Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Communion

David Lee Roth
29 September 1986: Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio

The first concert concert I attended was David Lee Roth at the Richfield Coliseum. I went to the show with Courtney. She was a few years older than me and had just moved to the school district. My dad was in the local Lions Club chapter and I believe Courtney’s dad joined when they moved to our area. I seem to recall meeting her at one of our dads’ Lions Club family functions.

My musical tastes and my parents’ rarely cross, but especially then. My older sister Karen was into popular music – I remember her going to Rick Springfield and Jack Wagner and Corey Hart concerts in high school, all pretty tame. I am, however, grateful for the music Karen exposed me to and my subsequent appreciation for early ’80s pop mus
ic. From there, though, I moved on to a cocktail of hard rock and classic rock, a fairly natural progression for mid-’80s Midwestern adolescent. Rush, Boston, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, The Doors, Mötley Crüe, Led Zeppelin, and, of course, Van Halen.

I was a huge Van Halen fan in middle school and early high school. While I was ok with the Van Hagar incarnation (and saw them a couple of ye
ars later headline the Monsters of Rock Tour), it was the original lineup that always made me giddy. And, although Diamond Dave’s output took a nosedive after Eat ‘Em and Smile, that first solo album was a lot of fun.

With the Eat ‘Em and Smile concert just days before my sixteenth birthday and that I was going with someone older my parents seemed to trust, they relented and let me go. I don’t remember too much about the concert, to be honest. I vaguely remember the glam (now seemingly camp) metal group Cinderella opening for Roth. They had a few songs with videos that were in fairly heavy rotation on MTV that were up my alley a
t the time.

The now-long gone Richfield Coliseum was a cinderblock affair set in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles south of Cleveland, and the only venue in Northeast Ohio outside of the Blossom Music Center amphitheater nearby in Cuyahoga Falls. These venues would be the site of the bulk of my mainstream concert-going activities until discovering modern rock/college radio acts in the late ’80s and the smaller downtown Cleveland stages they hung about.

Courtney got our tickets. Our seats were probably about two-thirds of the way down the floor, on an aisle, next to the front corner of the mixing board. The metal folding chair may or may not have been red cushioned, but even 25 years later I can recall that feeling of heady excitement standing on the deathtrap, straining for the best possible view of Diamond Dave while doing my best to not lose my balance and be eaten by the chair Snoopy style à la A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Much like Cinderella’s set, I couldn’t tell you specifics about what Roth and his band played that night. I don’t remember any of Steve Vai’s solos or Billy Sheehan’s playing. What I do remember was being struck by the somehow intimate experience of sharing the night with 20,000 strangers. And that communal feeling extended beyond the night of the show. I remember buying my first concert t-shirt and wearing it to school the next day. I was suddenly in a club – exclusive to those that had been to a rock show, a concert at the Coliseum. I had credibility of sorts. It was a very cool feeling.

I lost track of Courtney quickly after she graduated, but I will always be grateful for her role in finally getting me to my first rock show.

I may not be a huge David Lee Roth fan these days, but that first experience of witnessing music I love live – the raw power, the transcending energy, the sense of community – was transformative. For a kid to whom music was so important to anyway, the live experience forever altered how I both perceive and listen to music.

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