Last week, I saw 2 acts I’ve wanted to see live for 30 years in back to back shows:  Prince and Duran Duran.

Fox with Prince

A week later, we learned Prince died and that his Atlanta shows were his last live performances.

Prince at Fox last week

(photo from Amiee Stubbs, who was 2 rows in front of me)

I don’t just feel incredibly lucky to have been there–I was.  I found out tickets would go on sale via Facebook, about 15 hours before the start of the sale, and I knew I’d be on orders at the Air Force base that day and would not be able to go online (or call, more than likely) to get tickets (which were only available via the venue, not Ticketmaster or another such service).  So, I asked my bride to do whatever she could to get through on the phone or online.  With 5 minutes to go before the beginning of the sale, I thought, “I should see if my paralegal would be willing to try, too” and emailed her with the link.  “What’s your cap?” she asked.  “None–I want the best tickets you can find.”

As it turned out, my 75 calls to the Fox before a mandatory meeting, and my bride’s numerous attempts to get through online and via the phone failed, but my paralegal came through and got the maximum allowed:  2.  Then Prince got sick and postponed, and my para went to Grenada for a week’s vacation.

On Tuesday of this week, I went to the dentist for my 6-month cleaning, and right before I left (the cleaning and x-rays were finished, and the dentist was coming by to give a cursory look into my cavity-free mouth), I tried to make small talk by mentioning being disappointed last week when Prince got the flu and postponed his show, but that I hoped he’d come back at a time when I could attend.  The hygienist was on his way out of the room when he said, “I heard on the radio he’s playing this Thursday.”  My heart leaped…I immediately texted the Mrs to ask her to find a sitter asap.  Since, again, my para had bought the tickets (using my card but her email address), and she was having an “unplugged” vacation outside the country, she didn’t get the email about the new show.  But for my happening to go to the dentist 2 days before the new date, I would have missed it and been out the cash and the experience.

prince tix

I’ve never hated Atlanta traffic more than I hated it when trying to get to the Fox Theatre (14 miles away) before 7pm.  We left our house at 5:30; we walked into the theater at 6:45.  I got a double Makers and showed the usher our tickets.  “Oooohh…y’all are down in the orchestra pit…keep walking!”

After showing 2 more ushers our tickets, we sat in row EEE–5 rows from the stage.  Photography or recording during the show was explicitly and strictly prohibited, so I took one picture of the piano and put my phone away.

piano for prince

To our left was a music blogger from Funkatopia; to our right was a couple who’d dropped $3500 via a broker to attend.  Further down our row was a couple of the musical performers from our church (and “The Voice”).

Then the screen showed this:

back drop

A lean silhouette then appeared with an Afro and a cane.  The crowd stood.  Electricity. Ecstatic screams.

He apologized for postponing the previous week and started playing “Little Red Corvette.” The show was amazing…he played a few B-sides and several of his hits from the 80s, 90s, and beyond, plus songs by Bowie  and Joni Mitchell (the “Peanuts” theme song and “Chopsticks” too).

I thought the show would be somewhat chill–after all, the artist was known for shredding the guitar, and this show would have no guitar, no Revolution, or accompanying singers/dancers, and the ticket stub said “Piano & A Microphone.”  I was wrong.  Sure, it was a more laid back performance than the ones he gave in “Purple Rain” or during the ’07 Super Bowl, but it was still Prince.  And hearing the keyboard versions of some of his most beloved hits was every bit the experience I hoped to have at his show, and more.

He was witty and endearing with his banter.  He seemed genuinely surprised and humbled by the loud and enthusiastic adoration of the crowd.  He was energetic and theatric.  Playful, even, as his hands danced across the keyboard.  No way this was a man with 1 week to live.  It couldn’t be. He was having too much fun.

My only complaint–up until I got the news–was that he didn’t play longer, as the show was about 80 minutes, even with multiple encores.  In fact, when he concluded his last encore with “Kiss,” and the lights somewhat came back up, no one left.  We stood and cheered and clapped and pleaded for more, until a female voice came on the house speakers to tell everyone it was time to exit.

We walked out of the Fox and into the quiet evening, barely able to process all we’d seen and heard.  I didn’t want the experience to end, and it was only 8:30, so we started walking north along the sidewalk paralleling Peachtree, trying to find a place to sit and have drinks and reflect.  We settled on The Vortex and sat outside for burgers, tots, and beers.

Then one week later…

texts

The texts started shortly after lunch time…within a few minutes, 9 people wrote to ask if I’d heard.  Still others sent Facebook messages or emails.  I didn’t want to believe it was true.

During the Duran Duran show Friday the 15th, the band asked all of us to shine our cellphone lights and send positive thoughts and prayers to Prince, as news of his plane’s landing to take him to the hospital that day had been broadcast  shortly before the show.  I thought it was a nice gesture but an unnecessary one, as he’d seemed fine the night before.  Surely TMZ had gotten it wrong.  Don’t they get it wrong a lot?

