Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Definite Generation Gap

As promised, I'm reporting back on the Avett Brothers concert from last weekend. But the concert brought up something unexpected, so I'll switch gears in the middle of this post - hope you won't mind.

The concert itself allayed my fears for now. It was actually a very unexpected experience, very different from the first concert I went to in September. The venue was the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, a lovely old building on the National Register of Historic Places (a plaque downstairs said it was completed in 1923). I explored a little before the concert and found a cool fez collection.

The unexpected part was that the concert was general admission seating, no assigned seats, in a big old basketball gym that seats about 4,000 people. What that meant was we were able to sit much closer than we had anticipated, and actually, we were able to walk up and stand with the crowd in front of the stage. When I've been to events with celebrities before, I always joke that the stars were about "an inch tall" (or less) because I have to sit so far back they look tiny. For this concert, I was able to get close enough (I didn't try to get to the front row, though) to see the band members as actual people. I suppose that sounds stupid, but trust me, it's one thing to see their faces on a jumbo-tron (as at the concert in September) and quite another to be able to distinguish facial expressions in person. I didn't quite have the nerve to stay with the crowd in front of the stage for the whole concert; for one thing, I felt I shouldn't just abandon the people I came with, ha ha, and they didn't want to stand up front. If I had been alone, I probably would have stayed in that crowd; it was a nice, polite crowd, united in their enjoyment of the music.

But none of that really has anything to do with what I was so worried about in my last post, that the Brothers are becoming commodified. Or maybe it does, because there were several moments when the concert seemed intimate, like the crowd and the band were sharing something. One of my favorite moments (which also happened to be while I was standing in the crowd up front) was at the end of "At the Beach." Seth ad-libbed several little riffs (the guy has impressive falsetto, btw), and the crowd repeated them back. It became almost like a game, with Seth altering the "words," the rhythm, and the melody like he was trying in a friendly way to trip us up (as I recall, it didn't work). And the final song before the encore, "I and Love and You," was really, really nice. The gestures I feared were "canned" didn't happen in this concert, and once again, the band seemed to be giving full effort into the show. So I'm going to push those worries way into the back of my mind.

The thing that most struck me as something to talk about from this concert didn't actually have anything to do with the band. We made this a family trip to the concert, taking our college-age son and our daughter, who is a high school sophomore. It was the first real rock concert for both of them. Our son disappeared into the crowd in front of the stage and we didn't see him again until the concert was over. Our daughter stayed with us in the seats. Part of that may be because she's only 5-2 and wouldn't have been able to see anything if she had been in the crowd, but she also didn't want to be so close to the other people. Now, don't get me wrong - she enjoyed the concert. When they started in on "Distraction #74," she screamed (in my ear), and she did it again when Seth came to the front with just his guitar for "The Ballad of Love and Hate" (probably her favorite of their songs). But after the concert had been going for about an hour, I came back from standing with the down-front crowd, and saw this:

WHAT??? She was TEXTING during an Avett Brothers concert???? I asked her who she was texting, and she said she was talking to a couple of her friends, one of which is an Avett Brothers fan. She said she was telling them about which songs the band was playing.

At the time, I just shook my head and turned back to the stage to enjoy the music. But later, I got to thinking about it, and I wondered if this is a sign of a huge difference in our generations. For my generation, being AT the concert and participating and singing along and standing in a crowd of like-minded fans is the reason a person pays the price of a ticket. For my daughter's generation, is the experience only real when it is shared on social media? I saw a lot of cellphones aimed at the stage, recording the performance for later playback - or for publishing to YouTube. Now, I'm personally glad for those videos on YouTube, but I do know from years of trying to record my kids' performances in the halftime performances for their high school band that you can't really watch and be in the moment when you are recording something at the same time. Being in the moment - that's the key thing. I've gradually come to see it's more important to be mindful and truly live the moment rather than to only halfway live the moment in a quest to preserve it so I can re-live it later. Lately, I've decided to take a quick snapshot of my kid and then put the camera down and actually watch the performance as it happens in front of me, live.

Maybe my daughter would have been more engaged with the concert if "her people" had been there to share it with her. Or maybe they all would have been live-Tweeting or posting selfies with the stage and the band in the that a bad thing? Maybe that's just their new method of being "in the moment."