The summer of first concerts

Sharing your passions with your kids doesn’t always turn out how you expect it will

“So,” I said, glancing into the rearview mirror, flashing an expectant grin at my son. “What did you tell the kids at day camp?”

I was hoping Liam had regaled his fellow campers with tales of his rock and roll adventure from the night before. I was hoping he had gushed about the life-altering magic of an incendiary three-hour Green Day concert jam-packed with the components of every 10-year-old boy’s dream — loud music, constant explosions and a frenetic, juvenile band that routinely sprayed the crowd with water, confetti, t-shirts and toilet paper. Liam’s older sister helpfully answered my question.

“He told them Billie Joe swore at a five-year-old,” Moira said, collapsing into giggles.

In a flash of pyrotechnics, up went my father-of-the-year award. In truth, Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day and a man who sprinkles an f-bomb into most sentences, did swear while speaking TO a five-year-old he brought up on stage. He did not swear AT him. I know, it’s bad. I had warned Liam all summer about the possibility for inappropriate language.

It wasn’t the memory I was hoping to build when I took each of my children — Erin, 8, Liam and Moira, 11 — to their first concerts in the summer of 2010. But then, the magic of rock and roll sometimes is its unpredictability. For Moira, unpredictability knocked about six songs into Sheryl Crow’s concert when surprise guest Kid Rock sauntered onstage in all his ragged glory to sing his hit duet “Picture” with Crow.

“I was really excited until Kid Rock came up and then I was scared because he is fairly creepy,” Moira said later, eyes wide at the memory. Hey, I’m thrilled she’s unlikely to pick a Kid Rock type for her first boyfriend, but I can’t help feeling slightly miffed it’s her dominant memory from a place that figures so prominently in my memories.
I still refer to the DTE Energy Music Theatre by its pre-corporate name of Pine Knob, which shows how long ago I first visited that grand old summer amphitheatre north of Detroit.

Just like countless summer nights under the stars of my youth, I was able to secure inexpensive tickets for the lawn for my children and take each of them to their own concert, sans siblings.

The idea sprang out of our long tradition of playing different genres of music each night at dinner — from opera on Mondays through rock and roll, swing, soul, country and reggae. That’s how I justified it to myself, anyway.

To be honest, I was hoping their first time would be better than mine. My first concert was Air Supply in a shabby football “stadium” in Windsor, Ont. My children’s first concerts would be well-respected professional musicians they dearly loved, playing at a real venue.

Did it blow their minds? Hardly. As parents, I think we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment sharing anything that’s our passion and expecting our children to reach the same level of awesomeness. For them, it’s mostly about the snacks. My hope is the deeper meaning will come later in life, though there were signs the “summer of first concerts” had immediately reached beyond a place where giant bags of pizza-flavoured goldfish crackers are held dear.

Liam, for one, dressed up as his profane punk hero Billie Joe Armstrong for Halloween (***sniff***). Moira has already chalked up her second concert (Taylor Swift).

Yet it was my youngest, Erin, that was moved the most. She has long professed a passion for all things summer, with The Beach Boys prominent on her personal soundtrack.

The Beach Boys concert she saw was the closest to matching one from my past.

Then as in now, the Pine Knob sky was filled with harmony and beach balls. Then as in now, an impromptu conga line sprang up and snaked its way through the lawn. Then as in now, a little magic happened.

On the ride home, snuggled under a blanket in the back seat, Erin said dreamily, “When I hear their music, my heart feels good.”

The concert ticket still has a place of honour on the dresser beside her bed.

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