Six Epic Concerts
Revisiting my most memorable, most intense, and most surreally-sized live music experiences.
While I often feel the most visceral emotional response to memories of intimate shows, some of my most vivid and intense experiences come from concerts of epic proportion. I take a trip down memory lane (because, you know, nostalgia is hitting me super hard during the pandemic), recalling the six most epic concerts I’ve attended.
2016: Taylor Swift at Formula 1, Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX
Damn, Taylor Swift. To be honest with you, I wasn’t a big “Swifty” when I went to this show. Sure, I knew a lot of T-Swift songs from the radio, but I’m more of a rock and alternative fan these days. I left this show FULLY CONVERTED.
By some embodiment of good karma or the smiling face of Fortune, we lucked into VIP tickets through one of Brian’s coworkers. Unprepared but absolutely along for the ride, we headed out to the show last-minute.
This was, by far, the biggest show I’ve ever been a part of, with more than 80,000 attendees. Never have I had a more epic journey just to get to the stage. Formula One was still pretty new for us Austinites, and, anticipating a parking and traffic nightmare, the city had set up stations in north and south Austin to bus people to the race track. The hubby and I parked at Burger Stadium in South Austin (fun fact: this is where I used to run track in high school and where I learned to drive with my dad), hopped on a school bus without any A/C or seat belts, and rode out to CoTA. When we arrived, the bus dropped everyone off about 3/4 mile away from where the concert would take place, and we all hiked across fields and rickety bridges in the dark. Never have I feared for my safety in a crowd until this show, when we were herded like cattle inside metal fencing, security everywhere, to get to our spots. If something treacherous happened, we’d all be locked in with no place to run. News helicopters flying overhead didn’t help to sooth the tension.
But any anxiety dissipated when Miss Americana arrived in all-star fashion. She put on the most high-quality, perfectly polished show from start to finish, even while battling a cold (she would shyly turn her head to blow her nose at moments). From her dazzling costumes to confident stature to stripped-down performances on the guitar and piano in the middle of an ultra-massive worldwide audience, her star power couldn’t be denied. Brian and I danced and sang, and acted silly in the middle of the race track with high-rollers from across the globe that night. I won’t forget it.
2015: Foo Fighters, ACL Live at the Moody Theatre, Austin, TX
Y’all know my love for the Foo Fighters. This show takes the cake for sheer will to rock as long and as hard as possible.
After canceling their first scheduled appearance at ACL Live at the Moody Theatre due to a family emergency, they came back to town on a rescheduled date not long after releasing “Sonic Highways” and pledged to make it up to fans. They delivered on that promise threefold. Typically a one-hour taping, restricted to the confines of TV programming, the Foos played for three and a half hours straight. They opened with a surprise that brought tears to my eyes, one of my favorite songs, “Aurora,” which they rarely play live. They brought hometown guitar hero Gary Clark Jr. up on stage to play their ode to Austin, “What did I do?/God As My Witness.” Dave Grohl let us know that they would play until they no longer could, and all of the bandmates didn’t leave the stage until they were completely drenched in sweat, out of breath, with nothing left. They gave everything they had to us that night.
Plus, I cashed in a probably once-in-a-lifetime favor to get into this show.
2006: The Rolling Stones: A Bigger Bang Tour, Zilker Park, Austin, TX
Do I really need to say more? The Rolling Stones played a larger-than-life show in Zilker Park, which required them to get a special permit from the city, make a rather large donation, and build a custom-stage that could entertain a crowd that would overflow any existing arena in Central Texas at the time.
There was plenty of prancing, guitar-slaying, and fireworks for the show to be etched into my memory for all eternity. I attended with my mom and brother, and I think it will remain one of my most cherished experiences with them. I’ll also look back on it as a moment that forever changed the cultural landscape of Austin. We finally lived up to our name, “The Live Music Capital of the World,” graced with the presence of rock royalty.
2005: Coldplay at Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX
I was a senior in high school attending my first ACL Fest solo. I hadn’t intended to attend solo. In fact, my boyfriend at the time and I had purchased 3-day wristbands together. However, we had different taste in music, and I wasn’t about to miss any of my favorite artists, so we split up to see different shows the majority of the festival. (I should have known it would never work out!) In any case, I was in my hometown, and I inevitably found people I knew in every corner of Zilker Park.
My first festival was one for the books—it was the epic dust-bowl year where all three days were over 100 degrees and the grassy field lasted about two hours before it became a dirt pile, but the lineup was legendary. Who all did I see that year?! Oasis (not long before they broke up), Buddy Guy, Franz Ferdinand, Wilco, Bloc Party, Keane… I was in heaven! All of the joys and thrills of three music-filled days culminated with Coldplay on the main stage to close out the festival. This was not long after they rose to superstardom with “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” and they had just released “X&Y.” I LOVED them (I still do).