But it hadn’t. 57 years old and taken many, many years too early.  And by the flu?

Since accepting the news, I’ve found numerous articles about Prince just like you have.  I’ve tuned into XM 50 “The Groove” for non-stop Prince songs, re-watched the Hall of Fame and Super Bowl performances, found a bootleg recording of the show I attended and listened to its entirety, and read everyone’s thoughts and memories on social media.  I stopped by a cigar store I’ve never visited before, bought a nice Nicaraguan, and talked to 3 old men about Prince while watching CNN coverage of the autopsy and his musical legacy.  Later in the evening, we rented “Purple Rain” on Amazon Prime and watched it in its entirety for the first time.  During his performance of “Purple Rain” at the film’s climax, I wept.

Rest in your badness, Prince.

I hear the afterworld is a world of never ending happiness where you can always see the sun–day or night.  And all the Corvettes are red, and all the berets raspberry.

At Amicalola Falls State Park in north Georgia, you can hike the approach trail to the Appalachian Trail, or you can veer off the approach trail and go 5 miles up to the Len Foote Hike Inn.  Given my training for the Hadrian’s Wall walk this summer, we decided to spend a couple days of the children’s spring break going to the Hike Inn.

On the way to the state park where the trail begins, we stopped at Big D’s BBQ, as I always do when traveling up 400 for something, because the brownie sandwich is delicious.

at big d's bbq

We headed up the trail, and almost immediately, the boy (he’s 7) began whining about his feet hurting and not wanting to go.  I kept walking with his 2 sisters (who are 9 and 5), as I really did not want to deal with such for 5 miles when I was already stressed about being away from work on a week day.  After a few minutes, my bride was able to get him to calm down and “suck it up” for a while.

The hike up was, at times, wonderful, and at other times, emotionally challenging for the children, but we made it to the top in just over 3 hours, which is, apparently, about average:

start of hike to inn

There were some interesting stops to see the view (especially at the 3.9 miles point, where you can see Atlanta, Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, etc. on a clear day), observe creeks or streams were were crossing, wonder about different vegetation along the trail, pick up flowers, or eat snacks.

at hike inn

When we reached the top, the children were quite surprised at how rustic the accommodations are but were excited about bunk beds.  We went down to the sunrise room and played games for a while until the guided tour started at 5pm, and then dinner was at 6pm.  After dinner, an inn employee who recently completed the AT gave a presentation about the trail and answered questions about what his experience as a thru-hiker was. I asked about wildlife encounters; he said he nearly got eaten by a bear when he was sleeping in a hammock hung in a blackberry patch.  Note to self:  never sleep in a blackberry patch.

We went to bed about 9pm. At 3am, both my son and I woke up and needed to use the restroom, so we walked down to the bath house.  We spent about an hour afterward talking in between silent attempts at sleeping, but when we finally did get back to sleep, we slept so hard that we missed a thunderstorm (which was good) and the sunrise (which was bad).  The girls were up for both, we later learned.  We boys did make breakfast at 8am, however, which is always my favorite meal at the Hike Inn.  Come to think of it, breakfast is my favorite meal anywhere.

After stripping our linens at 10am, we worked some puzzles and played more games until we decided to head back down about 10:30.  The children commented on how they liked the simplistic nature of the inn and its “no mobile phones/devices” rule, meaning we engaged in interactive activities with tangible, analog entertainment.  My 9-year-old even said at one point, “I’m glad Daddy can’t use his phone here, since he seems to spend a lot of time on it at home.” Ouch.

For the hike down, we chose a different path.  Instead of heading down the way we came up, we took a trail from the Hike Inn that continued up the mountain toward the AT approach trail.  After 1 mile, we could merge with the AT approach trail and could have gone another 3.4 miles to get to Springer Mountain, the official starting point for the AT, or head back down 4.5 miles to Amicalola Falls, where our car was parked. Since I had tickets to see Prince that night, we opted for the latter option.

The trail back down to the park is considerate “moderate.”  It was definitely steeper than the path we’d taken to the inn the previous day, and it was less maintained (i.e., the path was not as wide, had no mile makers, and no benches or other designated resting areas).  However, it was nice to see a different side of the mountain, and we met some hikers coming the opposite direction who were beginning an AT thru-hike, which was interesting.

There were a few moments of displeasure and whining from the boy, but we made it back to the parking lot in less time than we took to come up the previous day, despite the extra .5 mile.  After walking to the top of the falls and getting in the car to head back to Atlanta, all 3 (especially the oldest) said they were glad we’d gone and that they’d like to go back to the Hike Inn sometime!  So, I’d call that a successful trip.

