Joy In Repetition: Why We Love To See Our Favorite Artists Live Again and Again

The author has seen Billy Joel live seven times
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
The author has seen Billy Joel live seven times

“I miss live music,” Yvonne Salvatierra said for us all. “I miss going to different music venues to hear local musicians play their hearts out. I miss attending concerts the most. If I had to guess, I would say that I’ve attended no less than 100 concerts in my lifetime. Whoa, that’s a lot of concerts. I never really stopped to think about that before. I say I’ve contributed a small fortune to the music industry, don’t you think?”

In this weirdest of timelines, when the world’s music fans are largely unable to gather for live shows, it seemed like a good time to ask Houston Press readers like Salvatierra about concerts they’ve seen in the past. We picked their brains to reflect on everything about the experience and share their hopes we’ll have this small but important luxury again someday soon.

The readers we tabbed aren’t your ordinary concertgoers. We sought fans who’ve seen specific acts repeatedly to tell us about their experiences chasing their favorite bands. The idea alit when a childhood friend, Stephen DeLeon, made a post mourning the loss of his own personal music hero, Eddie Van Halen. He said he’d seen Van Halen live eight times over the years.

“I always describe concerts as the ultimate gathering and party, where everybody’s there for one purpose - to enjoy,” DeLeon said. “I don’t know what else you could compare it to, where everybody’s there for the one thing, to have a good time, and Van Halen excelled at that.”

The readers we interviewed had ticket stubs for their favorite acts in single, double and even triple digits. Matt Marcus, the Eatsie Boys founder we recently featured in a series on chefs who are also musicians, has seen Phish an astounding 123 times.

“I’ve never seen the same Phish show twice, that’s one of the best things about this experience is that no show’s ever gonna be the same,” Marcus assured us. “I like to tell people about what they did two years ago, it was called ‘The Baker’s Dozen’ – 13 nights in a row at Madison Square Garden, they never played the same song and they played a different set every night. There are very few musicians these days that could do that. Two sets, four hours of music each night.”

Salvatierra is a native Houstonian and a “purveyor of justice for the City of Houston” she said, clarifying that she’s a senior paralegal for the city. “By night, I dabble in writing poetry, short stories and of course working on the elusive novel that has yet to be completed.”

click to enlarge Matt Marcus is founder and executive chef of the award-winning Eatsie Boys food truck and a Phish phanatic - PHOTO BY MARK C. AUSTIN, COURTESY OF HOMETOWN SOCIAL
Matt Marcus is founder and executive chef of the award-winning Eatsie Boys food truck and a Phish phanatic
Photo by Mark C. Austin, courtesy of Hometown Social

“I have a select few bands that I will go see anytime they are in town. Chicago being one of them. I’ve seen them roughly ten times, at least. I first became a fan when I was a freshman in high school. My best friend invited me to their show once and I was hooked after that,” she said.

Another favorite is Salvatierra’s “ultimate performer,” Mexican crooner Luis Miguel.

“I have seen him perform every time he comes to Houston since 1990. Every time. Short of being in a hospital bed, I will never miss his show. Why you wonder? Well, because he’s hot — come on now. Easy on the eyes, charming and has a voice that melts hearts — mine in particular — like nobody’s business. He is one of my favorite performers.

“I once went to his show solo because no one wanted to go with me,” she admits. “I bought my fifth row floor ticket and had the best time ever. That’s the closest I have come to him. He’s got as much or more security detail than the president. That’s a fact. So, I doubt I will ever get closer to him than a floor seat at Toyota Center.”

The chance to get close to our favorite artists may be one reason we see them repeatedly. The more times you show, the better the chance for a personal encounter. That’s the story Donna Sue Wight shared. An avid Willie Nelson fan, she told us how she lucked into a smooch from the Red Headed Stranger.

“Willie's studio and ranch is in ‘Luck, Texas,’ near Lake Travis. In the early ‘80s I owned a fairly decrepit motor home. Some friends got some land near there. We loaned them our motor home to live in. We went there nearly every weekend. One trip, we heard on the radio about a fundraiser for the Pedernales Volunteer Fire Department. This was just our kinda thing. A flatbed trailer was used for a stage and we were able to stand right in front of it,” Wight explained.

“Unbeknownst to most people and unannounced, Willie showed up, walking around with us peons, and did about an hour set. I was able to ask requests and he winked at me from the stage,” Wight recalled. “As he sauntered away a lady came up and kissed him. I said, ‘I don't want to cause a mob scene, but she got a kiss, can I get one, too?’ Willie said, ‘Sure,’ in a tone of voice that sounded to me like he wanted to kiss me as much as I wanted to kiss him. I was 30 at the time and not too bad looking. He kissed me and I was dumbstruck. I couldn't even talk. My husband leaned over and kissed me and then said, ‘I just kissed the lips that kissed Willie Nelson.

“As an aside, Willie probably would have kissed him too, but my husband had enough sense not to spoil it for me.”

Salvatierra told how she earned not a kiss but a death stare from pop star Darryl Hall.

“Hall & Oates is a favorite of mine and I love seeing them perform any chance I can. Back when I was 17 or 18 years old, maybe a little older, the same best friend that introduced me to Chicago also introduced me to Daryl Hall and John Oates. We were instant fans. She loved Daryl and I loved John,” Salvatierra said, noting she’s seen the band at least eight times.

