The Joy of Live Music

Sunday, September 15, 2013
When I lived in the Boston area, where folk music is very much alive (as you can see from the listings at the Boston Area Coffeehouse Association), I frequently went to live music performances. Most of these coffeehouses are run by volunteers and held at local churches. They are done for the love of the music and not for the profit from selling tickets. It was one of the things I hated to leave behind when I moved to Tucson.

Here in Arizona, there are fewer opportunities to hear live acoustic music at a reasonable price. Yes, there is the annual Tucson Folk Festival in May, but that's only once a year, quite a change from multiple shows every single weekend.

Sometimes you have to drop the "reasonable price" requirement. Last Thursday night was one of those nights. Bonnie Vining, who used to own the wonderful Javalina's Coffee Shop, is now the Director of the Vail Theater of the Arts. I'm still on her mailing list and I trust her judgment in music, so when she sent out a notice of a don't-miss-it performance, I bit the bullet and ordered a ticket.

She was right.

The opening act was The DreadNutts, a local bluegrass band that I had not previously had the pleasure of hearing.

You never know what you're going to get when you go to a live performance, so I was pleasantly surprised at the professional  quality of this band. They won the Telluride Bluegrass Band contest in 1991, so I shouldn't have been.

But the Kruger Brothers, the featured performers, blew me away.

The brothers, Jens and Uwe, play banjo and guitar. A non-brother is on base. The accuracy and speed of their picking was amazing. The three of them played as if they were one person.

I used to own a large collection of vinyl. Unfortunately, I gave it away when I moved to Massachusetts, along with the stereo with the huge floor-standing speakers. When you're doing an interstate move, poundage is important, and I hadn't been listening to my records often enough to justify moving them. Now I mostly listen to music on my iPod played through a Bose docking station. The quality of the sound is important to me.

Thursday night I was reminded of the vast difference between live and recorded music. This morning, previewing Kruger Brothers albums on iTunes, I was reminded again. It's not the same.

Inside the theater, with the musicians on a stage no more than fifteen feet away, playing through a great sound system, you are immersed in the experience. The music is not only coming through your ears; you can feel it in your body, a visceral experience, and see the facial expressions and body language of the performers. You can watch their fingers fly over the frets and the non-verbal communication among the musicians. There are no distractions,

Life today is full of distractions. People are texting everywhere. They do their grocery shopping while talking on the phone. I've gone to dinner and had one of the people at the table prop up his smartphone so he wouldn't miss whatever he had going on on it. I do it myself. While watching television, I'll grab my tablet and check Twitter every time there's a commercial break. Sometimes when there's not a commercial because my Twitter feed is more interesting than whatever's on the television. It makes me wonder if anyone has an attention span of longer than five minutes.

I think we need more live music. For the better part of three hours, my smartphone silenced and safely in my purse, I remembered what it was like to experience life first hand and not on a two by four inch screen. The music part of my brain lit up with pleasure. And I'm looking forward to having that happen again.

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