I tried out the new walking sticks I got at REI and my new “darn tough” socks; both worked great, so I’ll take them in July as well.  The Merrell shoes I bought a few months ago also felt good–this was their longest hike so far.

The only sad part of the day was right as we began driving back to Atlanta, my paralegal texted me to let me know Prince had the flu and cancelled the show for that night.  It’s supposed to be rescheduled in the future; I just hope it’s at a time I’m not out of town.

So, should you take a kindergartner, first grader, and fourth grader on a 5-mile hike up a small mountain to stay in a room with no outlets or cell signal?  Definitely.  Just be patient during the hike up and down instead of expecting to get a cardio workout from the pace.  I hope we go again sometime.

inside hike inn room

Last weekend, I saw Yacht Rock Revue cover The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album at Variety Playhouse, at it was awesome.  Before they did that album, they did Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with “The Wizard of Oz” playing on a screen behind them, so we could all see if what we heard was a worthwhile endeavor from our stoner friends in undergrad actually is, in fact, a worthwhile endeavor.  It sort of is.  Maybe it’s moreso if you’re high.  Speaking of high, this was the encore after the Beatles’ set:

I loved it.

I grew up loving the “Abbey Road” album, because my dad did.  He had it on reel-to-reel, record, cassette, and CD.  Possibly on 8-track, too.  I used to love it when my mom was down the street for the neighborhood Bridge game, and the old man would open the closet at the end of the hallway, reach into the stack of LPs, and pull out the iconic picture of the fab four in the crosswalk.  Just as the opening notes of “Come Together” would pipe through the Pioneer speakers he brought back from Vietnam, he’d pull out the tambourine with the peace sign and “up against the wall” handwritten in yellow highlighter on it, and he’d add live percussion.

I learned to love quality music from my dad.  Almost as much as he liked The Beatles, he liked Genesis.  Once in high school, when I mentioned wanting to stay out past curfew with my friend Chad to see a show, he asked who the performer was.  I don’t remember the act, but he smirked in response.
“It’s not like you’re going to see Phil Collins or something.”
For the past 20+ years, Chad and I have regularly brought this comment up as the alternative argument to anything we considered doing for entertainment, as it was the gold standard:  Phil Collins or something.  Hell, I still want to see Phil Collins or something.

The odd thing is, I didn’t have much interest in live shows when I was younger.  My first concert was Bon Jovi with Skid Row in the 8th grade, and I enjoyed it pretty well, but later on, when friends would talk about wanting to see live musical performances, I’d protest with a “but you can hear them for free on the radio!” and save my $18.50 instead (which seemed a lot when working for $4.25/hr).  My being a cheapskate trumped my liking music.

One summer night in high school, a bunch of friends went to see Don Henley, and I stayed in to save my $18.50 (even though I really liked his music).  The next evening, my friend Jeremy told me in detail about the songs off “End of the Innocence” and the old Eagles tunes he played, and my chest burned with regret.  I decided I’d never skip another show I was interested in again, and for the most part, I’ve stuck by that.  So, when Don Henley came to Atlanta last October at Cobb Energy Center, I was there, and I texted Jeremy to let him know it.  His response:  “you’re my most beloved maniac” (which I translate to “I love how you hold onto a thought for 25 years and then act on it when given an opportunity!”).

Now, seeing live music is a staple of my spring and summer.  This year, for example, I’ve already got tickets to They Might Be Giants, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson + Merle Haggard, Kenny Rogers, Duran Duran, The Cure, and Journey.

But for 20+ years, I’ve wanted to see an artist I’ve never quite been able to see.  A Yacht Rock Review show covering his “Purple Rain” album one Halloween a few years ago was as close as I’ve come, and I was beginning to worry it would be as close as I’d ever come.

But last night on Facebook, someone posted an announcement:  on March 30 at noon, tickets for 2 shows next week at The Fox Theatre will go on sale.  Only 2 tickets per purchaser, and they had to be bought on the theater’s website, by phone, or in person there (ie, no Live Nation, Ticketmaster, etc.).  I was excited, but was afraid to let myself get ecstatic, as I knew I had to be at the Air Force base for a mandatory meeting today at noon, so I asked my bride to please please try and call or get through on the website for me.

At 5 minutes before noon, I began to worry I wasn’t going to get tickets, so I texted my paralegal to see if she would also try for me.  I walked into my meeting (which, thankfully, started about 10 minutes late) after trying the phone and website a few (about 75) times, and both were obviously inundated with traffic; I couldn’t get through.  I was not optimistic.

Then, at 12:19pm, I got this text from my paralegal:  “Oh shit, I got in!”

In the orchestra pit, on the 5th row, at 7pm next Thursday night, borrowing some unforeseen disaster, I will be at this show:

prince show

And it’s all I’ve been able to think about since 12:19pm.