Black Monday and a few bright spots

Black Monday  and a few bright spots

The prettiest face in radio, former "A Prairie Home Companion" host Garrison Keillor, brings his "Just Passing Through" tour to the Whalen Gymnasium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Chris Aaland - 10/05/2017

I woke up Monday morning at exactly 2:51 a.m. with stomach cramps that felt like someone had thrust a knife into me. I spent much of the rest of the night in extreme discomfort and turned to my cellphone to help pass the time. What I saw broke my heart: A gunman had massacred dozens of attendees at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. I tried to go back to sleep, but to no avail.

For the next 36 hours, I read the news updates, watched the talking heads break it down on CNN and tried to get some sleep, all while balancing physical pain, sleep deprivation, sorrow and anger. At least 59 people died in the shooting; 527 others were injured. All trying to have fun watching country star Jason Aldean close down the festival. All because an angry old white man with over 20 firearms barricaded himself on the 32nd floor of a casino hotel and snapped. 

The bad news kept coming. Rob Rawls filled in for me on KSUT’s Monday Afternoon Blend, and I started getting texts asking why we were doing a Tom Petty tribute. A quick Google search confirmed that Petty had suffered a heart attack and was brain dead. Removed from life support, he passed away Monday night. 

I had the pleasure of seeing Petty twice in my youth. On July 26, 1986, Petty & the Heartbreakers backed Bob Dylan at Red Rocks. It was my first time seeing either. It was a Saturday, so I partied in line while we waited for the gates to open, then crammed ourselves into a tiny bit of real estate in the middle of the 10th row. We had seven or eight friends arriving later, and there seemed to be no hope to fit them into that space. Fortunately, most of my buddies were Ivy League bound and put those golden brains together to devise a plan. They showed up with 20 Little Caesar’s pizzas and the crowd parted like the Red Sea. We didn’t even have to worry about buying beers.

The set was an epic one. Dylan guided the Heartbreakers through hits, deep cuts, covers and rarities, including previous collaborations with the Heartbreakers like “Band of the Hand.” Dylan left the stage to give Petty a crack at a few of his own tunes. Then Dylan came back alone and did some acoustic folk numbers. The whole group finished out the show with a bang.

Nearly three years to the date later – July 17, 1989 – my buddy Fletch and I went to see Petty & the Heartbreakers at Fiddler’s Green. The Replacements opened that gig, the only time I’d see them. Petty was masterful that night, weaving solo hits from “Full Moon Fever” into a set loaded with classic Heartbreakers tunes. After hanging around for about 15-20 minutes after the show, we walked out, stopping at the men’s room on the way. None other than Petty himself strolled up to the urinal next to Fletch. He told him that they’d be joining the Replacements at a bar in downtown Denver and jamming until sunrise. We opted to go home. The A&E section of the newspaper a couple of days later detailed the epic jam. The bar had a “lock-in,” allowing patrons to drink for free while the two bands played for more than six hours.

Petty lived and died rock & roll. The Heartbreakers finished up their latest tour on Sept. 25 at the Hollywood Bowl ... three gigs in a five-day span at that storied venue, with Lucinda Williams opening. A week later, he was gone. 

Which brings me full circle: Petty was at his best in front of a crowd, be it 10,000 at Red Rocks or a hundred at a dive bar. You’d leave a Tom Petty show drenched in sweat and beer, hoarse from singing along and high on life. The 22,000 people at the Route 91 festival should have done the same. Instead, they join a growing list of people at theatres and music halls that have been terrorized by a shooter: Le Bataclan in Paris ... The Pulse Night Club in Orlando ... The Century 16 in Aurora ... The Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio.

When will enough be enough? When will we realize that average citizens have no need for AR-15s or AK-47s? Congress is set to vote on legislation this week making it easier to obtain silencers for guns. Can you imagine the carnage if we can’t even hear the guns aimed at us?

We have a choice to make in this country. Will we continue to allow the gun lobby – not to mention Big Pharma, Big Oil and Wall Street – to write our laws and bribe our politicians? Will we continue to allow our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers to be mowed down by gun violence? Will we continue to show more displeasure at black guys kneeling for the anthem than we do for white guys massacring innocent people? Or will we take a stand?

There’s plenty to stand for this week. Former “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor brings his “Just Passing Through” tour to FLC’s Whalen Gymnasium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. His popular radio variety show brought some 4 million listeners to over 700 NPR stations nationwide (including KSUT, which airs the broadcast live from 4-6 p.m. each Saturday). Keillor may have retired from PHC (Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile replaced him), but he continues to host “The Writer’s Almanac.” Plenty of general admission seats remain in the bleachers.
KDUR’s annual fall membership drive runs Friday through Friday, Oct. 6-13 and kicks off, per usual, with Guest DJ Day. This Friday, a host of local musicians take over the microphones, including Bubba Iudice (Farmington Hill), Jeff Solon (a KDUR alumnus), Sam Kelly (Durango Funk Allstars, Elder Grown), Tracy Ford (Jaki & the Joysticks), Jon Broholm (Carute Roma) and Mark Epstein (The Badly Bent), plus reigning Guest DJ Day champ McCarson Jones. Call 247-7262 or visit kdur.org to make a pledge. 

Maybe it’s the president, maybe the last one? Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.

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