Finding Your Peace – and Your People – in Music

October was a tough month and I was happy to see it end. Scary packages sent to journalists, politicians, and other public figures. Another horrible, senseless shooting – and then, another one. Midterm elections, with a country and a county so divided, the anger at times seemed to escalate to a deafening roar.

Sometimes you have to escape the steady thrum of tension and anxiety, and for Coloradans, there are plenty of ways to do that. Lots of parks, national forests, and wilderness areas to lose yourself in, and if you’re not the outdoorsy type, plenty of shows and movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and all the other entertainment sites. Lots of libraries to visit, too, and books to read. This year, I found a lot of peace in live music.

The Pikes Peak Center hosted some great talent this year. I was lucky enough to see Kris Kristofferson, and Lyle Lovett with Robert Earl Keen. I’m not a country music fan, but I’ve always been curious about the popularity of Lovett, so I figured I’d go and see what all the fuss was about. As for Kristofferson – well, I guess I just heard his songs on the radio so often as a teen, and who knows if or when he’ll tour again. Both shows were well worth the time and the money, and I even got to hear one of my all-time favorites, “Me and Bobby McGee,” sung by the guy who wrote it.

Up in Denver, I saw and heard more old favorites: Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, and Rod Stewart. I guess I never realized how many hits each of these performers had, or how deeply embedded the words to their songs were in my memory. I wasn’t alone, either. It seemed everyone in the crowd that packed the Pepsi Center knew every word, every nuance, and every beat to music I hadn’t heard in decades, especially Stewart’s “Forever Young,” “Maggy May,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “Downtown Train,” and more than a dozen other songs. That’s the part, I think, that helps drown out the discord. When everyone’s singing the same words to the same songs that are in your head, you realize that – no matter how foreign the rest of the world may seem at times – you have something in common with a lot of people. Those words. Those songs. Even if it’s 10,000 people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s bellowing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, it sure feels good to share something that makes you smile with a whole lot of other people.

The last show I saw this year was Joan Baez. In her late 70s, she can still sing like a bird and is as feisty as I remembered her from many years ago. She did her own renditions of “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Forever Young,” and a lot of other songs that I hadn’t heard since I was a kid. Like the Pikes Peak Center and the Pepsi Center, the room at the Paramount Theatre was packed with people about my age, maybe a little older, and again, everyone seemed to know all the songs. It was a peaceful night, but a lot of fun, too, and filled with a feeling of camaraderie that’s often missing in other places. At the end of the show, Baez and the band locked arms and took a bow, and then they all took a knee. The crowd was on their feet, and the stage went dark, but we kept on clapping until she came back out to play three more songs, an encore for people who weren’t ready for the night, or the music, to end.

That was the last live show I went to, but then there was Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie. I’ve seen Queen twice – in 1977, with Freddie Mercury on vocals, and again in 2017, with Adam Lambert. I had all their albums when I was a teen, so of course – despite the critics’ reviews – I had to see the film. Anyone who’s been will tell you the best parts were the concert scenes, and they were phenomenal. And just like with “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Maggy May,” and “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” the crowds in the movie – and the people in the theater – knew all the words, or at least the choruses. We all joined in on “Radio Ga-Ga,” “Hammer to Fall,” and of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We may have no idea what the words mean, but for some reason, we have them memorized.

It was a good way to say goodbye to October and welcome November. I needed it. We all need to be reminded every now and then that we have something in common with a whole lot of people, even if it’s just the words to a silly song that bring us peace and for a couple of hours, drown out everything else.

This blog first appeared as a column in the November 14, 2018 Gazette Woodmen Edition.

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