As anyone who has attended a three-day music festival would know, the last leg of the last day is a feat of superhuman strength and endurance. You’re tired, you’re sweaty and dirty and sore, yet you’re high on all of the new experiences. So you keep going. I desperately wanted to see Coldplay and I was determined to get a good spot in the crowd, so I went over to the main stage about two hours before they started playing equipped with two water bottles and a granola bar. About an hour before they took the stage, the crowd started to get anxious. It seemed like everyone in the whole park was heading over. The other performers were finishing up, and the whole of the festival would end it with this can’t-miss set. People started to get pushy. It was impossible for anyone to sit, and getting more difficult just to stand in place. It got to the point where we were so packed in, I didn’t even have space to put both feet down on the ground. I stood on one foot that entire show. I witnessed things (people peeing in water bottles right next to me) I didn’t ever want to witness. But God, was it worth it! When the music started, I forgot about everything else. There was only Chris Martin, the piano, and glowing glitter-filled balloons bouncing through endless waves of fans. And when they sang “Fix You,” tears streamed down my face.
2004: Vans Warped Tour in some parking lot near San Antonio, TX
It was 107 degrees, and we were in an asphalt parking lot with the full force of the Texas summer sun shining down on us, unrelenting. My mom (God bless her), had driven me and a small group of friends to the Vans Warped Tour, which we’d been looking forward to for months. I think we blasted All-American Rejects and Yellowcard nonstop while my mom drove us to and from Austin. Our excitement level was probably at an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. We were ready to let out all of our teenage energy and angst, and we that we certainly did.
This day was epic in terms of length and heat. We were young and full of energy, and somehow managed to last the whole day, bouncing back and forth from stage to stage to see all of our favorite bands as well as the ones we’d heard about but never seen. There was a rumor that My Chemical Romance, who was not on the lineup, was going to make an appearance at the end of the day, so we literally stayed at the festival from doors-opened to doors-closed. MCR never showed. Fortunately for my mom, there was a “parent day-care” program at Warped Tour (genius!), where parents and chaperones could find refuge from the sweltering sun in air-conditioned tents where they offered free beverages.
Things I remember about that day: My obsession with Yellowcard became very real after the first time I heard them perform “Way Away” live (I’m still a Yellowcard fan to this day), chicken strips have never tasted as good as they did from those concession stands when we were heat-dazed and exhausted, and my crazy tan. I made the not-so-wise choice of wearing a mesh shirt over a tank top, and I got a tan through all the little holes in the mesh that lasted all summer. I had also let some marketing rep put a temporary tattoo on me advertising Fuse TV (yeah, that was a thing for like a year, while they tried to compete with MTV). I had an outline where that temporary tattoo had been for almost a year before my tan finally faded.
2000: Britney Spears & Destiny’s Child on Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawai’i
In 2000, my mom, brother, and I accompanied my dad on a business trip to Oahu and stayed for an extended family vacation. As it so happened, Britney Spears was staying at our hotel and constructing a massive stage on Waikiki Beach for the TV special, “Britney in Hawaii.” I was twelve at the time and a Britney super-fan (I think I spent that whole trip singing “Oops…I did it again”). To put this in context, for me, this was like the stars aligning, a dream come true! Not only was I in Hawaii, but Britney was playing a FREE SHOW AT MY HOTEL! OMG! OMG!
The day of the concert, we were out on the beach and caught a nearly private-show during the soundcheck, and, BONUS SURPRISE, Destiny’s Child was opening for Britney! I literally walked right up to the stage in the presence of QUEEN BEY and watched them perform. Seriously, living the dream. We were playing on the beach on Waikiki AND got to see close-up performances while lounging in our swim suits beneath the magical Hawaiian sun. I think I stayed on the beach the entire day, with my parents switching off as chaperone and keeping me fed, hydrated, and lathered with sunblock. I was part of a small screaming mob that got excited every time Britney waved from her hotel room balcony in the Rainbow Tower.
Later in the day, after school got out on the island, things started to get crazy. Free buses ran from every corner of the island to transport fans to the beach for this free special. The beach was PACKED. Like, you couldn’t move if you wanted to, packed. My dad stayed with me in the crowd, and we had a little styrofoam ice chest with us that I stood on to see over people’s heads. When Britney took the stage, the crowd rushed forward, and I remember a flash of a few of us trying to make a barrier around a girl with a broken leg who needed to sit down with her cast. But I also remember just feeling in awe. Everything was big, other-worldly, EPIC. And I sang every word to every song at the top of my lungs.
To my parents — I’m sorry, I was probably insufferable. And thank you for making my 12-year-old dreams come true by spending an entire day of our vacation waiting for Britney!
Nothing will replace the sense of adventure, wonder, and community sparked by incredible live music performances. These are the types of shows that transport you from the ordinary to the extraordinary. There are highs and lows, your physical endurance is put to the test, excitement and anticipation drive you through the day, you meet new friends and reunite with old friends, and hear some of the best music of your life. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine a path back to feeling carefree in a crowd of 40,000+ concertgoers, but I hope we can gather together again safely in the near future and celebrate the joy of singing, dancing, and just being together in the presence of music and artists we all love.