King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker

by Tim Van Schmidt

Lincoln Center, Claudia Schmidt.

Minnesota singer-songwriter Claudia Schmidt was another recommendation from our New Jersey friend. In fact, music from Schmidt’s album was on the flip side of the Kate Wolf tape we played continuously in the car when moving to Colorado in 1980. On this occasion, I kept the tickets secret and planned a ruse. I pretended we were going somewhere else- probably to a movie- but as I drove by the Lincoln Center I acted like the car was breaking down- something that could have happened. We went into the Lincoln Center to “call for help” and Jonie didn’t catch on to the deception until we got to the Mini Theatre door and went in for the concert.

The Mini Theatre was an intimate 250-seat theater that was used most often for theatre productions. On occasion, however, concerts were produced, often featuring folk-oriented acts that needed a smaller space. Schmidt was an independent acoustic-based artist like Wolf, creating albums where the music took on a luminous quality that was at least once removed from the more organic folk music of groups like Peter, Paul and Mary. Schmidt’s songs and crystal clear singing created more than a framework for words, but also took on a unique atmospheric quality. At the Lincoln Center, Schmidt’s voice was high and strong, as it was on the albums, but she also had a very upbeat stage presence, accompanying herself on guitar and zither. This turned her into a friendly, lovable and charismatic figure, one you were glad you spent some time with. The intimacy of the theatre and the warmth of the performer made for an easy-going, but inspirational evening.

Sam’s, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins.

One music that perhaps best belongs in a barroom situation is the blues, especially the jaunty, strutting Chicago-style blues. Why that is has something to do with what that kind of blues is able to do- blast away all the basic troubles of the world with good music, good friends, some frenzied dancing and some good refreshments. Nightclubs and bars are exactly where people go to do that kind of thing. That made Sam’s the perfect place to see blues diva Koko Taylor. A small, compact older woman, Taylor could shout, growl and vocally bring each tune to a rousing climax while her band pumped out tough, confident working man blues. True to the celebratory nature of the music, I happily danced all night with a beer bottle in hand, sweat pouring off my brow.

The last major show I would see at Sam’s was the blues of Albert Collins. Originally from Texas, Collins had achieved a sharp, aggressive sound with albums such as his quintessential Alligator Records release, “Ice Pickin’.” Collins made hard biting blues, his piercing upper register sustain so loud and shrill that my friend and I ended up leaving early. There are just so many jabs in the ear you can take from an amplified ice pick. Collins’ latest album release in 1983 was “Don’t Lose Your Cool.” After a series of farewell dates, Sam’s would finally become a French restaurant and a lingerie shop thanks to the Old Town renovation project that was looming just around the corner in downtown Fort Collins.

Sproul Plaza. Los Lobos.

It’s a sunny afternoon in Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley and Los Lobos is churning out some pure rock ‘n’ roll- sax, electric guitars and swinging songs- on stage. I was in Berkeley to meet a friend and embark on a weeklong California visit when I literally stumbled on a free noontime appearance by this Los Angeles-based band.

Los Lobos was heralding a California roots rock movement with an aesthetic that said mixing lean, clean rhythms with sharp songwriting still made a lot of sense. Their 1983 debut EP on Slash Records was “…And a Time to Dance,” a record I would immediately seek out at the next record store I visited, and their set in Berkeley sounded refreshing and new, raw and unspoiled. The music was positive, with touches of celebration coming from a uniquely Southwestern stew of musical cultures, from rockabilly to norteno music, all featuring that fine, smooth voice of songwriter and vocalist David Hidalgo- and some cranking guitar.

August 30- Folsom Field. Simon and Garfunkel.

It made sense for Simon and Garfunkel to go on a grand tour together following their triumphant free concert in Central Park in 1981 and the subsequent album, “The Concert in Central Park,” that went gold in 1982. The Central Park concert drew an estimated 400,000 people, dramatically demonstrating the enduring appeal of the duo. But as a working unit, there was very little else for them to do but to take their sweeping retrospective effort out on the road- one last time.

Simon, of course, had a very well established solo career going and though it was fully a treat to hear their voices harmonize again, there was a feeling that Garfunkel was more like a special guest. Still, this was a special guest who could sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with every emotionally satisfying ounce of the original arrangement- to a stadium full of flickering lighters. This was a huge stage show, with slick TV screens and perfect arena timing. In Boulder, the show was held in the football arena, Folsom Field, which was only about three-quarters full on a cool, moist night.

The Denver Post reported that the concert was the first appearance by Simon and Garfunkel in Colorado in fourteen years and that it was the final stop in a 19-city tour. Writer Dick Kreck took a survey of the crowd and concluded that “Simon and Garfunkel’s appeal has remained basically white middle-America…There were couples in their 40s, mothers with small children and even a tweed jacket here and there.” Kreck quoted co-eds, a fan who came all the way from Honolulu for the show and a mother who stated that “there’s too little good music anymore.”

Soon after, the biggest change of my life would come. That is, the birth of our daughter, Kaitlin. On the day she was born, it was 20 below, she was two months early, and had to stay in the hospital for two weeks in the preemie unit. Kaitlin came home with us on New Year’s Day, 1984.