Finding the music


Carsen Van der Linden during the Maroon 5 concert at Sleeptrain Amphitheater.


As I rode down the long stretch of road toward the Sleep Train Amphitheater, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I began to question what exactly the big deal was about me not having gone to my first concert before now. If you only heard the reactions of some of the people I had told about my concert virginity, you would assume I had just told them I’d murdered someone. But with all the, ‘Oh my god, you have NO idea what you’re missing!’ and the, ‘How have you not? Everyone has!’, I still had no clue what the problem was. I had no idea what I could possibly be missing. It’s not that I never liked music, or was never into a specific band; quite the contrary! I had just never gotten the opportunity to go to a single concert before (ignoring the opportunity to see the Jonas Brothers with my giddy eight year old sister, whom I declined).

But the older I became, the more I started to think something was really wrong with me. Now, instead of bewilderment, people just started to look at me with sadness. Like I was beyond help. At that point, I was done. It was time for me to go to my very first concert, and end this once and for all.


There I was, standing at the front entrance to the huge venue where I would soon see the band Maroon Five perform for an audience of over 20,000 people. The crowd was big on paper, but boy was it a sight to see from the inside. So many people had come out, and I felt like all of them were more prepared than I was. Like they all knew that I was new to this. Like every single person was a concert veteran, and then me: the young, scared recruit.

I proceeded across the open area outside of the amphitheater. People entering and exiting bathrooms, buying Maroon Five merchandise, and buying their last ten beers before heading up to the lawn or down to the seats by the stage. By the time I was able to push and shove my way through the crowd, it was an easy walk up the large stone staircase to the lawn on the hill overlooking the stage. I lay out my blanket smack in the middle of the crowd, wanting to take in the whole concert atmosphere I had heard so much about. Everyone seemed fairly friendly. Nobody had gotten in a fist fight yet, which was common to the numerous hockey games I’ve attended, so I assumed everything was going pretty smoothly based on my own experience with large crowds.

The sun was slowly setting, and the process of everyone claiming their spots on the grass was nearly complete. And me, ignorant as I was, assumed that this must mean the Maroon Five was coming on any time now. But no. First, there were numerous covers of familiar songs sung by a band I don’t I think even the most hipster of concert-goers could say they knew anything about. But in all honesty, it wasn’t that bad. The songs were all well played, and the singing was decent. But nobody was really paying attention. I began to wonder if this was what the whole concert would be like. Would people just sit there, nonchalantly listening to the songs in the background while they carried on with their normal conversations? I began to think that I had possibly wasted my money. This seemed nothing like the crowds of jumping, head-banging young adults you always see as the typical crowd at the concerts in TV shows. Everybody seemed like they didn’t even come to listen to the music. Just to sit and talk with music around as a bonus. It was just like lunch at school! And I get to attend that for much less money every day.

It was now dusk, and I began to hear the murmur of excited whispers all around me. Alright, NOW Maroon Five was coming. I was sure of it. I mean, what else could it be about? It was the reason we were all here, wasn’t it? I waited for a few minutes, and the last remnants of sunlight disappeared over the horizon. The overhead lights dimmed to black, and complete darkness fell over the crowd. People began to stand up to get a view of the stage, and I followed their lead. People started to mention Kelly Clarkson, and I soon realized that she was opening for the band I had paid to see. That bit of information must’ve escaped me. I knew the name, of course, and knew she was pretty famous, but I couldn’t place a song to that name for the life of me.

The crowd remained in this state for several minutes, and I began to notice the overwhelming smell of smoke. Normally I’d be okay with that. It’s not like I had never been around it before. But this wasn’t cigarette smoke. No, this was definitely the “illegal in 48 states” kind of smoke. And instantly, the lights rose on the stage, accompanied by the cheers of thousands. The crowd was completely transformed. All of the thousands of people on the lawn were on their feet, and what looked like a thick fog hung over the audience, illuminated by the colorful lights onstage. I was absolutely shocked. Maybe this is just the norm for concerts, but I am not used to everyone around me smoking an illegal substance. I guess that’s just another part of the experience.

The entire performance of Kelly Clarkson was anything but what I expected. I came into this whole experience expecting to be the quiet observer. I didn’t even expect it to be that fun. I just wanted to go, get it off the bucket list, and then decide on my feelings about it. But it didn’t take very long for those expectations of myself to be long forgotten. Halfway through her performance, I was singing at the top of my lungs all the words I knew to “Breakaway”, dancing in some idiotic way that probably would’ve landed me in an institution in any other situation.

And, as soon as it started, the first act was over. The overhead lights rose, and people flooded to relieve themselves and buy more beer. I ran to the men’s room, only to find something I’d never quite seen before. The women’s bathroom line was so crowded that it was giving some of the more daring the desperation for them to ALSO use the men’s room. This was a little shocking, and several men became extremely angry at this, and began demanding that the women be thrown out to the security guard, who shrugged them off and walked elsewhere. I decided that the bathroom could wait, and walked back to my place for the second act.

People again took their places on the lawn, the lights fell, and the fog began to roll over the crowd once again. Now I knew for sure that Maroon Five was coming onstage. The roar from the crowd was enough to prove me right, and when “One More Night”started to play to start them off, I began to lose my mind the exact same way i had in the first act. Singing with complete strangers,  dancing insanely, and just enjoying myself.


No, I did not think I would enjoy my first concert as much as I did. I had no idea what I was missing. But now I realize why I received all of the sad looks and the shocked comments. I was missing out on something that is not only fun, but something I could do over and over again throughout my life and never get tired of.