Six concerts. That may not sound like a lot, especially when they’re spread over a four-year period, but it’s a huge number if you’re not normally a concert-goer. So how did this happen?
It’s still all Chris Isaak’s fault, but now there’s a secondary culprit—an apparently magical, semi-secret wish list. I know I’ve mentioned that I’m a huge fan of his once or twice before. Well, okay, multiple times, but I have shown some restraint in talking about him, out of consideration for the nonbelievers. Endlessly nattering on about every tiny detail, such as his latest clever remark or what shoes he wore at a particular concert, is what fan message boards are for.
Attending at least one of his concerts is practically mandatory, even for us non-concert-going fans, because his concerts really are special. None of the YouTube videos or concert reviews by either professionals or other fans can truly prepare you for the experience. And the mirror suit he wears during the encore has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
So off I went with my sister to my very first Chris Isaak concert. It was pretty exciting, partly because it was my first one and partly because he always puts on a great concert. He’s a true entertainer who combines a powerful voice and the ability to hold a note for longer than most people can exhale with a comedian’s innate sense of timing and knack for connecting on a personal level with his audience. However, the concert was outdoors and general admission and the weather did not cooperate. It was during a heat wave, so we waited until the last minute to arrive and ended up with lousy seats. All I managed to get were a few distant pictures, and none at all of his amazing mirror suit.
I needed more pictures. That meant going to a second concert and getting a better seat. So the next year, I tried again at the same venue. Everything seemed to go right this time. The weather cooperated, and with my vast concert-going experience of one concert, I managed to get a pretty good seat and take a bunch of decent pictures. Sitting closer to the stage also made it easier to get caught up in the unique “Chris Isaak concert” experience that’s so hard to describe.
His concerts are very audience-focused. It’s not just a performance by some big star on stage, entertaining an anonymous crowd of lesser beings. Instead, the audience is treated like valued guests, with Chris being both the entertainment and the host of the party—and he does everything possible to make sure the audience has a great time. Although he calls it “shamelessly pandering to the audience,” he genuinely appreciates people taking the time and spending the money to come to the concert. This attitude creates the kind of experience that makes regular concert-goers want to return again and again.
However, the enthusiasm of us non-concert-goers is more easily dampened by various minor hassles. General admission outdoor concerts take a lot of careful planning to determine the best arrival time to get a good seat, while limiting the length of time one has to wait in line. Even after the “doors” open and you get in and grab a good seat, there’s another two-hour wait. Weather is always a risky variable, of course, and parking is usually challenging.
Since I now had the pictures I craved, I decided I would only go to another Chris Isaak concert if it was indoors with reserved seats. This decision, I believe, was the beginning of my wish list of things I wanted but didn’t really expect to happen. An indoor venue seemed unlikely, since most of the concerts he plays in my general area are outdoors. I thought my second concert would be my last.
But surprise! At the beginning of my third concert-going year, a March tour date was announced for an indoor venue with reserved seating—not real close to me, but within a drivable distance. There was even a hotel on the premises that I could stay at, and I was able to reserve a good seat right on the center aisle.
Shortly after I bought my ticket, another indoor concert was added to the spring tour schedule for a venue even closer to me. I waffled a little over going to that one, too, but finally decided I only needed to go to one. Besides, the second one was less convenient because there was no hotel on the premises and parking was an issue. The only possible thing that would entice me to go to this second indoor concert was a front row seat, which was something else on my wish list of things I’d like but didn’t really expect.
Then the magic happened again. A couple of weeks before that second indoor concert, a front row seat suddenly became available, one right in front of the lead guitar player, Hershel Yatovitz. I had to go. When else would I have a chance at getting a front row seat in an indoor venue in my area? Incredibly, this non-concert-goer was going to two Chris Isaak concerts in one year.
Both indoor concerts exceeded my expectations, in different ways. At the first one, I took photos throughout the entire concert, getting an immensely satisfying quantity of them. When Chris ventured out into the audience (which he always does for at least one song), he came up the center aisle where I was sitting, so I had the opportunity to clasp his hand. I also impulsively—no, make that compulsively—fondled the sleeve of his sparkly suit when he foolishly continued to stand next to me while singing. Although he refers to his suits as being wool, based on the feel of it, they must be a wool blend. (My strange fabric fetish could be an entire post, all by itself.) As a lovely bonus, I met another fan there who I had become acquainted with online. By sheer coincidence, she was sitting in the aisle seat right in front of me. Then, after the concert, I was able to get Chris to autograph my favorite CD of his, Mr. Lucky.
At the second indoor concert, the venue said photography was not allowed, although Chris Isaak always encourages picture-taking, saying he didn’t get all dressed up in his fancy suit for people to not take pictures. But because of the venue rules, I didn’t bring my camera, in case security tried to confiscate it. So I was able to focus all my attention on enjoying my front row seat. The particular fancy suit Chris wore at this concert was a black one with multicolored flowers and so many sequins that it literally sparkled in the dark, like it was battery operated. And I was sitting close enough to see the detail stitching around the edges and hems of his suit. (Be still, my little fabric-fetish heart.)
