Heart performing at Stage AE in Pittsburgh on July 26th.
If you have never lived in Pittsburgh, then you are not familiar with the term “Pittsburgh Weather” and just how rotten it can be. For the past two weeks, the city and surrounding area have been experiencing an extreme summertime drought. Yet, the week of the 23rd the drought ended and was replaced by monsoon like rains, just in time for the Heart concert on July 26th.
Shadowed by perilous clouds, the skyline of the great city seemed more appropriate for a scene in a Batman movie rather than a summer rock concert. After all, Pittsburgh is Gotham City.
Around 6:30pm the heavens opened and released a never ending stream of driving rain. Lighting wrapped around the city in horizontal belts while thunder echoed off the grey glass of the skyscrapers. There were only two things not driven away by the storm, scalpers and die-hard Heart fans.
The moment I exited the car I was drenched from head to toe. Quickly, I dashed across four lanes of traffic until I reached Stage AE’s will call booth. I collected my photo pass and became the last person in line where the only people to talk to were the scalpers. It was 6:45pm. The show would not begin until 9pm.
The doors opened a little after seven and I found myself in the lounge. There was a bar to my right and restroom to my left. I learned that you had to pass through the restrooms, which doubled as a hallway, to reach the outdoor stage. I had read somewhere that Stage AE was one of only a few venues in America that was both an outdoor and indoor stage. Surely, the weather would call for an indoor show.
I reached the press area where I would be allowed to photograph the first three songs of Heart’s performance. It was there that I met Ernie, the security guard who acted as the gate keeper to the press pit. Ernie informed me that the concert was in fact going to be outdoors. He explained that the performer rents the venue as either an outdoor or indoor event. Once the preparations are made, there was no going back.
Running my hand through my soaked hair, I left Ernie and his see-through, five dollar poncho and returned to the lounge. That’s where I met Paula.
Paula sat at a high table against the wall with her young daughter and son who were eleven and twelve respectfully. I asked her if the rain would stop her and her children from attending the concert. She explained to me that she was a die-hard Heart fan.
“I’ve seen them 20 times in the last 30 years,” she said.
An impressive feat, yet what surprised me most was the fact that her pre-teenage children accompanied her and seemed more excited than her to see the show. I re-assessed the crowd and noted how many young people were actually there. The number was astonishing. I couldn’t quite count how many, but looking around you definitely got the feeling that a large percentage of people there were born after Bad Animals went double platinum.
I left Paula and her children and ventured into the back of the lounge where the lighting was dimmed and you could hear the rain on the roof. Here, I found Brooke and her boyfriend.
Ann Wilson of Heart
Brooke sat cross-legged on the cold, cement floor wearing a white headband wrapped around her curly brown hair. Attending the Heart concert was part of her seventeen birthday gift. She told me her fondness of the band grew from her mother always playing their music. The exposure created a love.
When I asked her want it meant for her to see them she described it as a, “weird feeling.”
She paused before continuing, “I always thought fanatic fans were stupid but I’m shaking. I’m totally about to cry. I live for Pat Benatar and Heart.”
I informed Brooke of an upcoming Benatar concert nearby before I left her and her boyfriend on the floor. I thought of walking back out to see my security friend Ernie but instead I leaned up against the ATM machine in front of the restrooms declaring it as my field office.
Nancy Wilson of Heart
While rewriting my notes, a young woman approached the ATM to make a withdrawal. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but there was nowhere else to write my notes. She quickly revealed her sense of humor and asked if I was taking down phone numbers. It soon turned into an interview. Her name was Courtney.
“They are phenomenal,” she said.
She expressed her amazement of how two sisters can go on the road together and get along. “I’m with my sister for five minutes and I want to punch her,” she said. Luckily, I didn’t see the sister in sight.
Courtney calls herself a “second generation” Heart fan as she was born in 1986. She was introduced to Heart by her best friend’s mom.
She called it “empowering” that fact the Ann and Nancy Wilson were pioneers for women in Rock music. She explained that nowadays women just had to wear the right dress and have the perfect hair to make it.
“It’s inspirational. Woman can do what men can do without the help of a man,’ Courtney said in regards to the successful career of Heart.
I thanked Courtney for her time and scribbled down the last of my notes. Looking up, I saw a little old lady staring at me. Her clear poncho dripped summer rain drops and her hand held a plastic cup of beer.
“How would you like to interview a first generation Heart fan,” she asked me.
I flipped over to a fresh page and the interview began.
Turned out, the little old lady, whose name was Norma, was a guitar player seeing Heart for the third time.
Norma, having played guitar for fifty years, was astonished by Nancy’s guitar talents. She explained that she felt Nancy was always “over-looked” when it came to naming the top guitarist in Rock ‘n Roll.
“This stuff is hard,” Norma said. She had personal knowledge as she was always trying to learn Heart’s songs. One of the most difficult she believed was “These Dreams.”
“It’s doable but hard,” she said in reference to “These Dreams.”
Yet, what Norma was looking forward to the most was Nancy’s introduction to “Crazy On You” and what changes she might have made to the live version.
My time with Norma ended and I was met by three young ladies Shelly, Danille and Josie. I had yet to leave my declared field office. This ATM had become a moneymaker for me.
These three ladies had driven all the way from Morgantown, West Virginia to see the show.
