Classic Rock Corner

Our Own Music Writers Lament "The Shows That Got Away"

Tom Petty during his last Houston tour stop on April 29, 2017
Tom Petty during his last Houston tour stop on April 29, 2017 Photo by Jack Gorman
If you’ve been going to live music concerts for any length of time, you know the pain. The pain and misery of knowing a performer or band is coming to town, thinking about going to see them, and then—for whatever reason—never actually getting your ass to the show.

Maybe there’s was a conflict with a family event. Or the babysitter cancelled. Or you had a fight with your significant other. Or you had to pay the electricity bill before they shut off the lights instead of getting a ticket. Or you figured you’d see them “the next time they came to town.”

But eventually, you want to kick yourself—you idiot!—for not being in the audience. And it sticks in your gut, for years and years and years.

They are “The Shows That Got Away.” We polled the Houston Press music writers for their own Tales of Woe on missed musical opportunities. Pull out the handkerchiefs, dear readers, and plow ahead…
In the summer of 1986, I had just turned 17-years-old and the incredibly wide breadth of my musical interests ranged from hard rock to heavy metal. But that summer I began to broaden my musical horizons, just cracking the door open to find out there was a world beyond screeching guitars and operatic singers.

On June 20, the True Confessions tour came to Houston and I desperately wanted to go. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were backing up Bob Dylan on what would be one of the quintessential tours of the era. They were, oddly enough, playing at Astroworld’s Southern Star Amphitheater, a place where I had seen shows like Missing Persons and Night Ranger (it’s true) already. But, my mom had other plans, namely a family event I now cannot even remember.

Needless to say, despite my begging and pleading, I did not see the show, I have yet to see Dylan, and will never get the chance to see Petty. I remember, a very angsty and forlorn 17-year-old me driving slowly down the South Loop that night hoping to peer into the amusement park just for a glimpse, because that was all I was getting.
In my time as a music journalist, I've seen my fair share of concerts. But there's one missed opportunity that still stings: Taylor Swift's 1989 World Tour in 2015.

The Nashville native's fifth studio album was a pop masterpiece from start to finish, and my wife and I absolutely loved it. We bought tickets to the show but ended up selling them when my wife received a job offer in another state.

She moved, and I gave notice at my job. And then, during her first week of employment, she found out the company was being acquired, and her position would be eliminated. Talk about a nightmare dressed like a daydream.

At the time, we had a lot on our plates, so missing a concert didn't seem like a big deal. We soon regained our footing right here in Houston and laughed about missing the show. Because surely, there would be plenty of opportunities to see TSwift perform.

Unfortunately, neither of us have liked her newer albums nearly as much—never mind ticket prices these days. Which is why, nearly a decade later, Taylor Swift remains a blank space on our concert checklist. But hopefully, one day, we'll get to write her name.
You’ve already read Jeff Balke’s Tale of Woe above. I was fortunate enough to have been at his very missed Bob Dylan/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show at Astroworld’s Southern Star Ampitheater in 1986. The same year and venue where I saw the “three-united” Monkees (with Gary Puckett, the Grass Roots, and a Peter Noone-less Herman’s Hermits) on June 26. And the year before, I had seen Crosby, Stills and Nash (the act I’ve seen live most over the years) with a Robbie Robertson-less Band.

In the ensuing years, as I delved more into Petty’s catalog outside the “hits,” he became someone I knew I wanted to see headline show. But for whatever reason, each time he came through Houston, I didn’t go.

In 2017, they embarked on their 40th anniversary tour with an April 29 date at The Woodlands. I had told the then-Houston Press Music Editor Chris Gray that I’d review the show if he wanted, but he had already had it covered himself. Money was tight at the time, so I didn’t purchase tickets, and figured I’d catch him the next time he came around.

The tour wound up on September 25, 2017, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. A week later, Petty was dead from a drug overdose (and on the same day as my birthday, of which I am reminded of annually). There would be no “next time” to see him. You just never know.
It’s one thing to have the fish Houdini itself off the hook but something quite different to reel it in, examine it, think “Nah,” toss it back only to later learn what an astoundingly rare catch you let escape. That’s what happened when my wife (then my 18-year-old girlfriend) and I (then a 20-year-old bonehead) left an Albert King show at Rockefeller’s…before he took the stage.

At 20, my knowledge of the blues had mostly come from what I’d heard on Blues Brothers records. My wife and I had our favorite blues band, Chicago’s Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows. They’d rocked our world on New Year’s Eve 1985 so when they returned as openers in the spring of ‘86 we purchased tickets, eager to see them. To be clear, we were going to the Big Twist show that night. When their opening set ended, we left before the headliner took the stage.

