How many people were there? You sure got me by the taboo hairs. All I do know is…I was there.
I realize that only one original member of the Beach Boys--Mike Love--was standing there on the giant stage before me, but it sounded like all of the Wilson boys and Al Jardine were there. If you closed your eyes, you’d never suspect that they weren’t. The music and the harmonies were that good.
I read some cracks on the internet about the Beach Boys being old and whatnot, which had me a tad confused. Those “progressives” keep harpin’ on us evil conservatives about being more all-encompassing and less judgmental as we make our way through our hate-filled days. And then, they turn around and hack on people simply because they’ve celebrated a boatload of birthdays. You tell me, man. I don’t get the utopian plan, I guess.
Guns ‘n’ Roses were washed up before they turned 30. The Beatles were fried after 6 years of still unmatched stardom. So why the old-age jokes? This version of the Beach Boys sounded absolutely amazing. And as far as I’m concerned, Wifey and I witnessed history in the making yesterday afternoon. And being that this was a free concert, if you didn’t attend it you screwed up.
I pedaled over to Kirby Park earlier this week to watch the stage being erected and when I saw the sign listing what could and could not be brought to the concert, I was this close to not showing up at all. No weapons, no drugs, no alcohol, no animals, no Junior Mints, no slingshots, no dynamite and no bicycles. No bicycles? Was that Jim McCarthy’s bright idea? Okay, I’m being an ass again. Sorry, Jim. I know. Crowd control.
Our plan was to swoop on in there on the top of the dike, take in the big show and then jump on the bikes and beat it out of there. Nobody knew how many tens of thousands of people were going to show up. And nobody really knew what the volume of traffic would be like after the Beach Boys last encore. There was no way we were taking a motorized vehicle into that sea of humanity. And I figured the better half wouldn’t want to walk all the way over there and then turn around and walk all the way home after the fact. We both still love the music of our youth, but we are not real big on clusterfu>ks.
Turns out, late on Friday night the cell phone lit up and we were offered VIP passes and all of the freebies that would come with them. So, I asked her what she thought and as fate would have it, for one lone day we were going to be very important persons, or something thereabouts. Wanna know why? Because now that Wifey has shed 40 pounds on the tried-and-true Zorcong Diet, she’s getting out and about much like she did when she was much younger. 40 pounds ago, she wouldn’t have been interested. Gage asked her a couple of weeks ago if people get younger when they lose weight? No, kiddo. They don’t get younger, we told him. They just start feeling and acting younger. Lose the extra baggage, kiddies. Do it.
So, yesterday we packed the Giants tote bag and walked on over there. The police and EMS presence was heavy and easily noticeable. And as we approached the VIP section located directly in front of the stage, we donned our passes, headed on in and a part of me felt as if I was doing something wrong when I looked back into the gigantic throng of folks separated from me by the plastic fencing. A VIP? Me? Not on your life. But, with Wifey surprising me and deciding to take in only her second concert ever (Alice Cooper), I was thrilled to be rubbing elbows with the Wyoming Valley’s “Who’s Who” list.
We sat about twelve rows from the stage on this day. Things were much easier at the Alice Cooper concert in the armory a few years back. Our group just pushed our way right to the edge of the stage, and anybody who had a problem with that had a major decision to make. And on that particular day, they all decided against starting a fist fight in the middle of the armory. Well, all but one. But, when everyone in front of you is either very, very high on the political pecking order or flanked by state troopers in plain clothes, you aren’t going to be pushing anyone aside. No biggie, but this maturity thing kind of sucks every now and again. No wine sacks on this day. No roach clips. And no ringing of the ears for three days afterwards. Cripes! All I need now is the gray hair and a customized cane.
Somebody estimated the crowd to be in the 30,000-plus range and I would not dispute that after wandering through the park. There was a helluva lot of people there, and of every color, stripe and what have you. I sat for a few minutes with some Goth kids and asked them if they were there to see the Beach Boys. “Not my cup of tea,” was the quick response. Yeah, I reckon. Whatever, man. Nice mascara, dude. (?)
I was struck by the fact that Eddie Day sat there with his eyes transfixed on The Beach Boys. In what now seems like a previous life, I used to stand in the dancehall at Sandy Beach with my eyes transfixed on him while he belted out some of those very same songs. When I was a gangly sprat of ten, he was one of my early heroes. And all these years later, here he was taking in the performance of one of his. Weird. I guess. I dunno.
And make no mistake about it, I behaved myself. They were offering me free grub, free munchies and free beer. Did you catch that last item? Free beer? No, I didn’t get totally snookered and start throwing punches at the governor’s wife and kids. No, no wrestling with any council babes, or anything. At an event of this magnitude, there was no way I was going to be the lone idiot dragged out of there kicking, screaming and soiling myself. I think I had a grand total of 7 beers, so give me some credit, will you? Besides, some of those plain-clothed troopers were pretty big. Real big.
We didn’t want to stay for Abilene’s performance immediately following Mike Love and the boys. And we didn’t, but I felt like a jerk turning and walking away on such a great band. We didn’t feel like making a long day of it, but you have to give them some serious credit for following a national recording act. Sorry, guys.
As we were filing out of the VIP section some guy was arguing with the sheriffs posted at the entrance quite vigorously. He was giving them a cock-and-bull story about how the little kid with him was about to “pee in his pants,” despite there being roughly three thousand portable toilets lined up right behind them. After calling the sheriffs “a bunch of bastards” he turned and walked away only to be followed by Wifey and myself. He met up with some friends and giggled mightily about his failed attempt to join the VIPs. And the kid never did get to or even need to pee.
We had us four more “free beer” tickets, so we used them and settled at the only bench not completely surrounded by people. I had to hit the head and upon my return, Wifey was surrounded by four kids all decked out in punk garb who were haranguing her about sharing the beers with them. And since this is sort of a family-friendly post concerning the Beach Boys and suchlike, I will not share with you what transpired next. Let’s just suffice it to say that they took the hint and sauntered away. At that point we were joined by a cute lady and cute daughter direct from Sweet Valley. They were thrilled with the day’s events and had bought a bag full of deep-fried turkey legs. Yuck! Not my cup of tea.
Originally, I carped about the very VIP section that I ended up being invited into. But after seeing the enormity of the event, it’s only fair that the people who made it all happen and donated literally tens of thousands of dollars to make the event possible in the first place should be given some special consideration. Without them, nobody would have been able to casually wander into the park and see The Beach Boys free of charge. Turns out, that section was probably only twenty yards deep or so, so the people who came early enough weren’t very far away from the stage.
Funny though, I got to thinking about the Healing Field and how I figured at the time that we’d never see an event of that magnitude staged in Kirby Park ever again. And yet, here we were but two short years later enjoying another event of that magnitude. But unlike that Healing Field event, there was nothing even remotely somber about this one. You can say what you want about Tom Leighton. You can nitpick him to pieces until the goats come home. But at least admit that he has a knack for bringing people together and making things that were previously unimagined a reality.
So, somehow, Wilkes-Barre’s bicentennial celebration is behind us now, as well as the summer of ‘06. Drat! Winter lies directly ahead, various projects are currently underway or about to begin all over this city. Wilkes-Barre still has many exciting things yet to befall it. The Beach Boys really were awesome and I got to wondering what further astonishing feats Tom Leighton might have up his sleeve. Cheap Trick next summer, perhaps? (Hint. Hint.)
We shall see, I suppose.
All I know is, I was there. And at the risk of sounding corny, there were good vibrations all around.