Beyond it being part of my gig, going to concerts has long been one of my favorite things to do anyway. Whenever I ask the wife, “What do you want to do this weekend?” her initial response is inevitably, “Who’s in town?”
As a result, I’ve had my fair share of compelling concert-related moments.
I honestly thought I’d seen Lemmy Kilmister die onstage at a Motörhead show at The Complex. I honestly thought I might die when a freak snowstorm popped up and reduced visibility to about 2 feet on the interstate on the way to see Shinedown in Wyoming. I witnessed sheer wonder on the face of my then-6-year-old son when we took him to see The Killers at Saltair. I witnessed the wife cry — just twice, though! — at realizing her lifelong dream of seeing Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor in Las Vegas this past June. And going to Chicago last year with my son to see a three-fifths-reunited Guns N’ Roses was, without hyperbole, one of the greatest nights of my life.
Still, there’s nothing quite like your first live concert experience, I believe.
That’s a memory that always sticks with you … kinda … sorta … maybe?
For instance, the first concert I went to was Berkeley-based alt-rock band Counting Crows at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus in the fall of ’96.
I distinctly remember James, my best friend from Granger High School, calling me up that Sunday morning, the day of the show, telling me he had an extra ticket and asking if I wanted to go. I recall leaving the show slightly disappointed, because the setlist was half-filled with material from the band’s sophomore album, “Recovering the Satellites,” which I didn’t know any of (except for the single “A Long December” ) because the album hadn’t quite come out yet.
The show was actually on a Saturday, specifically Saturday, March 29, 1997, some 5½ months after the album’s release. I still didn’t know any of the newer stuff, but it turns out that was just because I hadn’t bought the CD yet.
Whatever. I still maintain that, for a music lover, your first concert experience is a special one — even if, decades later, some of the details are a wee bit fuzzy.
And so, I made it a point to ask many of the professional musicians I’ve interviewed this year: “What do you remember about the first concert you went to?”
Even if their opinions of live shows have been blunted by the monotony of performing hundreds or thousands of them themselves, asking them about the first show they ever attended — “Whom did you see?” “What are your memories?” “How, if it all, did it affect you?” — usually has resulted in nostalgia prevailing over cynicism.
What was YOUR first concert?
Do you have vivid memories of the first show you attended? Did you witness something memorable? Catch an act at the height of its powers? See someone just before they stopped for good? I want to hear about it.
Send your submissions (please keep them brief!) to email@example.com with “First Concert“ in the subject line, include your contact info, and I’ll pick some of my favorites for a follow-up story.
Dan Layus (ex-Augustana)
My stepdad took me to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the “Echo” album tour in 1998. I was 14 and that was incredible. That was an incredible experience. I grew up listening to Petty with my stepdad. That set the stage for me, because I was like, “This is as cool as it gets.” I know a lot of guys in my world would all say that one of the more influential experiences is seeing him. What I remember the most about it is just that, in my up and coming, it was basically my favorite Petty record. Which is kinda strange — “Echo” isn’t anybody’s favorite Petty record, but it’s mine. “Room at the Top” is my favorite track!
Dorothy Martin (Dorothy)
I was 16 and it was Blink-182. I remember Newfound Glory was opening up for them. It was such a high-energy show. I ended up in the mosh pit, no f---ing clue what to do with myself in the mosh pit — a 16-year-old high-school girl. And I was like, “What’s that smell? It smells like skunk!” And my friends are like, “That’s weed, b----! C’mon! You don’t know what marijuana is?!” And I was like, “No. I’m pretty sheltered right now, I guess!” That popped my concert cherry, and then it all went crazy after that.
Adam Carson (AFI)
I saw AC/DC play at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. And I just remember my ears ringing for like two or three days. I remember it was really exciting and it was a huge rock spectacle, with all the production. It was completely over the top — though it was my first show, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. What was interesting was, just a couple days later, I went to see Green Day play. So this must’ve been 1990 or ’91 or something. And they played at a small, like, 300-capacity room at Sonoma State. And the shows were sort of night and day, but I remember going from this really big rock show to this intimate punk show. And I remember really getting excited about the Green Day experience, because there was something that felt so intimate, and sort of the exchange between the audience and Green Day on the stage just felt more visceral. I mean, I was 3 or 4 feet away from the band, rather than 200 or 300 feet. So even though that was my second show, that was the show that stuck with me.
