Being "long in the tooth," traveling to a distant concert is now a major life experience. The wife and I are driving over a hundred miles to see aging heartthrob and well known country singer Keith Urban, who of course was born in Australia (Put another possum on the barbie, mate). After a pleasant drive on the interstate, skirting big rigs and getting out of the way of muscle cars whose drivers think 95 mph is the speed minimum, we check into our nondescript but serviceable chain motel. Usually we get stuck right next to the elevator and ice machine, but God is smiling on us, and all we have to endure is room art that celebrates the wonderful world of chili peppers.
Preparing to leave for the concert, which is several miles away, I study three cluttered maps, trying to pinpoint the exact location of the venue, Talking Stick Arena, and attached parking garage. We brave a crowded freeway and exit into a mishmash of construction sites featuring bad signage and a riot of orange cones. The streets in this area are named after presidents, so I confuse Monroe with Madison, and we end up at the wrong parking garage closest to honest Abe. The garage attendant straightens me out and after passing little Tommy Jefferson and the old Indian fighter, Andy Jackson, we finally park in the right place.
The concert site normally hosts a pro basketball team that last made any playoff noise in 1993. So you gotta fill those arena seats with something that works. 18,000 rabid souls are here to see Keith tear it up. Our seats are in the extremes of the nose bleed section (Mabel, can you tell if the stage is down there someplace? Did a bat just fly by?). The stair steps are very narrow, and since the wife has difficulty walking and climbing, the ticket checker guy suggests we try to swap our seats for something that will more easily accommodate our needs. Fortunately, after a lot of circuitous wrangling at a distant guest relations desk, I manage to get two seats in a small section reserved for special needs. We can actually see the stage from this vantage point, a distinct plus.
The two opening acts both have the requisite country twang, but you can barely understand a word of their songs. Something about pickup trucks, cheap whiskey, and tears by the bayou. It's as if they have a mouthful of Mississippi river mud. For old codgers like us, the music is so loud we have to cram ear buds deep into our listening cavities. Before the main act, I venture out into the concourse in search of appropriate munchies. The lines at the beer and liquor stands are as long as those for the ladies’ restrooms. On the other hand, the concession stands for food have almost no takers. I buy a tub of popcorn that has probably been sitting under a warming light since a World Wide Wrestling event two weeks ago.
The folks crowding the concourse are your "typical" country fans. Lots of cowboy hats, plaid shirts and jeans. Wide age range, but when you see a fifty something female wearing purple boots, denim hot pants, and a skimpy lace blouse that barely contains her surgically enlarged bazooms, it gives one pause for thought.
When Keith finally takes the stage the place goes nuts. Being a guitar virtuoso, he knows how to crank it up while bathed in cascading lights and other special effects. Maybe it's because he is from Down Under and he has had to clearly annunciate, but you can actually understand much of what he is singing. It also helps that most of the raucous audience knows the words by heart and loudly sing along. The big screens, near and behind the stage, allow us to closely exam Keith's tattoos and watch the sweat trickle down his face. What a deal! Most of his songs are about some version of love: found, lost or never there; however, since he is married to Nicole Kidman and has two cute daughters, I assume he is doing alright in "real" life. Urban's set booms along for a couple of hours, so we definitely get our money's worth, though it will be two days before my ears stop ringing.
The return to the motel is not on the tourist map. I drive through the run-down bowels of the city in trying to find a different way back. I pass Humberto's Upholstery Shop three times. Then, after a fitful night's sleep, (dreams about exploding cowboy hats and sway back horses drinking warm beer) the wife and I head back down the highway to our mundane but welcoming lifestyle. I hear there's a Romanian gypsy country singer booked at the local arena, but we ain't goin.