Best of 2014: The Year In Concerts

It’s mid December so I feel like it’s ok to start looking back at 2014. It was a pretty good year overall. We finally got a diagnosis of sorts for what’s been making my wife so sick for the last 6 years and she’s starting to feel better. We took a great trip to Washington, D.C. There may have been no new Madonna album, but we’re sure to get one + a tour in 2015.  And speaking of live music, I managed to get to four concerts this year (not counting my kid’s band, orchestra and chorus concerts, of course.)  Of these, only one was an arena show. Two were small, general admission venues, and the other a small theater with reserved seating. Fittingly, three of the artists were artists whose albums were my three favorite albums of 2013. The other hasn’t had an album since 2004 but it is probably the hardest working octogenarian in the business.

My first concert of the year was in Mayer Hawthorne. His 2013 album Where Does This Door Go? was my favorite album of last year. I really wanted to see him live, but the concert was in Minneapolis at First Avenue, in February and in the middle of the week – a bad combination.  But tickets were only 30-some dollars and I decided to take the chance, knowing that if a blizzard prevented me from going, I’d only be out the cost of the ticket.  The weather was, predictably, shitty, but I still made the drive to Minneapolis and met up with my friend TKT and we went to the show together.  He was a trooper as he had never even heard anything of Mayer’s until I asked him if he wanted to go, but he seemed to enjoy the show enough.  Hawthorne is a great live vocalist and his show was a well-oiled machine – surprisingly elaborate for a elaborate for a small venue show. The sheer amount of falsetto that he did in the concert was astounding. As hard as falsetto is on one’s voice, it’s hard to believe he could sustain that night after night.  He played a lot of material from Where Does This Door Go? as well as a smattering of other songs from his other two records.  Overall, it was a fun show and one that I’m glad I went to, even though I knew at the end of the night, after having sat on a stone wall with no back support, that I really need to work on my core strength.

I managed to capture this video of one of the opening numbers – “Back Seat Lover.”  The audio is a bit crap, but you’ll get the idea.


Not even a month later, I traveled to Iowa City on a Friday night in March to see Diane Birch at the Blue Moose Tap House. I had fallen in love with Diane’s 2013 album Speak A Little Louder and couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see her live. It was to be my second general admission show of the year, and after having seen First Avenue packed for Mayer Hawthorne, I was ready for the same at Blue Moose.  I needn’t have worried, as it was a decidedly smaller affair, with probably 40-50 people total there for the double bill of Birch and Andrew Belle.  This resulted in me getting a spot right up by the stage. It was the first concert that I’ve ever gone to alone, an experience I would repeat later in the year.  I met up with some other Diane Birch fans and, even more surprisingly, met Diane Birch herself both before and after the show.  I will always remember how gracious she was as I blabbered to her about how she made a better Stevie Nicks album than Stevie Nicks and that the three song run of “Love & War”, “Pretty In Pain”, and “Frozen Over” were just perfection.  I bought a physical copy of Speak A Little Louder just so she’d have something to autograph. She also had extremely cold hands.

I got video of her playing the song “It Plays On.” It’s a song that always hits me right in the feels because you can’t help but feel that Birch is singing to her father who died of cancer.


The day I turned 42, Cher came to town.  I had seen Cher back in 1990 on the Heart of Stone tour – a tour on which she famously performed about 3 of her own songs and the rest of the songs were covers of other people’s songs.  It wasn’t until 2002 that I saw Cher again, this time on The Farewell Tour, with Cyndi Lauper as the opening act. Although she did do a Vegas residency, I figured my chances of ever seeing Cher live again were remote.  But when she announced the Dressed To Kill Tour in September of 2013, I snapped up tickets faster than you could say “if I could turn back time.”  While Diane Birch was a solitary affair, Cher was a family affair, with Heidi, Anna and 5 of our closest friends joining us for the show.  It was Anna’s first big arena show and probably her only chance to see Cher.  As you might expect, a Cher show is heavy on the spectacle.  The costumes were outrageous and numerous, the sets amazing, and for all the glitter and beads and baubles, the vocals were by and large live and strong.  As Cher said, “what’s your granny doing tonight?”  Sadly, it’s the show that made me realize that being in the pit at MDNA has ruined me on arena shows forever. Now wherever I sit, I’m too far away.  But I’m glad I saw Cher – she’s a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind act and since she’s had to subsequently had to cancel the rest of the tour due to illness, I feel lucky to have seen her on what might be her final hurrah. Although I’ve been around the block enough to know you should never count Cher out.

I took no video at the show, but here’s some YouTube footage of the final song of the night in which Cher floated around the arena like a Christmas ornament. She passed within feet of us that night.


Originally, I had planned to go see Pam Tillis in Osceola in October as my final concert of the year, but when I found out that country legend Loretta Lynn was on tour and stopping in Davenport, I quickly changed my mind.  She was playing at the Adler Theater, a 2400 seat venue and I managed to get second row seats since I got in on the first day of the online sale.  As soon as my daughter found out I was going and didn’t get her a ticket, I became persona non grata. How was I to know that she would want to go to see Loretta Lynn?  We did bond over the hilarious song “Fist City” but I didn’t figure that she would want to see her in concert!  I guess I learned my lesson.  At 82, Loretta Lynn is probably working harder than most of us and she doesn’t even have to.  The concert was an interesting mix of people, but it was mostly the people you’d expect at a country music show. It was still not the least diverse concert I’ve ever been to – that honor will likely always be Kylie’s, where the men outnumbered the women by at least 10 to one and the gay men outnumbered the straight men by 100 to 1.  Whereas Cher’s show was at least 80% spectacle, this show was all business – it was all about Loretta Lynn.  There were no costume changes, no fancy stage sets – nothing but Lynn singing songs she’s been singing after 50+ years in the business.  All the usual suspects were there, including “Fist City” which I recorded for Anna.


As I mentioned, next year promises to be expensive as I fully except Madonna to tour and we already have tickets to see Taylor Swift.  Also on my wish list for 2015 is First Aid Kit, whose show in Minneapolis in November I missed because I was slow on the draw and it was sold out by the time I got around to thinking about going. It was for the best anyway as I was sick the day of the concert.  I always love live shows, even though I’m starting to feel a little bit too old for general admission shows. I’m sure that won’t deter me from future shows though. As I always say, life is too short to not see your favorite acts live!

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