“Once, after a concert at the now-defunct Summit, we somehow got the bright idea to follow their tour bus to find out where they were staying. So, we got into my friend’s car and very discreetly — her car was bright yellow — followed the tour bus all the way to the Four Seasons downtown. We were in such a frenzy not to lose sight of them that my friend sped up to the bus as it came to a stop in front of the hotel and almost ran over Daryl Hall as he was getting off the bus. He scowled in our direction. The look on his face is something I will never forget.”

She said they waited outside the hotel anyhow and, despite admonishments from the management, their diligence was rewarded when “Eventually they came out, though I don’t remember if it was because everyone at the hotel was very aware of our presence or if it was because they felt sorry for us. Whatever the case, we got the autographs.”

DeLeon’s the sort of fan who shows deference to Van Halen, the late, iconic guitarist, by referring to him as “Edward” and never “Eddie.” He learned to play the instrument because of his guitar hero. And yet, the all-time champion in his ticket stub collection is KISS.

“KISS would be my first concert. My mom took me and (my brother) in 1979. So, I was 11 and Gerald was nine. We went to the Summit and it was big time crazy,” he recalled. “They were my first group, but it was too much too fast. You know how it is, it’s just too much, you can’t absorb it. I’m looking here, I’m looking there and trying to remember what happened.

click to enlarge DeLeon (L) and his family - Gwen, Stephen and Michael - with Paul Stanley - PHOTO BY LINDA STEIN, COURTESY OF STEPHEN DELEON
DeLeon (L) and his family - Gwen, Stephen and Michael - with Paul Stanley
Photo by Linda Stein, courtesy of Stephen DeLeon

He wasn’t content to let his distracted adolescent mind form his only KISS experience. He saw them 11 more times over the years to fully engage in their fire-breathing, blood-spitting rock and roll antics. He's come full circle by literally introducing his wife and young sons to members of KISS, the first band he ever saw live. He didn’t make stalker moves like a teenage Salvatierra, but paid good money to meet the band. When he learned that purchasing an original Paul Stanley painting afforded a chance to meet the artist, he bought a Stanley original and chatted with a childhood hero. The painting now hangs in his Florida home. He’s taken the KISS Kruise, a concert cruise experience which allows fans to mingle with the band and their special guests. He was urged by his (very cool) mother-in-law to take the KISS Kruise. Then he was urged by his (very cool) wife to buy a guitar on the cruise.

“I was like, ‘Yes, yes and more yes!’ We got there and (Gene Simmons) told us a story, he talked to my son, he signed my guitar,” DeLeon gushed. “It was mind-blowing, going from 10-year old me all the way to this other side.”

The DeLeons were set to take the KISS Kruise again in October but COVID postponed the trip until next year. He said Van Halen’s death was a good reminder that “things happen. You could lose your artist and they’re gone and that’s it, and there’s no more. All you have are your memories. I’m not like the Phish guy but if I was there and able, we made it a point to go.

“Why? Because it would be like the continuation of the party,” DeLeon said. “It could be annual, semi-annual, five years, ten years – as long as you had that, you had something to look forward to.”

Marcus, “the Phish guy,” agreed. Seeing his favorite act more than 100 times is a way to honor the music, but he knows the experience is also undeniable.

“For a lot of people, it’s the whole experience, it’s the fans, it’s the crew that you’re with, it’s a good reason to party anytime you’re at a Phish show,” he said. “I remember listening to Phish, I remember picking it up, I remember my older brother giving me an album called Junta, it’s like one of their first albums, and I listened to this song, ‘You Enjoy Myself.’ As a young musician, listening to it – the picking of Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell playing the keyboards and the layers that he’s putting over them – it was so cool for me to hear these composed pieces of music by these rock stars that are supposed to be like the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead, too, they’re one of my favorite bands, but I hated it when people equate Phish to the Grateful Dead. It’s about the scene but the music is so different.”

There’s a sense of FOMO any true fan of a certain artist conquers with their concert ticket purchase. It’s the reason DeLeon hasn’t missed a Van Halen tour from Diver Down in 1982 to their reunion run with David Lee Roth in 2008. He had seats at the foot of the stage for that show. And it’s the reason Wight arrived at the Arena Theatre for a Willie Nelson New Year’s Eve show, even though it wasn’t clear he’d perform. Her story illustrates how our favorite artists need us as much as we fans need them, something that’s been quite evident during the pandemic’s challenges to musicians.

“I heard on the radio that Willie's son had committed suicide. We were fairly sure we were wasting our time but it was New Year’s Eve and we had no other plans, so we drove to the Arena and they were letting people in,” she remembered. “When Willie took the stage he said ‘Some of y'all might have thought I wouldn't be here tonight, but there's nothing I can do about it now.’ We were moved but it was probably the best concert I've ever been to, bar none.

“Some months later, a friend was playing a Willie CD for me and I heard him sing "Nothing I Can Do About It Now,’ a fairly upbeat song. I haven't done the research so I don't know if Willie wrote it or even might have recorded it before that night. However, it still became one of my favorite songs.”

Salvatierra, the part-time writer and full-time music fan, contemplated all the shows she’s seen in a lifetime. She wondered when she’d next be able to hold tickets with nervous excitement, when she’d get to pre-game the show with drinks with her gal pals, when she’d be able to meet another music hero, maybe even Luis Miguel.

“With the looming new year right around the corner, I hope that life will return to some semblance of normalcy and we’ll all be able to attend concerts again,” Salvatierra said, speaking for us all. “Music has been one of my escapes during this crazy year and I for one am ready to escape but for real this time. Live and in person.”