Inspired: Tom Petty & His Audience

My husband says that English people are better at singing in groups then we Americans are, which he attributes to all those soccer games they sing their way through. But I think the crowd at Bonnaroo does pretty well here, helping out Tom Petty with a goosebump-inducing version of “Learning to Fly.”

The crowd really gets going about 3 minutes, 20 seconds in:

I imagine that these special moments at concerts must be similar to the experience of participating in a tribal dance. There’s the sense of community, the signing, the dancing, the transcendent experience, the euphoria. Sometimes there are even substance-induced hallucinations. Similar, right?

Personally, I think that’s why we exalt our rock & roll stars so much. They are our modern-day priestesses and shamans. They lead us in communal rituals that help us access a part of ourselves almost lost in everyday American culture.

The first time I felt this was in high school. U2 was one of the first bands I truly loved (Rattle & Hum was the first CD I ever owned), and I had won fourth-row seats to their 1992 Frank Erwin Center concert here in Austin from a local radio station. A friend and I had such a wonderful time, and being so close, I completely lost myself in the music and the experience.

The next day at school, two girls made a little fun of us for “looking crazy,” and asked us if we had been taking drugs. They had seats high up behind the band and had used binoculars to see the stage. At some point they spotted us and had apparently enjoyed watching our “strange” behavior.

I was always a sensitive kid, and I felt shame from the teasing. But now I know that what I experienced that day was nothing to be ashamed of—in fact, I am lucky to have had the experience!

Now that I’m a mom I don’t get as many chances to go listen to live music. This makes my memories of these experiences all the more meaningful—all the huge outdoor concerts and small, intimate shows—those moments when musicians have helped me step outside my head and join with those around me, even if only for a few minutes.

What about you? Have you had similar experiences with live shows? What are your favorite memories?

© Amy Daniewicz

4 thoughts on “Inspired: Tom Petty & His Audience”

  1. Oh my goodness! I had this experience with Tom Petty at ACL. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was the year it rained (might have been 2006), last show of the festival. The rain caused a large exodus from the concert and Tom Petty left the stage. An unbelievable lightening show backlit the stage and Tom Petty came back. The crowd sung this song, which I believe was the first song back from his exit, like a lullaby. It was surreal and dreamy, and yes, tribal. Truly unforgettable.

    1. That is a great story, Lisa! I bet that was an amazing experience. Thank you so much for sharing it here!

  2. Amy-I love your blog already!
    We were at Tom Petty’s set at Bonnaroo. Amazing!
    I felt this sense of community/tribalness during Jack Johnson’s set and again during Macklemore’s Same Love. The feeling is so beautiful. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to get to experience that feeling several times a year. :)

    1. Oh my gosh, that all sounds so amazing. Isn’t it funny how you almost feel you get to know some musicians after hearing them play? Same Love still gives me chills–I’d love to hear them live.

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