What makes a concert special?

How going to see a selection of shows made me think about concerts

Last night I went with my family to see the Brantley Gilbert THE ONES THAT LIKE ME TOUR show in Fairfax at George Mason. When I left the show I came away feeling very satisfied. I am not sure what caused me to be surprised by this show, but I was and I think it has to do with a lack of experience I have going to quality shows, and a lack of knowing what makes for a good show. Looking back at other shows I had been to, I rarely felt the way I did leaving the arena last night. To this point, I have not been a big concert-goer but I have been to a decent amount of shows and each of them was pretty different, but few of them have really left me satisfied with what I experienced.

Up until this point I have lost track of all the shows I have been to, but some of my favorites have been Kenny Chesney and Sugarland in 2007, 3 Doors Down at WVU Fall Fest in 2011, and last November I did go to the Dream Theater show in Baltimore, and I enjoyed the show. Even though I had seen Dream Theater countless times previously, this was the first time I have really enjoyed the show. Each of these shows that I have specifically mentioned have a different reason for being so memorable to me.

Going back to the Kenny Chesney show in 2007, the show made an impact just based on the atmosphere alone. Chesney’s shows are an experience in themselves. Prior to the show you get the fans making a fool of themselves in the parking lot, but also the atmosphere you have when you are at his shows. The music, the vibe, and the trip you have while you are there. The show is a party, it is fun, and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

In 2011, I went to Fall Fest at West Virginia University and while I am not a fan of most of the artists that performed, the show was great. The atmosphere of a party at WVU is already legendary, but this show was a big surprise to me. The concert was at the end of the First day of class, on my first day at the school for the year, and the final act was one of my favorite bands, 3 Doors Down, how lucky is that? Even though I am not a big hip-hop fan, which was the majority of the show, the atmosphere was great. I definitely had a blast.

Moving forward again, as mentioned, I went to the Dream Theater show at the Lyric in Baltimore in November. I already know what made me enjoy this show – The songs. If you do not know Dream Theater, they are a 80’s Progressive Rock band. I am not a huge fan of much of their music beyond the mid-nineties and an album in the mid-2000s. Every time I have seen them previously has kind of let me down because it only covered their new music. This tour was created to celebrate one of their best albums, Images and Words, and that is why I went. The show was a “two-part” show, with an encore, and after the first part I was left perplexed. When are they going to get into the music I was there for? Part two, they play what I was there for. It was an experience that I enjoyed, and that was because I was seeing a band I like play songs I like.

Looking to now, The Brantley Gilbert show last night had a lot of character, and this is definitely something that was interesting to me. My group had VIP passes to the show, and with that, the evening started in the VIP room where we hung out and talked leading up to an “Acoustic Performance” prior to the show. While the “Acoustic Performance” aspect was oversold since it was a single song, the Q&A portion was fun. There were some jokes, stories, and we were then sent out for the headliners of the show.

Brantley Gilbert VIP Room
Brantley Gilbert playing in the VIP Room February 2018

As we made it to our seats, Aaron Lewis came out and began his set. This is where things really took off for everyone in our Group. There was something about Lewis’s performance throughout the set that showed everyone in our group how he really was putting everything into the show.  Having never seen Staind in concert, and never seen Aaron Lewis live either, I was really looking forward to seeing him perform. I have been a fan of his through his past in Staind, as well as in his country ventures. The passion that he had for the performance and the flow of the songs made the performance great.

Aaron Lewis Eagle Bank Arena
Aaron Lewis performing in Fairfax VA February 2018

After a stage changeover the mood in the room changed for the headline performer, Brantley Gilbert. Knowing the artist and knowing the music, you knew what was coming. The crowd began to get rowdy, event staff had to be on their toes. The show started off with his song Country Must be Country Wide. This performance had one thing I liked that a lot of artists I have seen don’t do: he was performing the songs the crowd wanted. While there was some new music in there, it was still songs that the crowd knew and liked. That can also easily be attributed to the lack of a deep library, but a lot of artists do not seem to want to play all the songs the crowd wants. This is obviously pushing sales on their current music, but you could see their was a concerted effort to make the show a fan-driven, fan-centric performance. The only caveat to this is that there was no real structure or flow in the music to me, it more felt like hitting marks on a scorecard. It was like a greatest hits album, you love the songs, you get all of what you want, but there is no real rhyme or reason to the structure.

Brantley Gilbert performing in February 2018
Brantley Gilbert performing in Fairfax VA in February 2018.

While the structure was not there, the performance was great, it was a thumping show, it was raucous, and it was fun. As I said, it left me feeling satisfied, and I was happy about that.

Brantley Gilbert performing in February 2018
Brantley Gilbert performing in February 2018

But this left me asking, What makes a concert special?

On the schedule this year for my wife and myself is Kenny Chesney, Old Dominion, and Thomas Rhett at the Trip Around the Sun Tour in Pittsburgh and I have a strong feeling that this is going to be the experience I am looking for.  I think that there are some artists that know their audience and want the experience to be there each time. Looking at the shows above, each one covered one piece of what I think makes a show special. Experience, Atmosphere, and the right song choice. If a show does each of these things well, I think it makes the concert worth going to. Obviously each show will have drops in each bucket, and the scale is subjective, but if a show makes all three, or does each one well, it is going to be a hit in my book.

If someone is going to a show, they are in all likelihood a fan of the artist’s music, but they will still want to hear their favorite songs. If the atmosphere is flat, and the Experience isn’t the most special, then hopefully the artists play the songs their fans enjoy, or the show is going to tank and their fans wont want to go. If the atmosphere is great, and the experience is also great, they may miss some of the songs, but the fans will still enjoy themselves.

One artist that I am regretting having missed come through multiple times is Eric Church. Every concert seems like an all night affair that goes beyond his own library and includes covers of songs that were influences but also creates an atmosphere and experience that people rave over.

Everyone has a reason that makes a concert special to them, and I think for me it is seeing artists that have a true passion for their work, artists that care about what their audience wants to hear, and an atmosphere that makes the show bigger than it is. I am not a big concert goer, but I think that could change based on who I choose to see going forward and how they make the experience special.

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