Last weekend, I spent two days cooking under an unusually oppressive Los Angeles sun. I managed to get sunburned on my calves, of all damn things. The sunblock that covered the rest of my pale, exposed limbs created a syrupy paste for dirt to cling to. Whatever dust didn’t blow on me ended up in my mucus membranes, namely my ears and my eyes, and every time I blew my nose for the next couple of days, it came out black. I inhaled a lot of second-hand smoke, didn’t stay adequately hydrated, spent more time standing than I had in months and didn’t touch a piece of food that hadn’t been fried in grease.
And I loved every minute of it.
If this is starting to sound familiar to readers, I’ll cut to the chase: I went to a music festival, namely FYF Fest. But for me to actually have fun at a music festival, despite the fact that I spend a good many waking hours writing about music, takes some fairly remarkable circumstances. In fact, in general, I don’t much care for outdoor music festivals. I can’t tell you how many times I hear someone telling me how awesome some tepid indie folk band is live, in a sea of 40,000 bodies, and every single time I roll my eyes. But here I am, being a lousy hypocrite and saying I honestly enjoyed myself. So what gives?
In spite of any and all curmudgeonly complaints I can lob at festivals (all of which are absolutely true), there’s still something that still gets me to pack away the grumbles and participate every once in a while: the joy of being able to hear live music. And in this case, I saw my share of amazing bands; Refused, Quicksand and Hot Snakes, just to name a few worth geeking out over. But I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, as it turns out. Not so much festivals in general — I generally prefer dives to dusty fields — but the nagging feeling that no matter how often I see live music, it still doesn’t feel like enough.
I’m 30 years old now, and lots of folk older and wiser than myself have said time and again that it’s not going to get any easier to drag myself out to a club as I continue to get older. And that goes double for weeknights. Yet, at the same time, I’ve become increasingly terrified at the idea of becoming increasingly lethargic or aloof about going to shows. I don’t want to be misunderstood; as a grown-up, I fully understand the adult responsibilities that get in the way of having a good time. I’ve missed shows because of holidays, weddings, emergencies, obligations and, every so often, because I had to catch a plane early in the morning. But I also know that if I do have the opportunity to see a band I really like, I’m more likely to regret not seeing them than having lost a little sleep.
As a weird, neurotic byproduct of this anxiety, I made a spreadsheet of all of the shows I’ve been to in my lifetime, or at the very least, all of them that I can remember. This doesn’t count shows I’ve played, and I’m absolutely certain there are more I’m forgetting, but the total comes to about 250, which averages out to a little less than twice a month. That’s a lot higher than the average person, who sees one concert a year, which means I’m in the minority that sees live music pretty regularly. But if I’m writing about music, and make an effort to actually keep up with new music, couldn’t I do better?
Of course I could. And I definitely intend to make the effort. But, on the other hand, I don’t want going to a show to feel like homework. The whole point of going out to see an artist perform is to actually enjoy the music. It’s invigorating. It’s cathartic. And, as it turns out, it puts a little cash in the artist’s pocket! So, as much as I’ve told people I’m going to SXSW or some other such event “for work,” it’s only half true — the other half of the truth is that I’m really stoked on watching three-dozen bands play rowdy, shambolic sets while I consume my weight in Lone Stars.
And while a journalist can run him/herself ragged chasing buzz from dive bar to dive bar, sometimes you can make more satisfying discoveries in the course of going to see artists you already like. This is especially true on a local level. If I hadn’t rallied at the last minute to see Wolves in the Throne Room earlier this year, I might not have discovered Griever. And for that matter, I would have missed Wolves in the Throne Room, and I would have kicked myself for that.
Maybe I’m not getting any younger, but I’m also determined not to grow any more indifferent about seeing live music, even if it means having to try a little harder. I realize there may come a time when I may feel more secure staying home and giving my ears some rest. But I’ll save worrying about that when it’s not so far off on the horizon. So, hand me my earplugs and open up a tab — I’ve got some “work” to do.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.