By Ken Stearns
Ken Stearns is based in O'Brien, near Gainesville, Florida and presents the acclaimed radio show HeartBeatTrue Radio, playing amazing artists from the USA and beyond. As Ken puts it, he plays the Wide Open Country...whatever the heck that is !
Broadcasting locally on 100.1 WGOT in Gainesville, Florida and broadcasting worldwide on Blues & Roots Radio, Ken plays a wide range of genres from Roots, Rock, Alt-Country, Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Bluegrass, Blues and Americana, at HeartBeatTrue Radio it’s all Wide Open Country.
You can listen to Ken's Show as a Podcast on The Sound Cafe HERE
I was very excited when Anne Connor reached out to me about writing about my five favourite concert memories for the one year anniversary edition of The Sound Café Magazine. I absolutely love the Sound Café Magazine. Anne and Stevie Connor are doing everything right and the magazine just keeps on improving and getting better month after month. Many of the artists and promoters I come into contact with I routinely mention, “You’ve got to check out Blues and Roots Radio and The Sound Café Magazine, they would be great partners for you.”
Well let’s start off by saying that I am a lucky man. I love music and I have had a blessed life, having been able to see and hear so many musicians these 52 years. When I was a young kid I could be listening to the country station, then the next minute I would put on a Coltrane album. When I was 21 the cops were called to my apartment because the music was too loud. I was playing Beethoven’s 9th. I love all kinds of music. Genre is not important. Great music is important.
Suffice to say, concerts are a source of life for me. I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of shows. From Miles Davis to the Rolling Stones. From Itzhak Perlman to Pearl Jam. From Gov’t Mule to Aaron Lee Tasjan. For me to narrow that down to 5 is really impossible, but it’s going to be fun.
Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman, East Lansing, Michigan,1985
Photograph - Pat Metheny and Omette Coleman
The first half of my life I was a saxophone player. Classically trained. I could play all the concertos. I also played jazz. I was a total jazz-head. Ornette Coleman, Coltrane, Miles, Keith Jarrett. Back in 1985 I saw Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman on their Song X Tour in East Lansing, Michigan. They came along with Charlie Haden on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums plus Ornette’s son, Denardo on drums. Needless to say I was in heaven.
They played at this very nice performing arts theatre. I could barely afford my seat. I was back row. 50 rows back in the corner. The lady in front of me before the show started said how big a fan of the “Pat Metheny Group” she was and I told her that this concert would not be that. This was going to be a free jazz blow out. Well everyone else there was expecting the same “Pat Metheny Group fusion jazz thing”. By the second song half the audience had left! By the third song I was in the middle of the second row with Charlie Haden staring me down. Everyone’s playing was on fire. I was a kid and was seeing and hearing legends. By the end of the show there were maybe 100 people left. At the time I was too young to understand that this was a significant moment in jazz history. I was just on fire. Ornette!
U2, Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, Florida, 1992
Photograph - U2, Zoo Tour, 1992
In 1992 I was working for a company that moved 1,400 miles from Michigan to Florida. I went down to Florida for a week to help them move, then I was going back to Michigan, except Grace happened, and I met this exceptionally beautiful woman and the next week I moved to Florida.
Four months later, me and this exceptionally beautiful woman went to go see U2 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Florida. We had pretty good seats 40 rows back on the field in front where the Edge would be. That is until Public Enemy hit the stage. Everyone rushed the field. Me and my beautiful girlfriend, who had told me she loved me a couple of months earlier, ended up on this tiny plastic chair in the middle of the field smooshed right next to the middle of the stage extension.
I held her close the whole show. Amazing concert. One of the best tours U2 has ever done. They ended the show with a moment that has been a touchstone in my life. Bono sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. It is a very honest gospel song…”But yes I’m still running”. It is one of my favourite U2 songs of all time and here I was madly in love, holding this woman who loved me on this tiny plastic chair and I was very happy. When the song ended it got even better! The Edge went to the microphone and sang Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. (‘Just as long as you stand, stand by me’) Now it’s 29 years later, with 2 kids and 3 grandkids. Touchstone moment indeed.
