I believe some people are hard-wired to be musicians. They hear music in the sounds that surround them, create music almost constantly, with and without instruments and will go to great lengths and in some cases, pain, to make music part of their everyday lives.
This is the story of two concerts.
On Saturday, we went to two shows: the state high school marching band festival and the Wilco show. During the first, we watched my son’s high school band march in the finest performance we’ve seen them give. If you’re familiar with the competitive underground culture that is high school marching, you’ll know what I mean when I say the band was completely in step; perfectly coordinated and right on with the music, hitting every note and beat. They earned a superior ranking for their performance.
I tried really hard not to think about the fact that this was the last time I’ll see my son march as a Patriot. (In competition, that is — there’s one football game left.) I didn’t cry, but I’m pretty sure I will at that last game.
Let me tell you something about marching band kids; they are, for the most part, fanatically in love with what they do. They practice so hard their feet blister and fall off and they grow new ones. They carry, sometimes heavy, instruments at a prescribed angle and this is the part that always gets me — MARCH AND PLAY AT THE SAME TIME.
Obviously, this is the part that escapes some people right off the bat. The first day of marching band camp sees a lot of quitters, and rightfully so. My son, and yes, I’m crazy-proud of the kid, so let’s just get THAT out of the way — has worked his tail off playing trombone since he was in fifth grade. Now, at age 17, he’s been marching for four years, in two marching bands. He is freakishly dedicated to the sport (and if you think it’s not, YOU try it) and, in fact, plans to make it a big part of his professional life. He amazes me.
He’s one of those people, too — always humming, singing, tapping or listening — he says he has always known this is his passion. He cannot remember a time that music wasn’t important to him.
Later, we headed downtown to see Wilco. Right from the start I was having fun watching drummer Ken Coomer (sing it with me: “she fell in love with a drummer, another and another, she fell in love,”). He’s one of those guys, too. A hard-wired, beat loving, drumming fanatic — he’s probably the drummer I’d call “most fun to watch” of all the drummers I’ve ever seen.
The show was great; the last of the tour (bands seem to like to end up in Charlottesville, and its usually special for us, too.) Tweedy was not as conversational as he is in his solo shows, but delighted the crowd with as simple as a, “how ya doin’?”
In the front row, there was a small girl of eight who joined him for “Hummingbird,” singing and dancing alongside him — apparently she’s helped him out for four shows — since she was six. Crowds just love that stuff, and Tweedy knows it.
There were, I think (I lost count), four encores. The cynical part of me shouted, “Milking it!” but my concert companions insisted it was a special treat, going off the set list and giving us an extra half hour or more of songs.
Wilco has roots in St. Louis — Jeff Tweedy is from Belleville, Ill. — and songs like “Casino Queen” and the reference to the Landing in “Heavy Metal Drummer” are little shout outs to home. That, along with the fact that St. Louis friends had seen the same show, earlier in the tour, made it all feel like a big, fat musical postcard from home. I was able to imagine my friends having the same experience at a different time in another city, but somehow it connected us and made it all the more special.
I didn’t cry at this one, either, but there was a moment. Sometimes when I’m going out of town, or when I’ve just come home, Mark will play (or sing) “Hate it Here,” and it breaks my heart. An excerpt:
“I try to stay busy
I do the dishes, I mow the lawn
I try to keep myself occupied
Even though I know you’re not coming home
I try to keep the house nice and neat
I make my bed I change the sheets
I even learned how to use the washing machine
But keeping things clean doesn’t change anything
I hate it
I hate it here
When you’re gone” I’m not a musician, but I have a deep appreciation for what it takes to be one; to get out there and play your heart out night after night. If you know someone who loves music down to their core, take a minute to think about the thousands of hours that went into what they’re sharing with you, and don’t forget to let them know that you think what they’re doing rocks.
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