François Comtois (Young the Giant)
I went to high school in Orange County, and at the time, I was 15, 14, and the post-hardcore music scene was really, really big. And I remember my friends just brought me to a show — Throwdown was the name of the band, and they played this little venue in Orange County. I was really intimidated ’cause it was one of those shows where everyone was kind of mosh-fight-dancing. And the first show I ever went to, I got clocked in the face so hard — to the point that I was like, “I don’t think I’ll go to concerts anymore!” I’ve since moved on from that sort of genre as my primary source of inspiration. That was my first show ever. I guess the first show that really impacted me was seeing Fleetwood Mac, and seeing how a few people up onstage — five people — and the sound that they were able to wrangle with just a few people, it was so powerful that it really made me think, “OK, this is something that I’d like to be able to try to achieve, or at the very least strive for.”
The first big concert I remember going to was the KISS 108 concert — KISS 108 is a pop station in Boston. It was like a summer jam. It must have been 1999, so I was 8 years old. It had Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, and some other people as well. I just remember how exciting it was to see all these different acts. And that was the same day that I sang my way backstage through security until I got to Britney Spears, and I sang for her! I was such a weird little kid, and I just wouldn’t take no for an answer! I just remember how I wanted to be up there. That was my feeling.
Max & Iggor Cavalera (ex-Sepultura)
Iggor: The funny thing is, it’s gonna be the same answer with Max, because we were together. We watched Queen in Brazil in 1981. … After that, our lives really changed, in the sense that we looked at music in a completely different way — not just as a listener, but also wishing to somehow make music. That show was very inspiring in that sense. Since then, that’s all we did. Before that, we had different hobbies. Me and Max were into playing football, as a lot of Brazilians are, and from that moment, it was like, “No, this is it. We wanna play music. We wanna be involved with music somehow.” Queen was the starting point of that.
Max: It was 1981, it was “The Game” tour, and Queen was on top of their game at that time. They were the arena rock band to go see. They were just amazing, firing on all cylinders. Freddie Mercury was probably one of the best frontmen. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. We’d never seen anything like that. We were really young — I think I was like 12 and Iggor was 11 or something like that. Until that point, we didn’t even like music, honestly — we only liked soccer. We went to the show and were like, “What is this? This is amazing!” It’s got the same energy as soccer, but better, with lights and sound. So that concert really changed our lives forever. The next day, we bought cassette tapes — I got Queen, “Live Killers,” and Iggor got KISS, “Alive II,” and we listened to those tapes nonstop and became rock ’n’ rollers for life, right there on the spot. There was no turning back. We’ve gotta thank Queen for that!
I’ve never been asked that ever in life … I don’t remember my first concert! That’s something I’d have to think about. Who did I go see first? I’m sure it was a rap concert. … I know I saw Public Enemy back in the day. … A big one that jumped out at me, I saw Eazy-E and NWA when they first signed The D.O.C. I saw The D.O.C. onstage! And I was such an Ice Cube fan — Ice Cube made me wanna rap. I used to wanna be Ice Cube when I was younger. Wanting to be Ice Cube turned into Tech N9ne, man! Anything that came with NWA hit me hard. And Public Enemy.
Dave Vanian (Damned)
Interesting one, that, because … the first musical concert I experienced, I wasn’t technically in attendance. I was in the Isle of Wight. It was a summer holiday, and I was with a friend of mine, I went off with his parents for a long weekend sort of thing. And the Isle of Wight pop festival was on. And Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison of The Doors, was there, and a few others. I didn’t actually go to the concert! At one point, I could hear the music and I could look over and see the stage. I did hear a bit of The Doors, and I did hear a little bit of Jimi Hendrix, which was quite amazing. … So that was kind of a concert by proxy! It’s funny because we went back — we played the Isle of Wight Festival last year. There was a tent with all these big photographs, it was from that one, because that one was so famous. And I’d seen a little bit of it when I was a kid, so it was quite interesting.
The first musical concert I experienced, I wasn’t technically in attendance. The Isle of Wight pop festival was on. I didn’t actually go to the concert! At one point, I could hear the music and I could look over and see the stage. I did hear a bit of The Doors, and I did hear a little bit of Jimi Hendrix. So that was kind of concert by proxy!
— Dave Vanian
Ronnie Platt (Kansas)
My very first concert was Electric Light Orchestra at the Chicago Stadium, and it was their “Out of the Blue” tour when they were playing in a spaceship. They were just so incredibly fantastic! God, I could close my eyes and remember looking at that stage and just watching. Talk about a band! Electric Light Orchestra is just one of those bands you don’t realize how many hits they’ve had until they start playing ’em. It’s like, “Oh my god, I know that song. … I know that song. … I know that song. … I know that song.” It really was a great experience for me. The thing that I walked away with from that concert was, it’s not only the music, it’s the visual, it’s the theater of everything, and that stuck with me my entire life. So, great inspiration. Thank you, Electric Light Orchestra!
