The Large Man is sitting in the Fish bar of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville KY. I don’t think the formal name of this place is “The Fish Bar”, but the bar itself is an aquarium, so that’s what we call it. My Bluegrass Brewing Company Pale Ale is resting on the clear acrylic ceiling of the home of some goldfish, guppies, snails, and catfish. It’s a really cool lounge area, and it’s also a walkway connector for the two towers of this magnificent hotel on the Ohio River. If you look to the north across the river, you see Indiana; look to the south, and it’s the city skyline of Louisville. Whenever I’m here, I just look at the fish, or the pretty girls that walk by.
The place is all a buzz tonight, because Justin Bieber is performing next door to the hotel, and then staying here tonight. I knew something was going on, because you can feel the vibe. There is extra hotel security, lots of traffic…and lots of women. I had mentioned to a few of my work friends that I was going to be writing a new Large Man piece tonight, so I immediately thought this was the reason for all the excitement. I was wrong. It turns out that it’s just about the pop star. Whatever.
I enjoy watching all this excitement unfold in front of me, all these teenage, and “tweenage” girls walking with that extra little hop in their step. It’s also heartwarming to watch the little 5 & 6-year-old girls holding the hands of their mothers, but still walking in the rhythm created by the moment, the “buzz” – the event. I would guess that some of these kids are going to their very first concert, I hope they’ll be able to look back on this someday and really appreciate moment.
I know I do. I remember it like it happened this morning.
My first concert…
In the early spring of 1976, I was a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, my best friend Dave Bartee was a 17-year-old junior. The school year was nearing its end and we were lamenting that summer was going to suck because we were starting a mandatory “year round” school calendar. Dave had a great part-time summer job working at a marina in town, and the new school schedule was going to affect his earnings. Dave was ambitious, he had a Chevy Camaro on his to do list, and he wasn’t going to be denied. Even before the term was in vogue, Dave was “goal driven”.
Dave didn’t have his Camaro yet, so we were discussing the most significant things in our world while eating cheeseburgers in the front seat of his father’s 1975 Ford Maverick:
Was all the hoopla over this bicentennial thing really necessary? What’s better …Orioles finesse pitching, or Yankees power bats… Steeler’s stingy defense or Cowboys prolific offense…Debbie Roytos’ amazing rack, or Angie Muse’s phenomenal ass?
All had their merits, and we would deliberate over these issues for hours, as teenage boys are prone to do. But when one guy is an ass man, and the other guy a breast man, how can either truly win such a debate.
While pondering these topics we listened to DC 101, the premier rock and roll and classic rock station of the time, and in a talking, chewing or drinking break we heard the percussive keyboard from the beginning of Takin It To The Streets. This led into a medley of the intros to several Doobie Brothers hits. (Those guys really knew how to start a song.) Then the loud voiceover starts… “ATTENTION ROCK N ROLL FANS… LIVE SATURDAY JUNE 5TH AT THE CAPITOL CENTRE IN LARGO MARYLAAAAANNNDD!! THE DOOBIE BROTHERS WITH SPECIAL GUEST, THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND”…then the distinctive sound of the acoustic guitar accompanied by a flute in the opening of Can’t You See…”TICKETS ON SALE SATURDAY APRIL 17TH AT AAAALLLLLL DC AREA TICKET MASTER LOCATIONS! COME SEE THE DOOBIE BROTHERS AND SPECIAL GUEST THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND”. Then the music fades, and there’s a commercial for a car dealership somewhere in our metro…
“That would be cool” I say while washing down a few fries.
“Yeah” Dave replied. That was all he said for a few minutes.
He wasn’t ignoring me; he was immediately working the situation. I learned this many years later: Dave starts thinking three moves ahead as soon as he’s faced with a task. He’s sort of like Rain Man with a job.
So here’s what he’s working out:
- It would be cool, but how are we gonna get there? Dad is not gonna let me drive this car all the way to Landover, and this a-hole doesn’t have a car OR a license.
- Tickets are $15.00 each. I have the money, but how is this a-hole gonna come up with the cash?
- How will we get to a Ticket Master outlet this Saturday? This a-hole can’t drive, and I have to work.
- This is a date worthy event. If we get the tickets, and if Dad lets me drive, we have to find dates. Who would ever go out with JC? He is such an a-hole…He has no money, no car, no license, no charm….hmmm…but he will have concert tickets…so just maybe….if we’re a little bit lucky, it just might work.
- Why am I hanging out with such an a-hole?
I didn’t know until many years later that all my friends referred to me as an a-hole. It hurts, I won’t lie.
So, we start the process. The first hurdle was permission to take the family car.
Pop Bartee’s white Maverick with a blue vinyl top hauled me to my first high school party, and immediately after that to my first late night visit to Family Pizzeria. The Maverick took me to a few basketball games; some dances at our high school, and always after each event, the Mav got me, Dave, and our friends safely home. But it’s one thing to tool around the small town of Woodbridge in the vehicle that would otherwise be sitting in the driveway; it’s something else to let 4 teenage kids ride 34.5 miles to the Capital Centre in Landover Maryland on a Saturday night. Dave had to lobby hard for this privilege, I don’t remember the details of the sales pitch, but it worked. So the first obstacle was down.
Next…tickets. We had 9 days before they went on sale with taxes and service fees, we each needed $40.00. This was a considerable amount of money in 1976; of course Dave had the money, and of course, I did not. But Dave had a solution; he would front me the tickets and I would help him wash and wax boats down at the marina on Saturdays and Sundays until he was repaid. It took three full weekends of elbow grease, but I paid Dave, and had some spending loot left over. Obstacle two – done!
