As I sporadically planned for a 10-day trip through three European cities in early May, I knew a concert or two had to be on my list of things to do to explore the music scene of each locale. It didn’t matter to me if the artists were well known, up and coming, or just local treasures. In fact, I expected and welcomed the idea of the latter. I haphazardly searched for upcoming shows in the cities of interest and looked up nightclubs where we might be able to happen upon local bands.
It wasn’t long before I came across an ad for Kamasi Washington playing in Barcelona on what was planned to be our second night in the city. After circumventing an exploitative re-sale website that was offering tickets at $170 a head with flashing warning lights stating the two tickets I was interested in were the only two left, I landed upon the good old fashioned ticket vendor I love to hate: Ticketmaster. Sure enough there were plenty of tickets left and I wasn’t going to have to choose between a hotel room and the concert. However, this was Ticketmaster.es (for Spain) and I had to create a new account because apparently all Ticketmasters are not created equally. After navigating the site in Español and feeling proud of my ability to still read and comprehend Spanish, I was in virtual possession of two tickets at just $30 each and I couldn’t have been more excited.
If you’re into jazz you’ve probably already heard of Kamasi Washington. Or you may have heard his captivating saxophone on Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Kamasi is a native Angeleno and graduate of Hamilton High School making his way onto the list of young jazz musicians who are helping to preserve the genre with clear homage to the legends and standards while infusing experimentation with creative sounds and new concepts.
I had the privilege to see Kamasi perform with his band on May 14th at Barcelona’s Sala Razzmatazz featuring trombonist Ryan Porter with probably less than 1,000 people in attendance. The show was hypnotizing from beginning to end, with soothing horns, a dancing piano, a storytelling base, and unrelenting drums. To top off the performance, there was a vocalist who’s unique and soulful touches on certain songs emulated the feeling of a rising sun on your face shining through a parted window curtain on a calm summer day. Kamasi’s father also joined him on stage playing flute for a good portion of the show, which added to the special intimacy of it all.
The crowd’s energy only added to the excitement. From 9 year old children with their parents to elderly adults, families, couples, and lone fans, the crowd felt as diverse as the performer’s native Los Angeles. There was an aura of shared meditation with all in attendance as we would consistently look around to see mesmerized faces, bopping heads and a crowd of people sitting in the rhythm. There was one particular fan grabbing at his hair as if his mind had been blown three times over in the exact same moment that I’m sure everyone eles’s mind was being blown with wonderment. I left that show feeling completely free, open, and grateful for every passing moment.
The entire experience, from the $30 tickets and the ease of navigating our way to the venue via metro, to the calm and captivated audience, felt like a peaceful dream of what concert going should always be. The music was the focus and the conduit of energy, the performers were the orchestrators who set the emotional tone and the fans were essential for absorbing it and evolving the collective spirit of everyone. Anything else was peripheral. This is something I often have nostalgia for in the US after going to so many large shows with skyrocketed ticket prices and service fees, intense security, and difficult to access venues that often charge more for parking than what I paid for a ticket to this show.
Three days later I would be in a very different environment for another concert, yet the carefree feeling at this show’s core was strikingly similar. Back when I was planning my trip I had stumbled upon another unique experience while surfing the web for interesting shows. Gogol Bordello, a Gypsy punk style band from New York, was scheduled to play at the Gröna Lund amusement park in Stockholm. This honestly didn’t seem real at first. Would there really be show set against the backdrop of roller coasters, high drops, and screaming kids? Then I thought again, “Of course! Of course Gogol Bordello would play at a Swedish amusement park. It makes perfect sense!” Tickets were purchased.
The amusement park happens to be situated next to the Abba Museum, located on one of Stockholm’s various islands that make up the city. We conveniently took the ferry over from the old town, Gamla Stan, which took all of 10 minutes to get across the bay. For about $30 per person again, we now had pre-purchased Gröna Lund Green Card passes which gave us access to all of the amusement park’s concerts scheduled through the end of the summer. Funny enough Stockholm is a very expensive city and the price of these passes couldn’t buy a hamburger and a beer at most restaurants. Priorities, I guess.
Luckily we were visiting during Stockholm’s first warm week of the year with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s. It had been in the 40s just one week prior. The other great thing was it didn’t get dark until close to 11pm. This made for a magical outdoor show that reminded me of the warm summer nights of my early childhood by the beach, back when kids would play outside until the streetlights came on. Those were the days when video games were only occasional passtimes and there was nothing social about sitting behind a screen for nearly all your waking hours. I was as carefree throughout the show as I was back then allowing my body and soul to take in the fresh sea breeze, the enchanting sounds, and the overall good feeling of the crowd. Leaving the show, nothing could take away from the feel-good energy we had received from the recent performance, the crowd, and the random people we met.
You can learn a lot about a culture from the social places and events where people gather; how people interact and play. Concerts are just one forum for interaction on many levels. In both Barcelona and Stockholm, the shows’ audiences were nothing but respectful. A quality that’s so basic to human interaction it seems it would go unnoticed at events like these. But a little bit of warm welcome goes along way to make visitors feel good in a new place. It helps mark the first impression and contributes to lifelong memories. After the music fades, trips eventually end, and I settle back into normalcy, thoughts of these moments are what help keep my mind open and the experience alive. I may forget the names of local places I visited, the exact meals I ate, or what the inside of every hotel room looked like, but I’ll never forget how I felt on those nights.
My little words of advice to leave with you:
Travel often with every opportunity you get. Be a traveler in your own native land. Stay open to all kinds of experiences and plan for exploration. If you have the opportunity to see live music, do it. Even if it’s a style that you think you’re not fond of. You never know how someone on stage or the crowd around you might make you feel. Music expands the mind, heart, and soul and contributes to your overall health and well-being. I challenge you to go to a live show at least once per year, and feel free to share with me when you do. I’d love to hear about it.