

In high school my buddies and I saw the Everly Brothers as well as Gary Lewis and the Playboys in – you ready for this? – Shelby. Yes, that Shelby, just up the road from York. Shelby absolutely had a butt-kickin’ concert and dance venue in the 60s. Don’t argue with me. I know because I was there and you weren’t born yet.

The first concert GWN and I took in as a just-married couple was – drum roll please, maestro – the Mills Brothers (No. 1 hit Paper Doll in 1943). We caught this harmonious foursome at the end of its career, by then down to a trio after the death of one member. It was Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, at the time a major institution in Nebraska. My folks were AK members and a family drawing gave this night over to us. A fan of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones at the time, I had little enthusiasm. Couldn’t have been more wrong. What an entertaining evening of lively vocal harmonies it turned out to be.
We enjoyed Mannheim Steamroller twice, once in Omaha and again in Billings, Montana. What a spectacular group. If you’ve not seen them, get busy and make it happen. You will not regret it.
GWN dragged me to Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray early in what are now 50-plus years of mostly wedded bliss. They were OK but didn’t hold a candle to absorbing the light and sound experience served up by the Grand Siberian Orchestra – twice.

The first concert came in Branson, a Fun Club Christmas music tour featuring three concerts per day. To say the majority of those aboard our bus comprised almost entirely of geezers, some even older than us, were appalled is a gross understatement. Several stomped out. Synthesizers and lasers and smoke and cacophonous sound banged out by long haired folks in black leather outfits playing weird-shaped guitars did not make the grade with GWN, either.

Predictably, I, on the other hand, loved every minute of it. Yes, opposites do attract. We stand as undisputed proof.

Later, when the ‘opportunity’ to soak in the Grand Siberian Orchestra again, this time in Omaha, she turned me down before got through the first sentence of my invitation. Niece Susan and grandson Dominic, on the other hand, said, ‘You bet!’ every bit as instantly as GWN turned up her nose and barked, ‘No chance.’

Also, Blue Man Group on my list of favorite concerts ever, remains a profound mystery to her.

Turns out this universal ‘to each their own’ philosophy works pretty doggone well.

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