I know it’ll kill my music-loving friends to know this egregious error, but I was truly ignorant of King's legacy, how his innovative playing made him one of Rolling Stone’s greatest guitarists ever (number 13, ahead of Prince, Santana, Muddy Waters, and just behind his protege, Stevie Ray Vaughan). I could have seen him play “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Crosscut Saw” live, but noooooo. To make matters worse, the show was on King’s birthday. That’s right, we walked out on Albert King’s freakin’ birthday party.

It's a terrible thing to admit now, all these years later, and all I can do is plead the folly of youth for such a sad mistake. Believe me, I’m still singing the blues about it.
2017 was a very interesting year, both for me personally and for Houston as a whole. I began the year DJing at my favorite taco restaurant, the Super Bowl and the associated parties kept me busy, I met and drank some tequila with country legend George Strait, and my little brother Angel got married. And then, Hurricane Harvey paid Houston a visit, and as we all made the attempt to recover from the storm, the Houston Astros won their first World Series.

That May, I was invited to attend and photograph the 2017 Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama by my favorite band in the whole wide world: The Suffers. After looking over the headliners, which included singer-songwriter Frank Ocean performing for the first time in three years, I immediately said "Yes!"

Ocean's 2012 debut album Channel Orange was one of my favorite albums to jam on long road trips, on the plane, or alone in the dark in my room after a late-night smoke session. There was just something magical about his voice, the beats he selected, and the emotion he radiated into my headphones.

A week before I was supposed to see and photograph him on that beach in Alabama, Frank cancelled his set, replaced by the band Phoenix. I was devastated, but Frank does what he wants. A Frank Ocean-centric blog lists a total of 36 of Frank's shows throughout his career have either been cancelled, postponed or cut short.

Earlier this year, my plans to attend Coachella to see Frank Ocean and Bad Bunny also fell through. No Frank Ocean show for me, not back then, not now, and probably not ever.
Missed concert opportunities? Where do I begin? Not going to see an upstart band named "Nirvana" at the late, lamented Liberty Lunch? Missing the Ramones at the Parthenon in College Station because I refused to believe the fucking Ramones were playing in College Station? Blowing off the soon to be defunct Uncle Tupelo because I had what I thought were the beginnings of the flu? My ultimate selection may not be as iconic as some of those, but it did almost cost me a friendship.

In 1987, my UT dorm mates and I had gone to the Oltorf H.E.B. in the wee hours to procure tickets for U2's upcoming Joshua Tree show at the Erwin Center. Who cared that the tickets ended up being behind the stage? This was U2! The biggest band in the world (at least until GnR showed up)! And true to form, it was a great show. We left the concert singing the chorus to "40" in ways only idealistic (read: dumbass) teenagers could.

So when my friend then asked me if I wanted to come with her to noted local blues club Antone's for a post-concert beer (assuming we weren't carded), I declined. It had been a long weekend, and that deep into the semester, I'm sure there were lame academic rationalizations as well.

And so I went back to the dorm, sleeping until woken by a phone call by that same (irate) friend, informing me that not only had Bono and the Edge made a surprise appearance at Antone's, but they'd been joined by Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn and Dr. John!

The festivities hadn't ended until after 3 a.m. and it was all my fault we hadn't been in attendance. I couldn't argue. I'd check out U2 twice more and SRV once again before he died, but the opportunity to see all of them in that venue, mostly stripped of the trappings of celebrity (especially considering what U2 would become), is still a missed one in my eyes.

And my friend never let me forget it.
And now…a Bonus entry! “The Show I Barely Made!”

You know those painted markings on the highway that (in theory) guide you into a smooth merge when you get on a freeway from a feeder road? Well, there is one of those near my house. Or maybe I should say, there was.

I had gotten into the habit of cheating a bit, driving over the painted yellow lines as I made a quick lane change to get on the ramp. You’re not supposed to do that, but I didn’t see any harm in it. That is, until one day, when it was replaced with a raised concrete design, probably to thwart scofflaws like me.

On my way to a Steely Dan show at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, I was surprised when I hit this new chunk of concrete doing about 50, which blew my left two tires off their rims. It was really embarrassing, having to limp to the Shepherd exit ramp, though other cars gave me plenty of room, either feeling sorry for me or not wanting to get in the way of the crazy man who had just destroyed two new Firestone radials.

Did I make it to the show? Hell yes I did. I left my car in the parking lot next to Magic Island, called a cab, went home, borrowed my daughter’s car, and hauled ass to The Woodlands. I missed the opening act (Michael McDonald), but I was in my seat when Steely Dan counted it off. Maybe the most expensive concert I have ever attended, with towing, new tires, and related expenses coming in around $1,000, as I painfully recall.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero