I was seven years old and school was out for the summer. If I wasn’t choroegraphing dances to the latest edition of “Now! That’s What I Call Music”, I was hanging out by the radio. My sister and I had a pretty bitchin’ stereo with dual tape decks. We could spend hours parked in front of that thing requesting songs, trying to win prizes, and making mixtapes. I don’t think we ever won anything, and our requests were probably already on the station playlist, but it made listening to music a communal activity, though my community at that age was pretty limited to nearby friends and family.
My understanding of the shared experience of music would be forever changed when I heard the biggest and best news ever – HANSON WAS PLAYING A FREE SHOW – and it was just down the road in New Jersey!
Mom didn’t believe us: Hanson had a #1 billboard single, was performing all over television, and their faces stared at you from every teeny magazine. They were too big, too hot – why would they play a free show? We had no proof and no Google, so we just had to hope that mom heard the ad.
On June 27, 1997, my mother simultaneously committed a grave sin against me and gave me one of the most enduring gifts I’d ever been given. I don’t and never have taken kindly to being unexpectedly roused from my sleep (especially during summer vacation), but all was forgiven as soon as I realized what was going on. I put on my favorite pair of pastel blue overalls, we stopped to get bagels, and we hit the road. I was going to my first concert. I was going to see my favorite band!
They played a few songs while we danced and sang and screamed until we were hoarse. They tossed stuffed animals into the crowd, and while I didn’t catch once, I left with something so much better.
Hanson performs to a screaming (& shockingly awake) 8 a.m. crowd at the Meadowlands Fair – January 1997. Image courtesy of Getty.
Before that day, music was a way to decorate time, it was something I shared with friends and family, but didn’t grasp the transcendent nature of it. After seeing a couple of thousand people screaming the same lyrics, having woken up at the crack of dawn to do so, it became like a universal constant. Before, it was like these musicians we’re setting my journal entries to music; after, I realized that I wasn’t the only one making those journal entries.
In the twenty years since that Hanson concert, I have spent countless hours and dollars ensuring that music, in all its forms, is a central part of my existence. Music has brought me all over the country and introduced me to countless lifelong friends; it has made me ponder existential mysteries and allowed me to see the world from otherwise foreign perspectives. Music allows us to revisit the past, to preserve the present, and to speculate about the future. Enjoying a song with someone is like having a wordless conversation. You both understand the song, and so you gain a better understanding of each other.
Liz Lemon once said that what all humanity has in common, all that anybody really wants, is a sandwich. I personally believe that what all humanity has in common, what everybody really wants, is a good campfire sing-along and people to sing with.
Pull up a log and join me.
Meagh is concert-hopping and record-collecting her way towards her 30s, always open to the new music and experiences they bring her way. She lives in Newburgh, NY.