“There’s nothing like Heart anymore,” Shelly said before adding, “A lot of people don’t know they were before The Runaways.”
I asked them what it meant to see Heart. Danille replied, “childhood relieved.” Apparently, their mother’s love of Heart’s music transferred to the next generation.
We parted ways and walked back out into the monsoon. I stopped brief in the restroom to wrapped my camera in paper towels, the only protection I had for it as the camera bag was in the car and the car was driving around Pittsburgh. I had a friend give me a lift.
I met up with Ernie once again down at the press gate. The rain hadn’t let up but neither did the growing number of fans. Fearing damage to the poorly protected camera, I left Ernie and returned to my field office to people watch.
There was a man wearing a Journey shirt who constantly walked out into the storm then back into the lounge only to return outside again. At first, I thought perhaps he was looking for someone. I later settled on the decision that he realized he was at the wrong concert.
Shortly after watching Mr. Journey, a lady came through with a homemade poncho. A high-end, black trash bag with a hole hand-ripped in the side. She looked more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than a concert attendee. Yet for her, if it meant saving five dollars she would forego a fashion statement.
Around 8:15pm I heard cheers and applause coming from inside the lounge. I darted around the corner expecting to see Ann and Nancy greeting fans. To my disappointment, it was nothing more than a homerun in the baseball game being broadcast on the bar’s televisions. I returned to my field office.
I was interrupted in my people watching when a young girl, late teens early twenties, approached me. She wore thick dark rimmed glasses and didn’t sport a poncho. Brave soul.
She must have seen my photo pass on my shirt because she assumed I was part of the concert. She asked me if there was anyway I could have the band give a shout out to her aunt, whose name was the same as mine. It was her aunt’s fiftieth birthday.
I was flattered that she though me as highly as she did but I had to be honest and tell her I had no power whatsoever to do that. She took the news understandably and disappeared into the crowd.
Five minutes to nine rolled around. I restocked my paper towel collection while other men combed their hair with wet fingers. The rain seemed to have let up but there was still a miserable drizzle when I reached Ernie.
I was asked by Amy, the Marketing Director of Stage AE, if I still was still a “go” for the photo shoot. I gave a reassuring thumbs up.
This was Rock ‘N Roll I realized. You can’t let a little weather stop you from doing what you want. Think about it, Rock ‘N Roll is music and music is an expression of life. It’s life lived out.
We can’t allow unforeseen events or unflattering circumstance prevent us from living life. That’s what Rock ‘N Roll is, an approach to life. Some could call it a way of life. The rock is what you’re given and the roll is how you deal with it. You can’t let a little rain in your life stop you from living.
So the camera would get wet. If the show went on, I would go on!
Ernie opened the gate to the press pit and I walked in front of a wall of standing fans. Their faces became blurred to me as I walked towards the center with the pre-concert music (which happened to be U2’s “Streets With No Names”) playing. It was as though I was the one walking out on that stage four feet above me. There was the crowd, the stage and me stuck in-between.
Another pre-concert song played. I knew the sisters were close.
When Heart finally walked onto the stage, the energy level of the crowd became contagious. You couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement as the crowd and band fused together as one to bring the concert to life.
I swear, when Ann saw me down in the press pit, she walked directly up to me. Perhaps it was nothing more than my imagination, but I actually think Ann Wilson took note of me.
Heart kicked off the show with guns blazing. Let me make it simple; these women can rock.
There’s nothing like hearing “Magic Man” live. It’s a high-octane, full blown rock song that every Heart fan should hear live. In my opinion, their performance of it that night was the best I’ve ever heard it and the best song of the concert.
Ann’s voice is just as powerful and emotionally charged as ever before. In fact, I think the live aspect adds a degree of emotion to her voice that doesn’t come across on the albums as she was feeding off the energy of the audience.
Nancy not only kicked-ass on guitar but she thoroughly look as though we was enjoying herself. This wasn’t just a rock concert, it was a musical celebration. Just being there, no matter how bad of a day you might have had, Heart’s music lifted your spirits and drowned out the rest of the world. I was captivated.
The show continued with classics such as “Alone,” “What About Love,” “Dog and Butterfly,” and “These Dreams.” They also added new songs to the set list from their upcoming album Fanatic, which will be released in October.
Nancy was backed by a chorus of a thousand voices during her performance of “These Dreams.” To my surprise the women in the audience, young and old alike, knew the chorus word for word. It was a thousand voices singing in sweet harmony.
It was about then that I realized the power of Heart. Not only have they release a top ten album for the last thirty plus years, but they have control over the weather.
In all the excitement, I failed to notice the rain had stopped. When I thought about it, it had actually stopped a few moments into the show. The monsoon rain had stopped and, as I looked up into the sky, you could see the clouds beginning to break.
I’ve never been to a concert where the bond between the audience and the band has been so strong. You could feel the respect and admiration the women in the audience had for Heart. Ann and Nancy were leaders for these women. They proved that a woman can venture into an unknown territory and be just as successful, if not more, than a man.
I thought back to Courtney and how she explained that Heart “empowered” women. You could see, by the looks on the faces, that the women in the audience truly valued Ann and Nancy’s music because it gave them a substance which they could carry in their heart, a foundation to build their dreams upon.
For a musician, having music that reaches your audience in that manner, is worth more than a hundred million records sold.