Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hornsby, Colorado, and the Thing That Just Won't Go Away

About a month before our epic trip to Seattle to see Harry Connick, Jr. perform, the wife and I took a much shorter drive up to Denver to take in a show by another one my heroes by the name of Bruce Hornsby. This was our second opportunity to get to see Bruce and, given my vaunted appreciation for his musicality, my ever-present fantasy to one day sit-in on drums for him, and my complete inability to ever get sick of his music, I was, as the great Stoic philosophers used to say, excited, indeed.

Bruce and his marvelously-named band were putting on their concert on the grounds of the Denver Botanical Gardens, and this necessitated just about every ticket sold to be classified ‘General Admission’. The stage plan at the Botanical Gardens is basically a square amphitheater-style situation, with the band performing at the bottom and the crowd seated on the lawn surrounding it. The Botanical Gardens folks allow for concert-goers to bring their own food and/or drink and even permit lawn chairs below a certain height. All in all, it creates a very laid back and comfortable atmosphere for the performance. 

“Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.”

Or so you might think. Or, to put it another way – perhaps a few people took that advice a little too seriously.

Here’s the rub: the performance was outstanding. No surprise there. Hornsby and his crew are amazing musicians and, as performers, prefer to let the music itself be the star of the show rather than dramatic stage theatrics, lights, or any other kind of big rock show hoopla. They just get up on the stage like a bunch of regular dudes and crush it. My beef has nothing at all to do with the cats I paid money to see.

The audience, however, provided an altogether different kind of elucidation.

Throughout Hornsby’s set – and don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say throughout – people throughout (there’s that word again) the audience insisted on acting like one of the great pop music pianists and songwriters of the last 25 years wasn’t actually performing just a few feet away from them. All around me, in little pockets of people scattered amongst the spectators, conversations were carried on during the songs as if the tickets hadn’t actually cost $75 apiece (worth every penny, if you must know). And, while I know that this is pretty typical behavior during rock shows, the tolerable volume coming off the stage and the more laid-back vibe caused it all to seem downright oblivious, unmindful, and incognizant. It was as if the coming-to-town of great musicians and the incredible concerts they put on were normal, everyday occurrences, like filling up your car with gas or checking the voicemail inbox on your phone.

Needless to say, I was a little befuddled.

You see, I like, no – check that – I love listening to music. And I cherish the opportunity to get to see truly great artists demonstrate their creative prowess live and in-person. This is a special thing to me and I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be special to everyone.

Granted, music doesn’t mean as much to most other people as it does to me. And that’s ok. But I can’t figure out how paying money to go to a concert and then behaving like the concert wasn’t actually happening makes any sense. Sure, plenty of those people probably went to work the next day and told everyone in the neighboring cubicles about how they went to the Hornsby show last night and, oh, how fantastic it was, while the truth of the situation was that they threw down a bunch of money in order to spend two hours getting caught up on the latest gossip while the concert itself was treated like little more than background noise.

And, on top of all of this, of course, were the frat-boys-turned-first-year-investment-pros standing in the back getting wasted and laughing about who-knows-what, ruining the show for anyone unfortunate enough to be within ten or fifteen feet of them. The non-stop conversation stuff is one thing: at least you could hear the music over it. But the dudes who paid money – paid money­ – for tickets and then proceeded to not only completely ignore the show but act like they were telling old sports stories at the local bar all night while the blood-alcohol level sped to less-than-coherent levels, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

I’m all for having a good time at concerts. I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade or insist that we all sit, like 18th century European royalty, quiet and motionless until every single last note is played before we make the slightest bit of noise. The only message I’m trying to get out here is that great art deserves to be appreciated. And right now it seems like we spend more time appreciating the menial and the mediocre than we do the marvelous.

I know we live in an age of distraction. I know the overall quality of musical art has plummeted in the last 15 years. I know that concerts are, for many people, more social status symbols than they are something in-and-of-themselves to be enjoyed for their own merits. I know all this.

But that doesn’t mean its ok.

I fear we’re losing a bit of our humanity by allowing the arts to become as secondary as they seem to have recently. To celebrate artistic beauty is part of what it means to really live – appreciation is an important aspect of our emotional and spiritual well-being, both as individuals and as a larger group. The performance of wonderful music should be more to us than just an opportunity to get together and socialize. It should be in our minds a grace – something we’re not completely sure we ourselves even deserve to witness. Real beauty has a transcendent aspect to it and that deserves more than drunken inattention.

So, take the time to listen to your music. Stop and smell the roses. Invest the time in art to let it become important to you. If it’s truly great, than it’s obviously important to the people taking the time to make it. Who knows? Life might just be a little more lifelike with a dash of appreciation thrown in.

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