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MartyDigs: Summer concert series 2011- A bust!

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Summer is finally upon us! After a winter full of shoveling snow, freezing my ass off, and cursing Al Gore, the warm weather and good times are here. To me, summer is all about barbecuing, going to the beach, getting sunburned, swimming, and according to Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith, it’s about hustling to the mall to get a short set. (Even though I still don’t know what the hell a short set is) But my favorite summer event is a good summer concert. There are few things I love more than packing up a car with beer and barbecue gear, tailgating with my friends, and seeing a good show on a warm summer night. But I am sad to say that this summer’s lineup is a massive disappointment.

There are certainly some good shows coming, but I wanted to be knocked on my ass by a killer summer lineup. But maybe it’s a good thing – after all, being a father has caused me to really trim down the amount of concerts I see. Regardless, the lineup is weak and not very exciting. Then again, I don’t know what I was hoping for. Well, that’s a lie – I was hoping for the Steve Miller Band and My Morning Jacket to play shows at Philadelphia’s best, and most underappreciated venue – The Mann Center for the Performing Arts. I told people that if either of those shows came to the Mann, I would retire from concert going. Quick to refute me, my friend Drew told me I would be like Brett Favre and keep “un-retiring”. He is totally right.

The Steve Miller Band is indeed coming, but to the Tower Theater – part of my Holy Trinity of worst Philly rock venues (the other being the Electric Factory and the Camden “A Different Corporate Sponsor Each Year” Waterfront Center). Tickets are something like 75 dollars each! I saw Steve Miller every summer from 1993 to 1998 and am pretty sure that all those ticket prices added up together would not amount to 75 bucks. The first time I saw him was June 26, 1993 at the Mann Music Center -it was my first “real” concert. To this day, I will never forget pulling into the parking lot (which is basically the beautiful rolling green hills of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park). There were plumes of smoke rising into the air from barbecue grills, people playing Frisbee, friends sitting on lawn chairs, sipping beers, blasting music, laughing, and living it up. It’s a scene I will never forget and instantly hooked me into concert going and the all important pre-concert tailgate. My friend Burks and I were juniors in high school – innocent, naïve, and fresh faced (our acne had cleared up finally). Total rookie operation – we brought “hoagies and stoagies” for the tailgate – meaning we brought two Italian hoagies, and two cheap cigars. Pat’s sister and brother-in-law still laugh at us about that. To top things off, we got lost on the way home – it was only the 5th time I had driven into Philly. Needless to say, we got our act together very quickly and soon became seasoned concert tailgate pros. And last summer, we scoffed at a guy “tailgating” with a woman with sliced cheese, fruit, and wine spread out over the back of his convertible. I think, at least I hope, I never tried that hard to get laid.

If I had my choice, every summer concert would be at the Mann. Last summer, they killed it. I saw MGMT, Passion Pit, Cake, and Pavement there. I only missed Arcade Fire because I went to see Tom Petty for free that night. They have a pretty good lineup this year (I can say I will definitely see Death Cab for Cutie), but last year would be hard to upstage. Everything about the Mann is awesome, and it blows every venue in Philly away for perfect summer tailgate/concert experience. There are some good shows coming to Penn’s Landing in Philly, but the problem is you can’t tailgate there, and the shows are fairly pricey.  Soundgarden is playing there for 90 bucks. Even culling from the deepest nostalgic roots I could, I just can’t justify paying that kind of money to see them. Plus I can’t go to that show because the guys my age at that show wearing ringer T-shirts and Chuck Taylors trying to look hip would depress me to Holden Caulfield-esque proportions.  Also depressing is that a high school kid going to that show is equal to a high school me going to see all the washed up 70’s rock bands I did in the 90’s.

There is also the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden (nee the Tweeter Center, nee the Sony-Blockbuster Entertainment Complex).Which for awhile, was the home to so many good memories and concerts for me, and a mere five minute drive from my house. But lately, that place is like the ninth circle of hell for me. The last really good total concert/tailgate experiences I had there was summer of 2008 when I saw Radiohead and Weezer there. But the prices of tickets, beers, food and parking are now just completely outrageous. I guess for awhile I was spoiled – we used to know so many people that worked there, so we’d get in free, drink free, and even eat free from time to time. Plus, we would get ushered down to the front of stage by friends of ours who worked security. (My girlfriend Cailin and I were in the pit almost side by side without knowing each other for Incubus in 2002, thanks to a Gloucester friend) My sister Meghan and I had a great run with free shows. We saw Dave Matthews three nights for free in 2001, Pearl Jam twice in 2002, Petty, Counting Crows, Warped Tours, the list goes on and on.

I guess I soured on that place for a few reasons. I tried to walk up and buy Coldplay tickets for Cailin and I a few years back and they still wanted a 30 dollar service free for two tickets! I thought the point of going to the venue for the tickets negated the service fee. And the parking situation is a total shit-show. For me, I used to be able to just zip down the backstreets of Camden and pull into a prime spot. They have screwed all that up, and it almost seems like they want you to sit in your car for hours in line trying to get into the lot. But the worst was back in 2006, when an overzealous Camden cop harassed us at a Dave Matthews concert. We were all way over 21, just standing around having a few beers. Nobody was doing anything illegal. But this cowboy demanded we leave the lot, and in the process, smashed his billy club into my already dinged up Nissan Altima and screamed bloody murder at us. I guess I am most annoyed because we were just having a few beers before a Dave Matthews concert. The worst crimes that happen here are popped collars, guys in visors, and uh, people attending a Dave Matthews concert. Meanwhile, mere blocks away on the streets of Camden, people are being murdered, drugs are exchanging hands, cars are being jacked, and the city is living up to its title as Most Dangerous City in America. It just didn’t make sense.

