"He is a consummate showman, and he gave the crowd ... just what it wanted. Hits, hits and more hits. … Everything seemed to be running like clockwork ... His band sounded amazing, everyone hit their marks, and the set unfolded with what felt like an effortless ease, from the drummer's count-in to the lighting cues."
"Kicking off the Darien Lake concert season, [he] brought it - and hard - to what looked like a capacity crowd, or close to it."
"[He] has long been given to humorous, everyman-style observations on life, love and the inevitable train wrecks involving both, [and he] sees in the American ritual of Saturday night partying a sort of workingman's (and woman's) reclaiming of the birthright denied to them during the 9-to-5 workweek… (He) is a first-rate soloist, and handles the lion's share of the pickin' himself. Watching him, and hearing the virtuosity of his playing, is a real treat."
The above passages are from various reviews I've done for The News over the years. I've collected them here to illustrate a point. Glancing over them, you might think the artists in question are the sort I'm accused in some quarters of treating as "sacred cows": Springsteen, for example, or Pearl Jam or Dylan. In fact, these quotes are all culled from reviews of modern country shows – specifically, gigs by Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley.
Following my review of last week's Jason Aldean/Luke Bryan show at Darien Lake, the emails and phone calls came like a tidal wave, bearing along with them what has become a rather tired mantra over the years: "Miers hates country music."
In fact, I don't. I'm well versed in the history of country music, and consider it a form of American folk music populated by songwriters of significant merit.
I won't bother listing those seminal songwriters and performers here. If you love country music, you know who they are, you own their recordings, and you're well acquainted with the shadow they cast. Right?
I will openly cop to being turned off by much modern country music, though. I find some of the stuff trite, cloying, cliché-ridden, condescendingly sloganeering in its approach to lyric writing, Las Vegas-like in its live presentation, and completely disconnected from its own history as a musical form.
I also find the "scene" surrounding it – the all-country radio stations, the seemingly mandatory uniform adopted by its devotees and the tendency to equate the "simple values" espoused by the songs with a "with us or against us" interpretation of "patriotism" – to be simultaneously silly and a little frightening.
All of these traits were represented in abundance at Darien Lake last Saturday. The addition of the new parking policy requiring everyone attending – in the area of 22,000 people for the Aldean/Bryan sell-out – to enter via a single gate, which caused a traffic jam that lasted several hours and prevented many of the attendees from seeing as much as 90 minutes worth of the music they'd paid to see. This helped to create a perfect storm of irate attendees, many of whom appeared to have whiled away the hours spent waiting by drinking copious amounts of booze. As reported in my review on Sunday, things got a bit ugly inside.
Reporting on what I observed doesn't mean I "hate country music," as many of you suggested in letters, emails and Facebook posts. It doesn't mean I hate Darien Lake either – I've been going to concerts there regularly since moving to Buffalo in 1990, and have seen some absolutely incredible shows at the venue. Recently, while on vacation from The News, I bought tickets for the Allman Brothers/Santana gig at Darien. It wasn't a sell-out, but was well attended. I had a fantastic time. No problems.
That said, Saturday's show was different. Clearly, there are issues at the venue that need addressing. So many of you who offered your thoughts following my Aldean/Bryan review concur.
But traffic has always been a problem there, and sometimes, the whole concert experience has been less than enjoyable. But no venue is perfect. Anytime you get thousands of people going into one venue – whether it's for a concert or sporting event – there are bound to be some issues. For example, Artpark has had its share of traffic problems which the venue attempted to address this year by charging a small admission fee for previously free shows and capping the crowd at 10,000 people.
Is there a connection between what happened at Darien Lake on Saturday and modern country music itself? Maybe. That would be tough to prove. I can say, based on the thousands of concerts I've attended over the years, that Saturday's crowd scene was one of the most potentially volatile and least civil in terms of human interchange that I've ever experienced. Metal festivals, jam-band bacchanals, hip-hop heavyweight throw-downs - I've been to tons of these in all these genres. I've rarely experienced anything resembling Saturday's atmosphere at any of them."
If it seems, as some of you suggested, that I expect way too much from these types of shows, well, there's a reason for that. I believe in the concert experience. I've found so many of the shows I've gone to over the past 30 years to be transformative events - some lasting ones, some that just get filed away in the "That was a damn good time!" drawer.
I firmly believe that when the performer and the audience get in tune, the end result should be a feeling of open-hearted community, not thinly veiled drunken aggression and disregard for your fellow concertgoer.
And even after Saturday, ?I still believe.