The Summer of ’84

You never forget your first concert.

The memory remains vivid: It’s July 7, 1984. I’m 16 and a half years old, hanging out in Roberts Municipal Stadium’s parking lot with my friend Mary Trapp. After the sun has set, in the twilight, it finally happens. There are roars of hunger and rapture as music shatters the evening’s muggy shroud. It’s everything I’d hoped my first live concert would be with the exception of not being able to see it.

That was 40 years ago, at the zenith of Van Halen’s popularity (with lead singer and fellow Hoosier David Lee Roth), and tickets had been sold out for a month. Mary and I were content just listening outside, but when a police officer working security approached us, I figured he’d tell us to hit the road. Instead, after recognizing Mary (he’d known her father), he walked us through the front door and set us free.

I’d been inside Roberts Stadium for circuses and high school basketball tournaments, but that night it felt electrifying and slightly menacing. It was dark and bright at the same time and impossibly, thrillingly loud, like the inside of a storm cloud. The air was as hot and stagnant as a reptile terrarium, and every hard surface — floors, walls, concession stand counters, the seats — was moistened from perspiration, pheromones, and smuggled-in booze. Van Halen howled “Jamie’s Cryin’” from the stage, intensifying the fevered bacchanalia.

Concert ticket photo provided by James Trapp

We looked down upon it all from the last row. The crowd never stopped moving, never stopped screaming for more. I watched rowdy fans pass out from the heat. I yelled for the encore and realized I was probably losing some of my hearing in real time. All for free!

How could I ever forget something like that?

Ask about someone’s first concert and a pretty good story is likely to tumble out. Some were so moved from the experience they prioritized music in their lives, whether that meant making their own, working inside the industry, or simply going to as many shows as opportunity and finances allowed.

Van Halen’s show reordered my future ambitions. I became a writer, to some degree at least, so I could stay close to music, musicians, and live performances — anything to keep the embers from that first spectacular pageant burning. So in April, when that memory again popped into my mind, I tracked down a bootleg of the concert and relived my first time all over again.

When I posted the link on Facebook’s “I Grew Up in Evansville, Indiana” page, the response was swift and stoked: “It was awesome!” “Dude… my first show too.” “I couldn’t hear for about three days afterwards.”

I called Mary and, just as I’d hoped, she never forgot, either.

These kinds of memories matter. They’re nostalgic, sure, but also baked into our very foundations. And we never know what’s going to become a turning point in our lives until after it happens.

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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