Mathew Mackie

Hearts of cordial: What I learned attending a concert for kids

I don’t have kids, but that didn’t stop me from attending concert tailored for toddlers. What I discovered was a scene equal to any rave or disco you fondly remember.

 

 

The greatest and worst things in my life have been enabled by the prozac of the experience. Whatever it is, it’ll be worth it on some level. I had not long returned to the gritty town of my birth, and often is the case when your heart is broken, you seek familiar faces and the warm embrace of same-old activities. However, the days of repairing damage with tequila sunrises have set, as my cohort have all shifted over the realm of responsible parentdom.

My phone buzzed complaint.

So, are you still coming to the concert? queried Aggie, old confidant and recent mum.

The concert was to be a searing, limb hurling experience fun for all ages, but especially for those under the age of four. It was, as the tiny person who doubled as the only reason why we were attending put it, not the Wiggles.

Yes. I texted back.

Really? The message shot back.

The location for whatever this was supposed to be was painted in fluorescent irony. It was the same venue I attended two weeks earlier, smoke-bombing not long after the clock struck 9. Truthfully, I felt too old for that scene. As I stepped through the darkened expanse, the stage flashed strobing danger, as I felt a different type of alienation. Here, I was too young, and had too few kids.

Why was I here? Why indeed.

Shifting through the darkness, I wouldn’t say the air was electric, but it clearly sampled too much of the cordial beforehand, as it now lapped the room unshackled, clomping the heavy feet of excitement, resistant to the warnings of those who knew better. Beyond myself, the sound techs were the only ones not giddy on the saccharine spirit that permeated the walls.

Suddenly, I was struck by the familiarity of my first rave. The optimism of a good time yet to be spoiled, aided and abetted by the colourful assurance of light-up tambourines. I glanced at the program. The band would boldly attempt a fourteen song strong set, and while toddler attention spans might be severely tested, I assumed that the creative edge would not be approached. I was wrong.

As the lights dimmed, collective voices raised.

It’s going to be loud, Aggie said in the darkness.

God help me.

An alienated voice aimed threats like the Wizard of Oz, warmly informing us of the flash photography policy. There was to be none. With their legal rights secured, the musicians met the stage. I immediately wondered what was operating behind the stapled grins and thinning hairlines. Is this what they wanted? And who thought of the fusion of big band, rockabilly and Oktoberfest for kids? The kid I was with stopped moving, railed by the realisation that they were not the band he wanted to see. Welcome to the club, kid. Midway through the introductory number that introduced them, the adults at my hip speculated on the career path of the ebullient lead singer, the one who paired witch of the north socks with the hair of Agent 99, as she went to the University this concert was being held at.

 

While once we were commanded by people who promised to play until the sun came up, the reverse becomes true. We can party all day – as long as you’ve brushed your teeth.

 

The saxophonist (who smartly matched double denim with clown shoes), suddenly ripped into a climbing John Coltrane-esque solo. He stood alone, a true jazz genius, and as all should be, totally unheralded, stuck in a venue that will ensure he will remain unheard, forever trapped behind the vocal bars of fun is fun is fun. He possessed impeccably manicured stubble, expensive glasses, and shoulders bowed by his choices. Sadly, the techs rated him as much as he did himself, as they bestowed him a sound level far lower than everyone else. The one with operatic training (who also trusted to manipulate the cowbell), rudely interrupted the jazz odyssey to show us his best High C Tenor, honouring the great Pavarotti by surpassing him, goosing the highest notes and operatic dreams from the smallest among us, and more importantly, underpinning the importance of brushing and flossing.

All bands have a brushing teeth song, Aggie planted.

Clearly, there’s a dental aesthetic afoot in industry, but I’m willing to speculate that this might be the first recorded instance of polka. Suddenly, it felt as if the wall never came down, and we were subject to the ministry of health and hygiene’s compulsory musical lecture. On stage, a band member entered a dialogue with Lola, a double bass, who answered back in baritone twangs. Sadly, he took this as an invitation to forcibly make her spin for the benefit of the crowd. My mind wandered to the level of sentience an instrument could possess, and whether I should stop it, but my musing was broken by the caustic smell of projectile vomit at my shoulder. I was unable to see who partied too hard, and indeed the author of the interruption, but the concert continued unabated.

 

 

The differences between kid and adult music festivals are negligible. In the dancing area, there are those who couldn’t manage that right now, and those let the concert climb right on top of them. The bubble machine was greeted by the same wondrous elation as it is in the adult world. The sense of danger remains the same, as you inadvertently lock eyes with fellow partygoers, lifting your face to a smile to share the moment, but with blank faces returned, you avert your gaze and focus on the music. They both sport merch stands to rope in the foolish, inexperienced and cash heavy. Those looking for a memento to wear long after the final song, to prove to people that weren’t there that you were. The only thing lacking was a police presence.

Momentarily dropping back into attention, we were collectively asked what to do if your cat gets fleas? Which is as worthy as the truisms that held us tight in our party years. We were asked to put our hands up for Detroit, as we loved that city. None of us bothered to visit Detroit to confirm that we did. Conversely, I was unsure how many in the audience actually owned a cat with fleas.

A notable cackle that bordered on copyright infringement doubled as the first notes of a militaristic march that commanded those in attendance to fly the flag and shout out their allegiance to stripy socks. The adults have clearly already fought this war, and never left it, as they all wear the thousand yard stare of ruined veterans. You weren’t there, man… and I envy you. Suddenly, Lola’s man, broke out in hypothermia, who steeled himself with a novelty beanie as the rest of the band ignored him, choosing instead to jump around, because it’s cool to be active. Stick that in your seagull, Chekhov.

 

You have to respect that level of shouted honesty underpinned by a Scooby-Doo laugh. Yes, Buzz, was in questionable sexual congress with an instrument, but he was an ubermensch in the strictest Nietzschean definition.

 

For a fleeting second, I locked eyes with the drummer, who wore an electric face directed by an elastic neck. She reminded me of one of those inflatable arm waving people you see advertising car yards, but one who turned its back on the family business to pursue music instead. I wonder if she saw me, or if that moment existed, or she just saw us as a singular baying, sneezing, puking mass that battered her drum kit with adulation. Lola’s man, the histrionic on the double bass, was afflicted by all the conditions the rest didn’t have. He was hungry, cold, lonely, but endlessly happy. We knew this, because he told us so. I pitied, but also wanted to bed him. You have to respect that level of shouted honesty underpinned by a Scooby-Doo laugh. Yes, Buzz, was in questionable sexual congress with an instrument, but he was an ubermensch in the strictest Nietzschean definition.

As the contents of Old McDonald’s farm was razed by an explosion of clarinet reggae, it was, as Aggie’s progeny informed us, time to go.

As for what I learned, I’m unsure. I know it would have been better in an altered state, but it’s also steeling to know that the good times don’t stop, they just evolve. So, for those in the last of their twenties, or earliest of their thirties, when you start getting spurious combative glances from the dancefloor, gleefully throw the club scene into the bin, as there are new kicks around the corner, and it’s a scene, man.

While once we were commanded by people who promised to play until the sun came up, the reverse becomes true. We can party all day – as long as you’ve brushed your teeth. Besides, who’s the say that the value of finally hearing Darude drop Sandstorm live isn’t the same feeling as three-year-old finally hearing The Sandwich Song in person? Besides, they let us touch the instruments afterwards. Tiesto never did that.

As we crossed the expansively packed carpark, the post-mortem remained the same: A day of ridiculous dancing celebrated by the asked question did you see me dance?

 

 

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