Billy Howerdel (A Perfect Circle)
It was Elvis Costello playing at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park. I think it was ’82 — pretty sure it was ’82. … I had a neighbor, one of my best friend’s older brothers got me into Elvis from a pretty young age. … And so going to that show was huge. When you’re 12 or 13, three years or four years of continual listening, that was my whole life’s music, listening to this thing. So going to the show was awesome. … And when you finally get to see live music, it’s not just the musicians playing, it’s the people around you and the energy of everyone saving their money and dedicating that time to being in that place and coming together and experiencing something together. It’s this palpable unspoken thing — it’s really powerful.
Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria)
My first concert experience was — I believe it was either in 1992 or 1993 — it was Black Sabbath at the Beacon Theater. Ronnie James Dio was fronting the band at the time, and they were in support of their record “Dehumanizer.” For me, it was the live counterpart of what being in a band was. To see the lights react with them, and the energy of the audience, I had never experienced anything like that. … So to see that, it was an energy that I’d never experienced and wanted to experience again. And then the follow-up to that, for me, was Pink Floyd on the “Division Bell” tour in 1994 — and that s--- just blew my f---ing space all over the place! It definitely had a strong impact on me for sure, because I didn’t know that was part of being in a band.
Troy Sanders (Mastodon)
My first arena concert, I was 10 years old and it was at the height of the early ’80s — Men at Work. They had the No. 1 song in the world, they were playing arenas, and I saw them in Atlanta, Ga. And it blew my mind, just the magnitude of 10,000 people being in a building singing along, the sights and the smells. It was extremely formative to me. And I just remember hearing the songs that I was familiar with and singing along, and seeing these dudes onstage playing music and entertaining thousands of people. It was a truly amazing experience that I think about all the time! … And 30 years later, I’ve befriended Colin Hay, who’s the singer from Men at Work. Every time we see each other or talk, I just think of the incredible full circle of events, how my first mind-blowing, eye-opening and ultra-formative live rock ’n’ roll experience has culminated into an adult friendship, that I was drawn to him and his music 30 years ago, and the full circle of him coming and being a fan of Mastodon. How can you replicate that on any other level on Earth? It’s mind-blowing to me, and another incredible reason why I’m glad I chose the path that I did in life.
I was 12, I went with some friends. It was Grand Funk Railroad, who I didn’t even know who it was. I didn’t really think that much of ’em. It was in the Richmond Coliseum, so it was an arena — it was more like a sporting event than a concert, really. Arenas do that. That’s all I remember, really, because I didn’t really care about the band. Later on, around the same time, another school friend dragged me to see David Cassidy. I remember being like, “Ew, I’m really not into him.” I felt bad for not wanting to scream for David Cassidy. I was trying to work up some enthusiasm, but I didn’t really care that much. I do remember his white, fringed jumpsuit, though.
My first concert was a warm-up gig for the Foo Fighters in the Regent Theatre in Ipswich. My stepmom saw that they were playing this unannounced gig, and the line was around the corner, when she was doing some shopping one morning at like 8 a.m. So she got in the line and she called me. And I was asleep and I wasn’t picking up. And she called and called and I finally picked up, and she’s like, “Barns, the Foo Fighters are playing! You gotta get down here!” I got down there and she’d bought me a copy of NME magazine. I went up there and bought tickets. And it was just phenomenal, to go and see one of my favorite bands for the first time for my first concert! It was such a small, intimate gig. Dave Grohl’s hilarious — I was just bowled over by his wit, and what a nice guy he was, and the talent of the band. … I just couldn’t believe it. It was very inspiring. My friend from school yelled out, “Dave, I want your babies!” And I couldn’t believe he actually yelled back, “Oh, thank you … uh, sir.” The idea that one of my idols was actually talking to somebody I knew just blew my mind.
My friend from school yelled out, “Dave, I want your babies!” And I couldn’t believe he actually yelled back, ”Oh, thank you … uh, sir.”
— Barns Courtney
Ian Anderson (ex-Jethro Tull)
I think I actually saw the Rolling Stones at the age of about 15 or something. And I think on the bill were a band called the High Numbers, that were a support act, who were later to emerge as The Who. So that was probably one of the first — more of a pop concert than a rock concert. But the first thing I went to that really impacted on me as a potential budding musician was one of the concerts that were of a number of black American blues artists who were gathered together by European promoters to come and play in our concert halls in Europe. … That really had a huge impact on me, because this was music from Mars if you grew up a middle-class white boy in the north of England. This was very heady stuff, this was the real deal, this wasn’t the Rolling Stones. … Buddy Guy was on the bill — oddly enough, we’re on the bill together for about 10 days at a festival in Australia. He was the young kid, he was the youngster back then. But the one who appealed to me and had the most impact on me was a solo performer, an acoustic performer by the name of J.B. Lenoir, who’s probably not terribly known in America but who ought to be.