While waiting for the concert to begin, I had chatted with two ladies sitting next to me. They were not familiar with Chris Isaak, so I was able to fill them in with more details about him and his band, Silvertone, then most people want to know. They loved the concert and were interested in hanging around after it, in the hopes of getting pictures and an autograph. I agreed to “show them the ropes” even though I had practically no experience and really didn’t have any ropes to show them. In spite of this, we succeeded, and I got a picture of Chris and me together out of it. It’s a slightly fuzzy one, but frankly, slightly fuzzy is more flattering to me than sharp ones. Actually, the best part was the one-arm hug I got from him when our picture was taken. (He’s a great hugger, and I can only imagine what he can do with two arms.) I also got to meet Hershel, who recognized me from my front row seat, and had my picture taken with him, too.
There was no doubt about it. I was spoiled by these two indoor concerts, especially with all the exciting things that happened at them. I wasn’t sure if any other concert could top them and was almost afraid to go to another one, for fear it would be a letdown. Besides, four concerts were plenty for someone who didn’t normally go to them. So I was able to pass up all his outdoor summer concerts in my area.
In fact, there were only a few situations that would convince me to go again. There was one particular indoor venue I kept hoping he would play at. It had everything going for it—reserved seats, photography allowed, a hotel on the premises, easy driving distance, and, for the cherry on top, the best buffet in the state. But it wasn’t one of his regular venues, and I didn’t really expect it to happen. So imagine my shock when it was added to his tour schedule. Not only that, it was for a December concert. Going to one of his Christmas concerts was a “maybe someday, in the distant future” item on my wish list.
Once again, I was making plans to go to a Chris Isaak concert—somewhat complicated plans because it involved coordinating a group of five people. My sister and her husband joined me, and we met up with my new Chris Isaak fan friend (from the first indoor concert in March) and her friend. Interestingly enough, she was once again sitting in the aisle seat right in front of me. This turned out to be the perfect arrangement because Chris came zipping up our aisle, straight toward my friend, and sat down in her lap. He serenaded her with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, just long enough for me to recover from my astonishment and snap a picture as a keepsake for her. (Even though I always know he’s going to come out into the audience, I never seem to be prepared for it. And he moves so fast, without appearing to hurry, I never seem to get any good pictures, even when he goes right past me.)
This concert was even better than the others. Chris was extra chatty and funny, and his singing was amazing. His rendition of Wicked Game (a song that really should have won a Grammy) was so mesmerizing, the audience was spellbound. And he sang Last Month of the Year with such feeling that it was a powerful emotional experience. It was almost as if it was a dedication or a memorial.
After three indoor concerts in one year, each one uniquely special, each better than the previous one, it felt like it was a good time to end on a high note (if you’ll pardon the pun). So I didn’t plan on attending a concert this year. When his tour schedule for my area was announced, there was nothing on it to change my mind. I definitely would not be going to a concert…unless I won VIP tickets, of course.
You can probably guess where this story is headed next, but not how it turned out. Chris Isaak teamed up with Fretlight Guitar to offer a prize package that included a pair of VIP tickets. This prize package was available for every single one of his concerts through the end of the year. Only one entry per person was allowed, so I entered for the venue closest to me. Although it was an outdoor concert, the winner wouldn’t be notified until a day or two before each concert, so it was the easiest one for last-minute planning. My expectations of winning were low (and, as it turned out, I didn’t win) but it meant that I was paying close attention to that concert and possible hotels to stay in. And my mind frame had shifted from definitely not attending a concert this year to maybe attending one.
It was the ideal setup for my wish list to work its magic again. A few weeks before the concert, the venue announced that Chris’s oldest brother, Nick Isaak, would be the opening act. Seeing the two brothers together had been on my wish list from the beginning, although once again, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen. Usually, Nick only opens for Chris at concerts in central California, which is a bit far to travel for an opening act. So I jumped on the chance to see Nick at a venue close to me, buying a ticket for concert number six and making a hotel reservation.
Nick’s performance—a set of nine country-western songs—was everything I could hope for. He’s better than any other opening act I’ve seen, though admittedly my experience is limited. Chris also joined him for a couple of the songs. Later, when Chris was performing, Nick joined Chris for a third song. It was such a delight to see them together. They joke around a lot, poke a little fun, like brothers do, but their love and respect for each other are palpable.
As if that wasn’t enough to make this concert special, I also finally got to hear Roly Salley, (the bass player) sing his own original, Grammy-winning song, Killing the Blues. Fulfilling that desire always seemed more probable than the other items on my wish list because he did sing it fairly frequently, though irregularly, at concerts. Yet, ironically, this hoped-for event that appeared more likely to occur had not happened at any of my five previous concerts.
On top of all that, I got a close-up, eye-level view of Chris’s black-and-white shoes when he walked by on the elevated terrace right behind me, during his foray into the audience. (Although it’s not entrenched like my fabric fetish, my recently acquired shoe fetish seems to be growing.) So basically, his feet were a foot away. My only regret is that, once again, I wasn’t fast enough to snap a good picture of his shoes.
So is number six my last concert? Maybe. Most of the things on my wish list have been checked off. What’s left seems pretty unlikely to happen. Of course, I didn’t really expect any of the other things to happen either. But they did—and with no apparent effort on my part to make them happen. So I’m not going to assume anything on my list is impossible. Or share what else is on it for fear of jinxing it, because I’m not really sure how or why it’s working. I might even add a few farfetched and seemingly unattainable wishes to it. Just in case it really is a magic wish list.