Thursday, September 22, 2011

Farm Aid IV and Paper Sacks

The recent announcement by Guns N Roses about their first US tour in five years reminded me the first time I saw them.  It happened to be the last time Steve Adler played drums for the band.

In April 1990, I was living in Covington, Kentucky, a suburb across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Covington was like the neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks as far as Cincinnatians were concerned.  Or in this case, on the wrong side of the river.

However, Covington was considered one step-above its neighboring Kentucky cities on either side: Newport and Ludlow.  I was always amazed at the bridges connecting Covington and Cincinnati.  Two of them are still fresh in my mind.

The monster-sized, double-decker Brent Spence bridge makes no one forget this multi-laned, multi-Interstate bridge.  I-71 takes a sharp left into Cincinnati at the end of the Ohio side of the bridge, and I-75 veers towards the northwest.  But the classic bridge to me was the Roebling Suspension Bridge.  With its steel grated deck and huge suspension wires and classic limestone bridge moorings, this bridge was a blast to drive over.  Although, one day it swung violently back and forth.  No one could figure out why.  But it was never shut down because of it.

Back to Guns N Roses. My friends and I bought tickets for Farm Aid IV held on April 7 in Indianapolis.  The concert would be held in the Hoosier Dome.  One of the performers for this charitable concert was Guns N Roses.  The Hoosier Dome was later renamed the RCA Dome and then later torn down for the favor of the current Lucas Oil Stadium.

Farm Aid really hit home for me.  Family farms were part of my roots and anyone helping them out got my support.  Still chanting: Farm Aid, Farm Aid, Farm Aid!

So, my friends and I decided that instead of staying at the Crown Plaza Hotel the night after the concert, when we had reservations, we went up the night before the concert. Well, actually, early morning by the time we drove the two hours from Cincinnati to Indianapolis.  Unknown to me in those days before the World Wide Web and smart phones, there were two Crown Plaza hotels in Indianapolis.  The reservations were for the one in the Indianapolis suburb.  We had arrived at the downtown hotel two blocks away from the Hoosier Dome.

We not only convinced the hotel clerk to give us a room, but also at the lower rate of the hotel in the suburb. Really that was surprising since our “luggage” consisted of brown paper grocery sacks, and our clothing choices certainly did not match the other hotel clientele.   But at 3:00 in the morning, they probably figured it was an easy charge on my American Express card.  That card got me into a lot of places back in the 80s when AMEX actually had some clout.

Well, when we left the room next morning, with our paper grocery sacks under an arm, I decided to check out.  Guess who was checking out beside me with her bright red hair--Bonnie Raitt!  And who was behind me in line? Lou Reed! All of the stars for the concert had stayed in the same hotel.  And hotel security could not believe three guys with paper grocery sacks tucked under arm actually were allowed to stay in the hotel and were, in fact, mingling with the stars.

Well, after talking with a few managers in the hotel lobby because everyone was curious why we were carrying paper grocery sacks, we were able to give our tickets in the nosebleed section to some random people on the street.  We got free VIP tickets for down in front of the stage!  Sweet luck!  

After dropping our sacks into the trunk of my car, we went inside the Hoosier Dome and saw some great acts.  14 hours of great acts.

Beside the aforementioned Guns N Roses (live performance of “Civil War”), Bonnie Raitt, and Lou Reed; we also saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Neil Young’s live solo of “Rockin in the Free World”; John Mellencamp and his live performance of “Pink Houses”; Stealing Horses; a highly energetic Joe Ely (worth just seeing him); the rhythmic speech of Jesse Jackson; at the time an unknown named Garth Brooks; John Denver; Bruce Hornsby; Don Henley; Willie Nelson; and surprise guest appearance of Elton John!  Elton John performed “Candle in the Wind” dedicated for the AIDS victim, Ryan White, who died hours after the end of the concert.

The concert was a fundraising success.  But to me it was a success as a participant who not only supported a good cause but also got to see up close some great musical acts.  Farm Aid IV is still a vivid memory.