King’s X, Tampa, Florida, 2002
Loving music and playing saxophone, all the teaching I’ve done, in all that, I can’t sing. I can sing, but it’s not pleasant. Once I sang and a professor shook his head and asked "how could I play the sax so beautifully and sing so…off key!". Needless to say, I am very self-conscious about my singing.
I mention all this to tell you about my 3rd favourite concert. In 2002 I saw King’s X in Tampa, Florida. King’s X is one of my all-time favourite bands. They should be yours too. Every year the Rock 'N’ Roll Hall-Of-Fame Inductees list comes out and if they are not on it, then I don’t care.
This was the 4th time I saw them live. Another great show. Me and my exceptionally beautiful wife were right at the front of the stage, right in front of Ty Tabor. When their show was over and we were all cheering for them to come out for an encore, we heard a loud explosion.
The PA system blew. The band and the road crew came out with the sound guys and they were all trying to figure things out. After a few minutes they realized they couldn't fix it. But they have a solution. They have one more song to play which is their penultimate song “Goldilox”, one of the greatest rock songs of all-time. Their amps still worked but the microphones didn’t. So Dug and Ty played their parts through their amps and Jerry played the drums, but, the audience had to sing the song. For the first and only time in my life I sang loud and free. We all did. And now, ever since that night, when King’s X play Goldilox live, they have the audience sing it.
Patty Griffin, Atlanta, Georgia
If you listen to my radio show you know that Patty Griffin is very special to me. 20 years ago I picked up her “Living With Ghosts” CD and I was floored. To me, Patty Griffin is one of the most important songwriters we have. When I finally got to see Patty Griffin live a few years ago in Atlanta, Georgia, it was more a pilgrimage than a concert. But the reason seeing Patty Griffin was my 4th favourite concert wasn’t necessarily my personal experience that day, it was being a part of everyone else’s.
I drove up to Atlanta 6 hours from Gainesville, Florida, one of the first in line and was front row. While waiting for the show to start I got to meet everyone around me, and their stories and travels were very telling. There were the kids who drove 8 hours and skipped their finals to be there. They were going to fail their class. They did not care. There was the CEO that flew in 2000 miles on his company jet. There was a couple that drove straight through from California and were driving straight home after the show. California is a 33 hour drive. And there were quite a few more. Some devastating, some very happy. We had all gotten there an hour and half early when the doors opened. There were about 20 of us and we just talked before the show and hung out outside afterwards hoping to see Patty before she got on her bus. Also during the show there was a moment where the person next to me was crying very hard, but quietly. He was very upset looking up at Patty singing. It was dark and he was alone. The only thing I could do was put my hand on his shoulder. Those are the people I met that night and seeing the meaning an artist had on their lives was as impactful as the astoundingly beautiful and profound music that Patty Griffin performed.
For my 5th favourite concert I could easily pick seeing U2 or King’s X with my daughter Vanessa. Or seeing The Wallflowers or Needtobreathe with my son Erik. Or When I saw Ringo Starr then a few days later Paul McCartney in Jacksonville!
But I think for this piece my 5th favourite concert is one I haven’t seen yet. I have a lot more shows to see. Matt Woods, Austin Lucas, Tommy Emmanuel will all be in Gainesville soon. I have still yet to see Darrell Scott, Rosanne Cash or Gillian Welch in concert among many others…Kelly Joe Phelps, The Lone Bellow, Willie Watson, Todd Snider, Molly Tuttle, Courtney Marie Andrews, Paul Cauthen, Larkin Poe, Robbie Fulks and many, many more.
I think I’ll tag along with Vanessa when she goes to see the Black Crowes this summer and King’s X are touring this fall, I haven’t taken my son to see them yet. Plus, I have three grandkids, and my son still has to get going on my next set of grandkids, so I have a lot more concert buddies coming !
Thanks again to Anne and Stevie and congrats on their one year anniversary for The Sound Café Magazine. I am so grateful to be able to have my show, HeartBeatTrue Radio, available as a podcast on The Sound Café. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the magazine this past year. I'm looking forward to what’s next. And, I am sure I will be seeing every artist they feature in concert that comes anywhere near Florida.