Lean in Close and Listen
There are a lot of songs about rain.
The first draft of that sentence said “millions of songs about rain.” It seemed like a stretch. A little too much hyperbole. So I downgraded to “thousands" in the next draft. That seems plausible.
Or is it?
I started wondering if “hundreds” was safer. The problem with “hundreds” is that it feels underwhelming. Then again, so is “a lot.”
But it doesn’t matter, because the topic of this article isn’t songs about rain. This article is about songs a performer played during a rainstorm. More to the point, it’s about the patter that took place between songs a performer played during a rainstorm.
It was a real gully-washer. A “toad-strangler” as my buddy Rick McCormack used to say. I guess he probably still does. I’ll call or send a text and ask him. I hope Rick still uses that phrase. It’s one he picked up from his dad, and you don’t want those to fade away.
Well, not all of them.
The rainstorm happened on a Friday night. It was May 29, 1992. Mrs. JT and I were inside the UCF Arena at the University of Central Florida for a Lyle Lovett concert. If you go to the current UCF Arena, it’s an entirely different building than the one I’m referring to. The new one sits in front of the old building like a giant cinnamon roll at the front of the bakery case blocking your view of the plain cake donut in back.
Which is too bad. Sometimes a plain cake donut is all you need.
When the new UCF Arena opened with its 10,000+ seats and luxury skyboxes, they changed the name of the old gym to The Venue.
What an uninspired turd of a name that is.
The original UCF Arena was a pole barn on steroids. It wasn’t much bigger than some high school gyms. And from what I could tell, it was built with a willful disregard for acoustics.
In other words, it reminded me of the Midwest hockey rinks, gyms, and National Guard armories where I used to see rock shows 30 or 40 years ago.
It was a perfect, plain cake donut.
And when it rained on that metal roof, it sounded like a thousand little troublemakers unleashing a volley of BBs against a wall of cookie sheets.
[NOTE: Nash Creek Industries encourages kids to wear eye protection when shooting cookie sheets with BB guns. Also — beg forgiveness later. Because if you ask your mom in advance for permission to borrow a cookie sheet for target practice, she’ll say no.]
Now don’t get the impression that I’m disparaging the sound of rain on a metal roof. I’m a fan. And that night in the original UCF Arena left me with one of the best memories of my life — thanks to rain on the roof.
We’ve Got Some Beans and Some Good Cornbread
Some artists have a knack for making a big room feel intimate. I’ve been there and experienced it with Bruce Springsteen a few times. And James Taylor managed to do it every time I saw him, which is about a half-dozen.
Those were big arena shows — probably 12,000 people in the room. I’ve also seen it happen on a smaller scale. Robert Earl Keen at the Imperial Theatre in Augusta, Georgia. Will Hoge at The Social in Orlando. The Old 97s, also at The Social.
However, the most memorable experience I’ve had with an artist bringing us all in close was at the original UCF Arena on Friday, May 29, 1992. That night, Lyle Lovett made a 2,500-seat gym feel like a house concert.
If you don’t already know Lyle’s music, then you can go off and do a little recon on YouTube or Spotify. But in a nutshell, his music is an amalgamation of Western swing, country, folk and gospel served up with a dry sense of humor and witty lyrics.
It's not for everyone. Like, if your closet is full of Dream Theater concert T-shirts, then Lyle Lovett might not be your cup of sweet tea.
I was already a big fan before seeing him in concert for the first time on that soggy Friday night. And the live show did not disappoint, except for one chronic annoyance.
As the set ramped up, so did the rain. Between songs, the sound of the storm pelting that metal roof was impossible to ignore.
So Lyle chose not to ignore it.
“I don’t mind the sound of rain on the roof,” he said before moving into the next song. “Back in Texas, I live in an old farmhouse with a tin roof. I love sitting inside and listening to the rain, so this reminds me of being at home. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to pretend we’re all there together in the living room right now.”
At that moment, you could have heard a guitar pick drop inside the gym. If we could hear anything above the relentless pounding of God's sprinkling can.
I don’t know what the next song was. Can’t remember if it was up-tempo or a ballad. All I know is that at that moment, it no longer felt like we were inside a cavernous pole barn with a stage at one end. We were on the couch inside the home of a quirky Texan who was playing guitar and singing for a handful of friends.
I’ve seen hundreds of live shows. Some are more memorable than others. But the 1992 Lyle Lovett concert touched something that continues to inspire me nearly three decades later. He showed me how important and valuable it is to make a personal connection with your audience.
It doesn’t have to be a room full of 2,500 people. I'm happy if it's one person who reacts to one sentence I write.
I’ll always keep reaching for that.
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