Thursday, December 03, 2009

Concerts include travel decisions

For music buffs in the Upper Peninsula,
venues in Milwaukee, Chicago and other metropolitan
areas are hundreds of miles away. Increasingly,
concerts are being offered in the confines of the
U. P., closer to home for many fans.


Traditionally, living in the Upper Peninsula has meant limited opportunities to see rock concerts by nationally-known acts, unless you're willing to travel.

That situation was ameliorated when the region's casinos began to aggressively book rock, country and blues performers.

Still, the U. P.'s sparse population, geographic isolation and small venues don't often attract music's megastars, who still require metropolitan amenities.

While urban centers may draw elite entertainers, I don't relish a trip to the big city unless I'm going to see one of my favorite rock acts.

Places like Milwaukee and Chicago offer world-class entertainment, along with crime, traffic congestion, parking problems, bad neighborhoods, over-priced food and lodging, etc.

By my reckoning, those negatives can be superseded by just a handful of names like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Bob Seger, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty.

Yes, I've braved the big bad city to see all those acts in recent years.

The shows have always been great, but I haven't always appreciated the circumstances.

Take the John Fogerty show, for instance. As the former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, he's been one of my favorites since my teenage years, so I jumped at the chance to see him in concert in Milwaukee last month.

The trip didn't go without complications, however.


On arrival at the downtown Intercontinental Hotel, my wife Sue and I saw the police sealing off an area across the street with yellow "crime scene" ribbon. While waiting for show time in our room, an area television station topped its local news with the gruesome details of a murder elsewhere in the area.

After dark, we hustled the six blocks to the venue by foot, delighted to get into the confines of the theater.

Half a glass of Merlot following the show cost $10, a little steep for folks who remember Boone's Farm at 99 cents a bottle.

The next morning we took a wrong turn leaving the parking garage and got an unexpected tour of the inner city. Finally, we stopped for directions at a McDonald's Restaurant, just seven blocks from our exit north.

Other rock 'n' roll road trips have had their challenges, too.

At a Paul McCartney show in Chicago, I developed a stomach ailment after making the mistake of eating French onion soup for supper. I discovered that concert first aid stations are prepared to deal with many situations, but not the medical condition I had. I also found out the rest rooms at certain venues aren't very clean or plentiful.

On a trip to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland I got a migraine headache and had to find clinic to treat me before I missed any of the activities on our schedule, which included a concert featuring many of the top stars of popular music, such as Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, the Allman Brothers and many others.

Traversing the U. P. to attend music events, on the other hand, has been considerably less stressful.

Sue and I have enjoyed concerts and festivals throughout the area. Marquette's Blues Fest, held each year over the Labor Day weekend, combines blues with a tranquil setting on Lake Superior.


Driving to the Copper Country community of Calumet to see blues veteran Johnny Winter on a historic stage was a pleasant and unforgettable trip.

On another entertaining northern excursion we saw Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman and Roxanne Potvin at the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival in Ontonagon.

Seeing B. B. King at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie was especially rewarding since so many blues players have taken their cues from him.

The Island Resort & Casino has played a significant role in bringing some of the blues' most-recognizable performers to the north country.

Acts such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Kim Wilson, Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts and the Blues Brothers have thrilled packed houses at the Harris casino. Sue and I can attest to that; we were at the shows.

In fact, the casino has put on myriad concerts, with a wide variety of entertainers.

As rock fans, Sue and I have enjoyed local shows by headlining acts such as Three Dog Night, Beach Boys, Chicago, Little River Band and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. True, the bands didn't feature all their original members, but they put on fine performances nevertheless. Decades after their glory years, such groups rarely include all the founding members because people have retired, died, or moved on to other groups.

That wasn't the case with ZZ Top, a Texas trio comprised of Billy Gibbon (vocals, guitar), Dusty Hill (vocals, bass) and Frank Beard (drums). The original trio, founded in 1969, lit up the Island theater in a concert as spectacular as any rock 'n' roll show you would find, short of a stadium extravaganza by Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones.

The local casino has also favored older solo performers including Bobby Vinton, Paul Anka, Lou Christie, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell.

In a memorable appearance earlier this year, veteran rocker Joe Cocker belted out "With a Little Help From My Friends," "The Letter" and "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" with a gruff abandon which delighted fans.

Actually, I've enjoyed concerts by artists as disparate as Joan Jett, known for the 1982 hit "I Love Rock 'N Roll," and country legend Merle Haggard, the "Okie From Muskogee."

Compared to an out-of state road trip, traveling to the Island Resort takes just 15 minutes for me.

Accommodating an audience of 1327, every seat in the house is a good one. In addition, the theater offers state of the art sound and lighting accouterments.

With reserved seating, spectators are able to arrive just minutes before show time.

Tickets for Island shows are moderately priced, especially compared to admission to those "big city" concerts.

Although I'll probably continue to attend the occasional concert in Milwaukee or Chicago, to be able to attend a rock, country or blues show close to home is a convenience all music fans should appreciate.

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