The Experience

I am halfway through a plate of chicken fingers when I hear it – the loud drone of a metal roof being pelted by large raindrops. My brother hears it too. “Don’t say anything. Maybe dad won’t notice,” I say. But soon, I see him look up at the roof, realization on his face. Concerned, he and my Uncle Barry rush to the window to watch the rain falling in sheets outside. Soon, lightning and thunder join the cacophony – then the lights flicker out. At that, my father and uncle cheer. This is what happened last year. A good sign.
42 of my family, friends, and friends of friends are gathered at the Three Dollar Cafe for an annual ritual. My dad’s all-time favorite band Chicago is playing at Chastain Park in Atlanta. For many years we have gone to this concert, and as our numbers have grown, we have met at the cafe to eat together first. We have dubbed the night, “The Chicago Experience.”
Chastain Park is a great, outdoor venue. The rows of seats are spaced out far enough that you can put a small table in front of you. Concert-goers can bring food and drinks. Some people go all out, bringing silver and china and gourmet dishes. Almost every table has a candle.
Back at the cafe, we are all concerned about the weather. A terrible summer thunderstorm is beating down, and I can imagine sitting through the concert soaking wet. Last year it had rained while we were at the cafe, the lights had flickered, and then the rain had given way to a beautiful night. We are all hoping for a repeat performance.
After passing out umbrellas and rain coats, we run to our cars. Sure enough, during the 10 minute drive to the venue, the rain stops. By the time we towel off our seats, you can see patches of blue sky.
We spend a good half hour setting up our area, opening bottles of wine and champagne, and getting ready. Then, the first notes of Chicago’s first song echo into the park, and the party begins.
I like Chicago, and I enjoy hearing them live. But my favorite part of the concert is always watching my father. He’s not usually a reserved guy, he likes to have fun. But at Chicago concerts, his fun is knocked up a notch. Maybe 10 notches.
He sings. He dances. He turns to the people around him and encourages them to dance and sing too. He knows every word of every song, and they pour out of him without the slightest hint of repression. He even brings a small tambourine so he can play along. In the months leading up to the concert, he keeps the instrument in his car so he can practice while he drives. He doesn’t want to just play, he wants to play it right. I can only imagine the looks he must get driving down the Interstate. Here is this grown man, in his gold Buick LeSabre, singing at the top of his lungs and beating his tambourine against the steering wheel. Priceless.
At the concert, he gets some stares. In a sea of people he stands out, thoroughly engrossed in the concert and the moment and not afraid to show it. But I have often found that rather than being annoyed by his displays, many people either join in, or say they wish they could join in. One woman seated in front of us leans up toward dad and says, “I wish I was drinking what you’re drinking.”
Yeah, there is champagne, but that’s not what makes dad dance. It is the drink of good music from his youth that gets him going. By the end of the concert, almost all 42 of us are on our feet dancing and singing. But dad has to take it further. He is standing on top of his seat. Singing. Dancing. Playing his tambourine.
I love it. I think it’s wonderful that my dad can be so passionate about his music. Life is too short to worry about what everyone around you is doing. I think every time we see Chicago, he adds a year to his life. It keeps him young. And he makes me proud.