We took our son to his first concert when he was five.
Music has been an enormous part of my life, and my wife’s as well. I’ll often talk about music with more passion and fervor than I will about politics, religion, family…. And the reason I do this is because music is how I process these things, more so than any other art form. And having music fill such a large role in my life, I’ve wanted to share this with my son.
Even understanding the need to start with basic melodies and sing-song lyrics I didn’t bother spending much time on what often passes for kid’s music. Instead I shot straight to immersing him in the music I love listening to. I know I’m not alone in doing this. Talking with friends and family, I’ve learned more and more that parents would rather play the Beatles or the Band for their kids than Barney, and really, who wouldn’t?
The only time I really feel guilty about this is when I think I didn’t spend enough time playing him songs about friendship, kindness, or sharing. As cloying as those songs can sound to more jaded, older ears, I still remember growing up with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and learning songs filled with empathy and warmth for others. I don’t believe these were the only tool that shaped my worldview, but I can’t hold music in such high importance in my life and deny the impact it had on me as a child.
So it comforts me to remember that first live show we took him to. It was the Drive-By Truckers and the Hold Steady. Before going I made him a T-shirt to memorialize the event, with the lyric “The Kids at the Shows/They’ll Have Kids of Their Own” from Stay Positive. It’s obvious, but I still liked the sentiment, as we were now those kids (though hardly kids anymore), taking our kid to an even as much like a church service to us as any Sunday service was or is. Walking him through the Orpheum, plenty in the audience took notice of him. They liked the shirt and thought we were cool, but most importantly they were friendly and kind to him. Some kids in the balcony with us agreed cheerfully to switch their seats to make sure he could be at the railing and see everything. One of the women handling security brought him extra earplugs to make sure it wouldn’t be too loud for him or in case his own fell out. And carrying him out when he started falling asleep two thirds of the way through the Hold Steady set people cleared a path for us, no glares or huffs of annoyance. Another security person told him as we walked out he hoped he had fun.
These were tiny kindnesses, but since then we’ve taken him to other shows, and each time the crowd has been charmed to see a young fan and treated him kindly, and he returns the favor, being polite and friendly back. I worry less and less each time we take him to these shows about any missed lessons from simpler songs. Craig Finn often sings about envisioning a “Unified Scene,” and I’ve seen that scene firsthand each time we’ve taken him to a show, and I see it in him in the natural, kind way he behaves. Going to concerts in high school and college was an eye opening experience, being surrounded by people genuinely happy to be there with compatriot fans. I thought I’d grow out of that, but each time we join in the community of fans at these shows, and each time he comes along, it feels like a lesson in what a community is supposed to be.
This summer we’re taking him to see Bruce Springsteen, a concert that is sure to have more than it’s share of attendees with kids. Here’s hoping we won’t be the only ones who bought an extra ticket.