Last Sunday at Wichita’s legendary Cotillion Ballroom, I witnessed history. History for one young fan, anyway.
Let me back up.
Sunday afternoon I found myself with an extra ticket to the Band of Horses/Bonny Doon show (thanks again, Billy!) and had no one immediately in mind to go with me. After a moment, though, I realized there was someone I could take right under my own roof—my 15 year old, Ariana Grande and Cardi B-loving stepdaughter. Naturally she said she wanted to go when I asked, what with summer almost over and her wanting to get out of the house as much as possible before school starts. She had no idea who Band of Horses was and didn’t care. That would change before the night was through.
To my stepdaughter’s credit, she’s been to concerts before, and some good ones at that. Thanks to her mom she has a hearty appreciation for classic rock, and absolutely loves the Beatles. Her last concert was even Sir Paul McCartney, which was a pretty moving experience for her. But here’s the thing: the handful of shows she’s been to before have been arena concerts, where even with decent seats she was a good distance away. Walking into the 2,000 seat capacity Cotillion was a whole new world.
I told her I intended to take us up front, but until she saw the inside of the building I don’t think she grasped what “up front” meant. When she realized we would be only 2-3 people deep from the stage, her mood changed. She tried to play it cool, but she was getting excited.
Coming off a month-long stint opening for indie darling Snail Mail, Detroit-based quartet Bonny Doon opened the show, supporting their largely improvisational second album, Longwave. The crowd started off a bit lukewarm to the band’s unique mix of breezy pop with a bit of a folksy/country touch, but as the band loosened up and gained momentum, the crowd followed suit. By the end of their set the crowd had grown increasingly raucous, buzzing for the headliner. I looked at my stepdaughter with raised eyebrows, to ask what she thought of Bonny Doon. She shrugged. “Meh,” she said. Still trying to play it cool.
An extended intermission followed, during which the crowd grew increasingly impatient. Then, at the thirty minute mark, the lights went down and people cheered. Band of Horses took the stage and hit the opening strains of Islands on the Coast, a deep cut from 2007’s Cease to Begin, and the place erupted. I checked on my stepdaughter. She stood motionless, eyes wide, slack jawed. As the music reverberated through every fiber of her being, I doubt she could’ve told me her own name.
After the opener, BOH utility man Ryan Monroe came out from behind the keyboard to play guitar on NW Apt. (he switched between the two instruments throughout the set), grabbing a bright yellow guitar pick off his mic stand and flicking it into the crowd. I saw it go off to my left, but paid no mind and kept taking photos. He grabbed another pick and tore into the song with what would normally appear to be a great deal of enthusiasm, were he not sharing the stage with bassist Matt Gentling, who pogos, stomps, and paces around the stage like a monster that’s just been released from its cage.
It took a few songs—No One’s Gonna Love You, another track from Cease, to be exact—before the shock wore off and my stepdaughter’s limbs started working again. She started swaying to the beat a little and cheering between songs. By the time they covered The Replacements’ Can’t Hardly Wait about halfway through their set, she was happily bopping in place.
Ben Bridwell and company’s set was well-curated, ebbing and flowing between rocking uptempo numbers and softer songs that let the crowd catch their breath without ever killing the momentum. After the semi-plodding tempo of The Great Salt Lake off BOH’s 2006 debut Everything All the Time, the band kicked into high gear, playing some of their best known and most energetic numbers, including Is There a Ghost, and what Bridwell dubbed their “fake last song”, The Funeral, also from the ’06 debut.
After a couple minutes to refresh and possibly tease the crowd a little, the band returned to the stage for one last tune—a rollicking version of The General Specific, also from Cease to Begin, during which Bridwell absolutely hammered a tambourine with a drumstick for the duration of the song before tossing both into the crowd at the song’s conclusion.
I turned to my stepdaughter as the lights came up to find out the final verdict of her first intimate rock show. She beamed and held up her hand. Between her thumb and finger was the yellow guitar pick Ryan Monroe had tossed out at the top of the second number. “It hit me right in the chest! I was so afraid I was going to drop it,” she said. Why she didn’t just put it in her pocket, I will never know.
We made it to the car and I asked her again what she thought, as though I didn’t already know. “I can’t hear. It sounds like I’m talking loud. Am I talking loud?” She wasn’t, because her voice was so raspy from yelling between songs. “That was maybe the best concert I’ve ever been to. I think I like rock now.”
About an hour after we got home I was at the other end of the house from her, when I got a text:
“Can I use your guitar downstairs to practice Here Comes the Sun?”
Obviously, I told her no. Calm down, calm down. The guitar she was referring to was my pride and joy, and she’s way too far on the other side of clumsy to be trusted with it—I told her I had a guitar better suited for someone just learning, and handed it over.
I don’t know if she’ll stick with the guitar, I don’t know if she’ll learn all the chords for Here Comes the Sun—hell, I don’t even know if she’s ever going to ask me how to tune the damn thing—but the next day she had a printout of the chord chart on her bed and Ryan Monroe’s yellow pick tucked between the strings.