I still have a flyer from 1995 for the first summer lineup at the Sony-Blockbuster Entertainment Complex. We saw Steve Miller and Tom Petty that summer, but the rest of the shows were Bon Jovi, Clint Black, Diana Ross, Chicago, and Barry Manilow to name a few. Looking at it the other day, the flyer is a pretty cool piece of memorabilia to show how quickly times and technology has changed in the past 15 or so years. First off- there is only one Blockbuster left in my area. Second- there is no website address listed at all on the flyer. And third- it lists the telecharge number and the physical locations you could purchase tickets.

That was my heyday though – all those shows in the mid-90’s, when my friends and I would load up my parents’ wood grain station wagon with a few party balls of beer and grilling equipment. Where we would use two cans of lighter fluid to get the coals going – I am still shocked that I have eyebrows after so many near BBQ catastrophes. The burgers would come out looking like hockey pucks and tasting like lighter fluid, and the hot dogs would come out looking like, well, I don’t want to get into that. We didn’t play these games where you stand around and throw bean filled sacks or ping pong balls. The only game we would ever attempt was occasional hacky sack with a shifty looking dude who would eventually offer to sell us mind altering hallucinogens. (No thanks buddy, the Miller Lites flowin’ out of this party ball are doing the trick just fine) And believe it or not, there were no cell phones or texting back then so we stood around and actually talked to each other- laughing, and telling stories, busting balls, and hooting at girls.   

Back then, my concert going attire was a bad tie-dyed shirt I’d purchased for three dollars off a crackhead at a prior concert, or a white T-shirt from my college advertising some alcohol themed event. I was never guilty of wearing those Teva strappy type sandals, but I did have a pair of Payless brand knock-off Birkenstocks. I’d normally wear a tattered white college cap with the brim bent to an almost 90 degree angle that looked like a dog chewed on it. (But the likely culprit was my pot smoking roommate who got a hold of it the night we were out of Doritos) And I would be in a pair of khaki shorts that really toed the line between “khaki” and white. To this day, I am still surprised that the babes weren’t lining up to make out with me on the tailgate of my parent’s wood-grain station wagon!

There were so many good times back then, like when I started a congo line in the lawn section, a rousing USA chant we got the whole parking lot into during the 96 Olympics, and listening to my friends scream out obscure early album requests from Tom Petty. And there were some bad times-  like when my friend John and I got into an argument after Tom Petty. He said Robert Page/Jimmy Plant was a better show, I wasn’t at that show and took offense, so I called him Trent Reznor which caused him to explode.

This summer, the lineup there is pretty dreadful which makes me sort of happy since I have a partial boycott on the place. Maroon 5 and Train are splitting a double bill – now, if you engage in the risky proposition of day trading on the stock market, it’s safe to say to throw all your money on the company that makes Smirnoff Ice for that show. There is a “Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest” that features a bunch of bands with Smack, Death, Suicide, and other sad words in their names. Jimmy Buffett is coming, but I just can’t bring myself to wear a straw dress, drink Corona, and act like I am in Margaritaville when I am in a dusty parking lot in Camden. Plus, I don’t think I am in the right tax bracket yet to be a Jimmy Buffett fan. And there is some festival that features all these DJ’s called the Identity fest. My question is – do people still do ecstasy and play with glow sticks? I’m just confused with that one.

There are however, a plethora of country music events at this venue. Disturbingly, I am in what seems to be the minority with this anymore, but I will never attend a country music concert. I find it weird to listen to country music and wear a dumb cowboy hat when I live within eyesight of Philadelphia. Like   girls who claim they are a “Country Girl”, when really they live in one of the largest metropolitan regions of the country. My girlfriend was actually born and lived in Alabama, but doesn’t advertise it.  Or guys who pride themselves as a “Redneck” simply for the fact that they listen to country music. Have you ever seen a real redneck? A filthy, uneducated, racist, rude redneck. It’s absolutely nothing to aspire to.   

So lucky for me, this summer won’t be a juggle of fatherhood and shows. And right now, the highlight of my week is 2 beers in a carnival beer garden. U2 is coming, and as an Irish-Catholic dude I am obliged to be a fan of them, but I’d need to take a second mortgage on my house, work two months with no bills, and sell all my Alf memorabilia on ebay to afford a ticket. Thinking about it, I am treated to a great show every night when Jack sings along to the Yo Gabba Gabba soundtrack, which is free and totally entertaining. I suppose I can look forward to the day when Weezer is considered “classic rock” and Jack and I see each other at the show and exclaim “you like this band!?” to each other.

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3 Responses to “MartyDigs: Summer concert series 2011- A bust!”

  1. Ray LaMontagne is also coming to the Mann center, my favorite summertime venue. I’m pumped!

  2. The Tower Theater a part of the Holy Trinity of worst Philly rock venues? I respectively will have to disagree with you. Its either 1 or 2 in the area, plus its near a jd mcfuddyduddies.

  3. Steven – like you, I am not 8 foot tall.. Everytime I go there, some giant ape stands in front of me so I cant see anything. If its a sit down show (like the comedy show I saw there) its pretty good.

    The one place to drink is a ripoff though- they charge higher prices for beer on concert days/

    Plus,,,living in HTown, you are close. For me, its a really difficult venue to get to./…even when I lived in Manayunk.

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