Graham Russell (Air Supply)
That’s a very good question, and for me, it’s really easy to answer. I saw my first rock ’n’ roll show at 14 in my home town of Nottingham in England, and it changed my life from that moment on. I know, as long as I live, I’ll never see a more exciting show ever. ’Cause I saw The Beatles live. It just changed my whole life, not just musically, but in every way possible, and I’ve never gone back. I can still remember it. It just took my breath away. So that’s always my goal — nobody can achieve that now, but to aim for it is a great thing, I think. … It was just the electricity in the air. It was hard to hear much because the people in the audience were screaming so loud. I’ve never heard anything like it, or since. Just sitting there, the electricity — you could cut it with a knife. And this was before they came on! Then they’d come on and you’d go, “Oh my god! This is The Beatles! This is not, like, a Beatles cover band, this is The Beatles I’m looking at right now!” It’s like seeing God perform. They were onstage for 25 minutes, but it changed everything for me. I went, “Oh yeah! I have to do that! That’s me!”
The very first show I ever saw was a pure classic. I saw the Rolling Stones at the Coliseum in Phoenix in 1965 … ’64 maybe it was … ’65. They had no lighting, they just had their amps onstage. Back then, there was no arena production. None of that stuff existed. You didn’t have lighting, you didn’t have any of that stuff. It was just the band. Like in a bar. It was like seeing them in a bar. And it was Brian Jones and Bill Wyman, and they were doing their first album. And I’m way up in the rafters — this place holds 15,000 people — and these guys were the size of ants onstage, and it was the coolest thing I ever saw — to see the Stones in their element, as a bar band! I had no idea at that point what I was seeing. I wish I could go back and see that again. Even though, in high school, we were the local hot things in town, and we played at a local club called the VIP Club. So we opened for them, the Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Yardbirds, the Loving Spoonful, all these bands we opened for in a club that held a thousand people. So we got to see these guys up close and personal. The Yardbirds just blew everybody away. Jeff Beck at 20 years old, can you imagine how good he was? … Yeah, it was pretty amazing to see. Even to this day, I go, “Hey Jeff, do you remember playing in Phoenix in ’66, and there was a band that opened for you that played all of your songs before you? That was us!” And he goes, “Yeah! I remember you guys!”
Phil Collen (Def Leppard)
I saw Deep Purple at 14. It was the “Machinehead” tour, so “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” it was that Deep Purple album. I was on the front row — my cousin got to the front. It totally changed my life — I mean, that’s why I started playing guitar. Ritchie Blackmore was playing this crazy stuff, and smashing his guitar, and it’s loud and aggressive. All of the above. And that really changed everything. I went home, I said, “Mum, Dad, I have to have a guitar.” It took two years before I got it, but that was it, really. That kind of took over for everything else. Everything I did from that point on, pretty much, was learn how to play guitar and learn how to write songs. And the learning curve is still going. But that particular moment was the absolute moment of kicking it off.
I went home, I said, “Mum, Dad, I have to have a guitar.” It took two years before I got it, but that was it, really. That kind of took over for everything else. Everything I did from that point on, pretty much, was learn how to play guitar and learn how to write songs. That was the absolute moment of kicking it off.
— Phil Collen
Abe Cunningham (Deftones)
My first — this is kinda funny — my first in-womb and out-of-womb concert was both Stevie Wonder, who I’ve seen play many times since then. That and Pink Floyd are some of my earliest memories of music. But I was exposed to just tons and tons — my parents listened to everything, and I learned how to play drums by listening to their records, and later their cassettes, and all that good stuff. But yeah, Stevie Wonder, in and out of womb.
Jeff Keith (Tesla)
In 1978, my first concert, at 19 years old, was Day on the Green No. 3, at the Oakland Coliseum. And Van Halen opened the show. And it was awesome! And I see these guys, David Lee Roth in the green-and-white-striped pants, just one of the greatest frontmen the industry’s ever seen! … Van Halen opens the show, and then AC/DC comes down, and Bon Scott in these jeans and tennis shoes … no shirt, just rockin’ that mic! Angus Young is down on the ground, spinning all around, doing all this stuff, and he’s just way out there. And it’s “Wooooooooow!” And there’s Malcolm. And it just punched us right in the face! And then there was Pat Travers. And Foreigner, starting out with [singing], “It was a Monday!/A day like any other day/I left a small town!” It was so great! And then Aerosmith headlined. That was my very first concert ever in my life. Nineteen years old. Day on the Green No. 3. Aerosmith, Foreigner, Pat Travers, AC/DC and Van Halen. And I remember everything! We went home, we went across the canyon over to a little city called Auburn, and we went to Nancy’s Records and bought, I believe it was three 8-track tapes of AC/DC. … Bon Scott’s one of my biggest inspirations. And Steven Tyler! So I got to see two of my biggest inspirations. … Man, just talking about it gets me high!