By Polly Keary, Editor
Very seldom do my music life and my newspapering life intersect.
Hospitality tents, speaker towers, stage crews and sound checks are my weekend life (when I’m lucky), and that’s usually miles and miles from home.
So it was odd Saturday to unload my gear and turn it over to a stage crew while watching the opening act under a bank of lights as the crowd swelled…at Lake Tye.
There was Parks Director Mike Farrell with a walkie-talkie directing the operation while Mayor Robert Zimmerman greeted the musicians. It felt a bit weird to be gadding about Monroe with four pounds of makeup on and my hair sprayed to a fare-thee-well.
But I’d been excited about the event for a while.
And sort of dreading it, in case it didn’t work out.
I was excited that the event was taking place at all. But it seemed as though it might be a bit esoteric for a town of Monroe’s size.
After all, the musicians headlining weren’t stars in their own right so much as backup musicians for stars like Chicago and Kenny Loggins. Not that these guys are obscure; far from it. Each is well-known in his or her profession, and to aficionados of their respective instruments.
The event was being organized by Keith Brock, a guy who used to live in Monroe who went on to success in the L.A. recording industry, and he arranged the concert as sort of a love letter to his home town, bringing the top talent from his new life to play a hometown stage.
It’s the kind of thing that might sell well at a place like Dmitrou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle, where there are enough folks in a 20 mile radius who recognize the names to fill the place.
The other place one sees acts like that is such a prestigious event most people can’t get in for any amount of money. That’s the annual NAMM show, put on by the National Association of Music Merchants, and only music store owners and others involved in the trade of musical equipment can attend.
Those lucky enough to go are able to see performances by the musicians who are sponsored by some of the top equipment and instrument manufacturers in the world. That is to say, the studio musicians and touring back-up band guys, who frequently are far more musically proficient than the stars they back.
Carl Verheyen, Walfredo Reyes, Jr., and Dave Marotta, the three studio giants Brock was bringing to Monroe, are NAMM show regulars.
I was very excited to see them play.
But I was afraid maybe Monroe wouldn’t share that excitement because not everyone reads Bass Player Magazine or Modern Drummer, so why would they?
But as I drove in to unload my gear, I drove past a crowd of people walking up to get tickets.
By the time opening act Five Dollar Fine, a top-notch country act, got started, there was a respectable little crowd. By the time my band, the Randy Oxford Band, got underway, it was getting dark, but the crowd was larger and very, very fun to play for. They applauded the guitar players’ solos and any verse they thought was well-sung and even stood to applaud things they really liked.
That’s the kind of crowd that’s the most fun to play for; people who don’t see so much music they are bored with it all, but who can get into it and cheer.
Then the headliners went on. I was still getting my gear off stage when Dave Marotta stopped me to say he liked my bass playing. I am still smiling. I will be for the foreseeable future.
They were amazing. Of course they were. I sat with fellow reporter Chris Hendrickson and her guitarist boyfriend, who I heard groaning in despairing wonder at guitar solos, the same sounds I found myself making as I clutched my head in awe at a bass solo.
Then John Popper of Blues Traveler came onstage and the crowd went nuts. Popper was great. He’s always been the best of modern harmonica players, but in the 15 years since I first heard him, he’s gotten positively amazing.
The best part of the whole night was after the show, when I went back to retrieve my stuff and ended up meeting everyone, including John Popper. I’m pleased to report that every single one of them was as gracious and plain old nice as anyone I’ve ever met. Dave Marotta even let me try out his Music Man basses!
I know that Brock, an engaging guy whose visible love of music was fun to watch as he played, probably lost a fair amount of money on that show. He would have needed a crowd of about 2,000 to break even.
But I sincerely hope it was successful enough to persuade the city and other investors to try a concert like that again. I think, given time, an annual concert like that could really grow.
The people who attended the concert clearly had a great time, and God knows everyone easily got a good value for the $20 ticket.
I’d like to thank Keith Brock for bringing such a cool gift back to his hometown, and the city for working with him to make it happen, and most of all the people of Monroe who turned out and gave it such enthusiastic support.
Let’s do it again.