Willie Nelson and TBT

Willie Nelson Storms Bayfront After TBT Broke the Rain

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Willie Nelson stopped the rain at Bayfront last Saturday and put on an impressive performance just as the stormy weather that had blanketed the sky all day receded.

It was also a tale of two crowds and generations in the audience with some believing that the security dropped the ball for the paying patrons up front.

Nelson was amazing in his performance and never looked 78 years old while picking the guitar and singing. He is intimate and genuine in his stage presence. Nelson also makes you believe that he is humbled that people continue to support his music in such large numbers. He tossed hats and picks into the crowd as he played though hits like “Crazy” and “On the Road Again.”

When the show ended he left the stage area while the band played him out. He quickly climbed on his giant tour bus and was gone before the last note hit your ears. The crowd cheered and filed out seemingly thrilled by the entire event. However, there was a portion of the crowd who had left in disgust earlier in his set and missed Nelson’s somewhat dramatic exit, but that wasn’t his fault.

When the billing was released a few months ago and I learned that Trampled By Turtles and 4 on the Floor were the openers for Nelson I thought it was genius. After all of the negative press this past year about how Bayfront and their booking company were not attracting big name talent up here this show felt like total a reversal of fortune.

Except if you paid extra money for the seated area near the stage.

For this show there were two ticket types available to purchase; general admission or reserved seating. There were 26 rows of chairs in a gated area in front of the stage that were available to purchase for twice the price the general admission tickets. These seats were filled with an audience that I would classify as mostly babyboomerish age. Many in the first few rows were even a bit older perhaps, but when thinking about how long Nelson has been around it made complete sense. You could see families with children and grandparents sitting in the front row comfortably enjoying their seats through first opener 4 on the Floor.

Trampled By Turtles took the stage next and a few people from the back seats moved up close to the stage to take pictures. Fifteen minutes later more people joined them, standing up and dancing near the stage. There wasn’t really an area for standing in front of the stage so the people dancing up there were nearly trampling on the toes of the patrons seated in the front row.

As TBT continued to play the younger fans up front began to grow in numbers near the stage doing their hippish-bluegrass dancing. The front row of plastic chairs began to move back a bit to accommodate them and the aisles filled. One young man seated near the front moved a few empty chairs while dancing and flaying around in the wind so that he had enough room to groove. He was very into the music and each time the band finished a song the audience up front cheered and danced their approval.

It was great to see TBT as a band standing up while performing on the larger stage. They have more energy now and it was great to hear my favorite TBT song, “Codeine,” played for their encore. TBT talked about how honored they were to be playing back in their hometown in front of such a large crowd.

Everything stayed fairly in control as TBT completed their set to huge cheers by the audience. As the band exited the stage, several of those seated patrons from the front row and beyond went over to the security guards and asked if during Nelson’s performance if those people standing up front could be asked to please sit down so they could see. The young man doing security on the left side of the stage obliged and walked through the front row telling everyone standing up against the stage to sit down. They all left and it was time for Willie Nelson to take the stage.

I was in the 4th row of seats and was happy to have a seat number and spot. Most shows I attend are general admission and I am usually have to arrive hours before the doors open, wait, get allowed into the venue, wait, sit though the opener, wait, watch as they set up the headliner’s staging and equipment, wait, and then finally enjoy the show. To have a seat meant that it would be more of a relaxing show because I could get up and use the bathroom or get something to drink without worrying about losing my spot. There were no areas near the stage that were general admission so it seemed like a better value.

When Willie Nelson took the stage, my 4th row seat suddenly became the first seated row, or 9th row standing. The crowd standing in front of the stage grew by the third or fourth song from a handful of picture takers to a full take over by a slightly more intoxicated and seemingly younger crowd.

I stood up to see, as I have had to do at nearly every concert I’ve ever been to when the band takes the stage. This way I could see over all of the people standing in front me. It is like clockwork - headliner starts playing, the crowd stands up, and then a few songs in everyone sits down.

The main picture in my mind is still of a woman who was probably as old as Nelson or maybe even older seated in the front row. She had this great spot with her grandchildren up in the front row and was excitedly smiling and telling stories as they anticipated Nelson taking the stage. When Nelson began to play, however, people from the rear seats and GA ran up and stood directly in front of her. At first she would move her head from side to side, trying to see around the Gen Y’ers who had rudely run up and stood right in front of her, but eventually she appeared defeated.

A few patrons around her went to that same security guard who had previously cleared the area to complain. This time he did nothing though. It was probably too late anyway.

Another security guard came up and stood right in front of that same older woman and I assumed he was there to remedy the situation. Nope. While standing right in front of the patron he began to take a few pictures with his phone and then left.

Soon that same older woman was forced to move a few rows back as the crowd in front of her continued to grow and were spilling beer on her grandkids.

Many patrons went to complain to the security to no avail as the intruding crowd just continued to grow. The man behind me tried to do his best to tell people to sit down and even attempted to stop the flow of people from the general admission area who were funneling down the aisle next to him. A fight nearly erupted a few times between the man and the interlopers standing in front of him.

Midway through Nelson’s set there was yelling from people in about the 10throw telling people in front of them to sit down. It was constant and created tension. My wife was even poked with an umbrella in her back when she stood up after the standing crowd pushed away the chairs from the 3 rows in front of us. The poker would yell again and again for her to sit down, which would have only given her a view of the butts of people standing in front of her. The yelling made for an uncomfortable situation.

The umbrella man eventually gave up and left the concert early. The woman next to me asked the security to do something about the crowd up front, to which they responded “call Secret Service.” Soon after that, she left in disgust. When I turned around I noticed that most of the patrons who had paid for reserved seats had left early. The older woman and her grandchildren were eventually pushed back so far that they gave up and left as well. I understood the crowd and kind of accepted it, but I felt bad for those families and seniors who had unbelievable seats being forced out. I mean, this was a Willie Nelson concert, not Green Day.

The general admission area appeared nearly full as well by the time Nelson took the stage. It was an excellent show unless you paid extra for tickets with seats I guess. I loved watching Willie Nelson, but I also have been front row at Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago with 100,000 people behind me. I’m used to standing, dancing, and unruliness.

When I got home from the show and was looking at the cool “Willie Nelson for President – 2012” poster I purchased at the performance I couldn’t help but think about how politics and society are intertwined today. No one wants to be the heavy these days and therefore they let people get away with too much. Had a security guard done his/her job and made sure that no one stood up front against the stage for long and cleared the area properly, the show would have been a great enjoyable time for the seated crowd. The fact that they paid twice the ticket price made me feel sorry for them.

On the other hand, Nelson seemed to appreciate the rowdy crowd up front that were pelting him with hats, shirts, and bras. A few times he appeared nervous about how they might react, but overall he entertained them.

There were no fights at Bayfront, but hopefully the next time they charge double the price for the illusion of a safe seat up front the security will do a better job. The other option would be to have the entire area be general admission so no one feels ripped off.

I contacted Secret Service by email and phone, but at press time I had not heard back from them. The Reader was also a sponsor for the event, but had no involvement in my review. www.thefountainheads.com