Like many Nashvillians, I was in attendance for Jack White’s inaugural Bridgestone Arena performance. Having missed his much-lauded headlining set at this past Bonnaroo and a mid-September stop in my hometown of Jacksonville, I knew that I would be remiss to pass up on a third opportunity to catch a future Music City legend in his natural habitat.
The evening started off with a 20-minute set from Nashville-raised guitar virtuoso (and co-owner of one of my favorite establishments in town, The Stone Fox) William Tyler. Calling it “the most surreal experience [he’s] ever had,” Tyler almost certainly won a number of new fans. Even though his set was short, I found myself frequently lost in the reflective nature of his songs, pondering my own past and future on a night that was full of references to both.
Speaking of the past, there are few living legends that carry quite the stature that Loretta Lynn does. Introduced as “America’s sweetheart”, the 82-year old Nashville veteran warmed the crowd’s heart with her vintage stylings and extremely sparkly gown. Lynn’s set overall was a refreshing sight, especially in a sports arena. While her sound is more tailored for the Grand Ole Opry, she proved more than capable of handling such a venue, although her “nose [was] runnin’ like a freight train” the entire time.
Both opening sets were great indicators of Music City heritage, but they only served as appetizers to a bulky main course. Teased by a carnival barker that asked us to put away our cell phones, the many thousands in attendance had their anticipation satiated the second the giant blue stage curtains pulled away to reveal Jack’s band warming up for his grand entrance. Even from the nosebleed sections, it was clear that our hero was taking the stage as applause rolled throughout the entire arena and a ghostly figure began prowling across every square inch of space that was available to him. Launching into “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground”, Jack and company made it clear that this night was about establishing a new chapter in Nashville’s rich history.
Now I could write endlessly in this format, recapping the rest of the show, but it would grow a bit stale considering that there are already tons of those pieces out there and most of you were also in attendance. Jack White’s performance was incredible, and he’s one of the major reasons why many people like myself think Nashville is a cool place from the outside. With that said, I want to change course here and talk about what I think gets lost in the course of an arena show. While I do think that Jack White is one of our greatest living musicians and that there is literally no other logical place in any city for him to play other than its largest venue, I sincerely believe that a lot of the magic becomes lost in the translation.
There are a number of culprits in the case against the arena show. Some might point to the overpriced beer. Yes, paying $11 for a Miller Lite is a bit ridiculous but the simple solution to that problem would be to either pregame at Robert’s…or just not drink. Others might blame excessive service fees. This makes sense, because there is really no justification to paying a third of your ticket price to cover ambiguous production costs. I could go on here, and I’m sure each of our readers has their own complaints. My personal issue is that once an artist enters into an agreement with the Ticketmasters’ and the Live Nations of the world, they subject their audience to a class system of sorts. While some superfans will cobble together the money they’ve earned from hard work to buy better seats, others don’t have that option. I know of several bigger Jack White fans than myself that were relegated to the same cheap seats because they have other bills to pay. It’s a major commitment in this day and age to be sinking major chunks of income into a night at Bridgestone.
To put into perspective my rant on this topic, I will say that I once paid an exorbitant amount of money to see a major concert production. $150 was the cost to secure a side-stage seat at the second night of the Watch The Throne tour, and despite the fact that I will defend Kanye West to the ends of the earth and the fact that Jay-Z is the biggest rapper of all time, I still can’t say that that price provided me with the same satisfaction that a $10 ticket to go see Diarrhea Planet at Exit/In brings me. Maybe a lot of this is just myself growing jaded towards the monetization of something that I feel should be more economically accessible to the people who cherish it the most. Most of me knows that this is the only way that musicians can make money any more, considering the swift rise of the streaming industry.
Another part of me just wants to know if other people feel the same way that I do. It’s clear that Jack White left the many thousands in attendance with a smile on their face, but could you imagine the kind of effect it would have on people if he spent each day of a week playing all the different rock clubs around town, instituting a system that only allows for the admission of enthusiastic admirers? If there’s any major musician that would be capable of pulling such a magic trick, I have to believe it would be the Willy Wonka of rock n’ roll.
– Kevin B.