Dave just took a few hours off so we could go get in line for the tickets – that ended up being the easiest part of our obstacle course. We had heard all sorts of tales about people camping out overnight for tickets, waiting for hours, and when you are 3 customers away from the window, the window closes and they put up a sign that says “SOLD OUT”… “A-HOLE”!!
We got in line 7:00 AM. The ticket window opened at 9:00 AM. At 9:45 AM we had 4 tickets in our hands. It was that simple. Obstacle three is now in the rearview mirror
We were going to see the Doobie Brothers, a real live concert! I owned every album in their catalog…Toulouse Street, The Captain and Me, Takin It to the Streets. These dudes were the soundtrack of my youth. They were my favorite band, and I was going to see them. I really didn’t care about a date.
Dave however, had taken a fancy to a chick named Debbie from my neighborhood. This was a different Debbie than the one we debated over earlier in the story, but a fine Debbie just the same. Dave would sometimes come over to pick me up for a night on the town, then, he would see our little “Debbie from the hood” out and about, and suddenly where we were became the place to be. Since he had the wheels, he had the power. So he would spend some time flirting, and I got watch the little hormone dance. Debbie was like a sister to me, as were most of the girls in the neighborhood. At some point, Dave asked Debbie to go to the concert. She said yes, probably because Dave wasn’t an a-hole.
Cindy Pallo was another girl from our neighborhood. Cindy was Debbie’s friend, and Dave suggested that it would be groovy if we took a couple of friends to the concert, and how we would all have such a good time cause we’re all such good friends. Dave strongly offered this suggestion.
1 Cindy was the best friend of my most recent former girlfriend. I dated this girl for over a year. A year is a lifetime when you’re 15. The break-up was less than amicable. Friends took sides.
2 Cindy was also like a sister to me. I don’t want to take my sister to a concert. I doubted seriously that she would want to go with me anyway.
Now, I’ll admit, Cindy was a little honey. She had a smile that would light up a city block; she was just a slip of a thing. She had a tiny little gymnast kind of body – nice and curvy in all the right places. She was also very funny, she had a strong presence. She was small and big at the same time. You want to call a size 0 or size 2 girl “cute”, but she was (and still is) too pretty to be labeled cute, maybe too smart as well.
The “smart” thing was going to be an issue here. Between my general lack of charm, my recent break up with her best friend, and our sibling type relationship, I just assumed that Cindy was too smart to accept a date with me. What’s worse, I would ask Cindy to the concert, she would say, “NO!” and everybody would find out about it. So I was looking forward to rejection, and shame. I considered just giving her the tickets. It would have been less trouble.
But I asked her, I was really more interested in the concert anyway – taking a sister type of date might allow me to focus on the music (one of my early attempts at a rationalization). So I asked. She assured me that we were going “just as friends”, when I agreed, she accepted.
Obstacles beaten back like the Dark Side of the Force. Done!
The month of May was mostly a blur as we awaited the show. This had little to do with anticipation of the concert; it was largely due to teenage drinking. Truly a scourge on society, but I gotta be me.
On June 10th 1976, after overcoming one obstacle after another, Dave, Debbie, Cindy, and I made the journey across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Virginia into Maryland, north on 495 to the Largo MD, Central Avenue exit. The Capital Centre – we made it! The couples held each other’s hands as we hurried across the parking lot. You couldn’t slap the smiles off of our faces.
We were 45 minutes early, so when we walked through portal number 225 on the way to our floor seats, the audience section was completely lit. It was so big. I had the same butterflies that I experienced before a football game – maybe even more so. Frisbees were sailing through the crowd; giant beach balls were batted about. It smelled of French fry grease, cheap perfume, spilled beer, and weed – a total assault on the senses.
We settled into our seats about 15 minutes before the lights went down. Being in that moment will stay with me forever and it will always be the same every time I experience it. It’s that moment in a concert when the house lights go dim, and the light inside of you goes bright. The crowd always responds to those dimming lights, and the connection of energy happens. It connects the crowd to each other, and then connects the performer to the crowd. I don’t care what anybody says, when it works, it’s one of the most powerful things you will ever experience…it’s magic.
Michael McDonald starts belting out, “You don’t know me but I’m your bro-o-tha-ah…” and I was happy. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that; I was happy. Everything we went through was worth it; I was so focused, so connected to the moment. Cindy looked at me and smiled, and then, I think she fell asleep. Concerts don’t affect everybody the same way.
We stayed through the last encore, we screamed for more, and were all completely spent as we made our way out of the gridlocked parking lot – turning south, heading home. I loved it, we all loved it, but we knew we would.
Oddly, and perhaps the only surprise of the night was the un-sisterly kiss that Cindy and I shared at her doorstep as we said goodnight. I wasn’t expecting it, but it made me forget that we had been to a concert for about 20 minutes or so. To be honest, she crushed me – buckled my knees. Dave could see the dumbfounded look on my face as I walked back to the car.
“It’s just a concert a-hole”, he teased as we backed out of Cindy’s driveway. “Wanna go grab a slice at Family? I’ll buy.”
“Good. I’m all out of cash”, I replied.
“What else is new?”
As Pop Bartee’s family coupé with the blue vinyl top carried us down Alaska Rd, I sat and smiled, and I knew I would remember this event forever. That was one hell of a kiss.