They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. 

And as I happened by a yard sale the other day to peruse the no-longer-needed books, music and miscellany being offered by the inhabitants of said yard, I struck up a conversation with the owners of the merchandise being dispersed. 

“Nice selection,” I said, as I eyed their wares, thinking many of the items in their collection would make excellent additions to my own treasure trove. 

As I picked up a Kinks CD, the man asked if I liked the Kinks. I did, I told him. However, in answering, I realized I still reserve a spot in my soul for the disappointment I felt the time somewhere mid-80s they cancelled their concert in Rockford, Ill. because one of the band members was ill. Was it Ray or Dave Davies? Who knows. No refund. No reschedule. We were just out. But does it really matter, some 30 odd years later? It must, or I wouldn’t still be carrying it around. Let it go, Lissa. It’s over. 

It got me thinking about other ill-fated concert trips and what I may have learned – if anything -- from each one. 

As a young person, my first baptism-by-fire concert experience involved catching a ride with a bunch of older teens, who immediately drove to the liquor store. (We lived just south of the Wisconsin border, where the legal age was still 18 at the time.) I was 14 and had hardly ever smelled liquor, let alone drank any. And in addition, my best friend and I had just been on the newest “starvation diet,” and had gone something like three days without any food – with the exception of a cheeseburger I had wolfed down seconds before getting into the car. 

When the cute, older dude in the front seat asked what I wanted from the store, I coolly said, “blackberry brandy.” (It was the only thing I could think of. I’d heard some older kids talking about it.) For some reason I still can’t fathom, I swigged the entire pint down like Kool-aid, passed out and was rushed via ambulance to the ER to have my stomach pumped. I was unconscious for about five hours before I woke up, strapped to a gurney, surrounded by my parents and grandparents and slapped hard with the realization my little stunt had ruined our impending vacation plans to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. 

It was a mistake my dad never let me live down. Nor did my grandpa, who was known to occasionally open a bottle of blackberry brandy and quickly swipe it under my nose, just so he could get a chuckle from watching me gag. He lived out his days determined to never let me forget that one. And he succeeded.  

The lessons? Don’t try this at home. Or out. Or anywhere. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t starve yourself. Wait until you’re old enough to have better judgment. Drink in moderation. 

Other concert recollections were less dangerous, but just as memorable. 

There was that Phish concert at Alpine Valley years later, where some Phish head, tripping on God-knows-what, grabbed a bunch of giant marshmallows, wadded them into a softball-sized orb and attempted to hurl them at his buddy, who was sitting somewhere behind me. Suffice it to say, the mind-altering impairments he had ingested that day had affected his aim, and the “ball” hit me square in the chest, knocking the wind out of me so I fell back. 

The lesson? Something as soft as a marshmallow can be wielded as a dangerous weapon. 

The list goes on … there was that trip to see Little Feat at Treasure Island in Red Wing, where I stood in line behind a man wearing an over-the-top, tall fur hat and long fur coat. It seemed like mere seconds between the super judge-y wrinkling of my nose and rolling of my eyes and the realization that he possessed the ticket for the seat directly in front of me. Put simply, his hat made a better door than a window, and he kept it on throughout the entire performance. 

To quote John Lennon: “Instant karma’s gonna get you” – and it did. 

All these stories aside, I have been to some great concerts. At the top of my eclectic list are definitely Elton John at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Willie Nelson at Five Flags Center in Dubuque and Bruce Springsteen at Soldier Field in Chicago. Other contenders include the B-52s, Loretta Lynn and the Kentucky Headhunters, to name a few. 

My worst concert experience? No contest: Whitney Houston. 

Now before you get down on me for speaking ill of the dead, just hear me out. 

It was 1987 and my roommate, Denise, was stuck with a ticket for someone who had cancelled on her. I wasn’t really a Whitney fan, but I paid Denise the $28 for the ticket, thinking it might be fun. I had seen her “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody,” video. She was a top-notch, entertainer, right? 


It became immediately evident that the Whitney on stage was not the Whitney from the MTV videos. The Whitney on stage stood like a statue for her required 89-minute concert, devoid of any obvious emotion or enthusiasm for her job. 

It was boring. Awful. Horrible. Not only did I literally fall asleep, I later had a knock-down, drag-out fight with Denise when she returned home singing Whitney’s praises to our other roommates. (Had we been at the same concert?) 

Today this would never happen, because concerts no longer cost $28. And if you’re going to take out a small loan to go see your favorite band, you’re going to make darn sure it’s someone you want to see. 

And although my immediate takeaway from the Whitney experience was one of being duped by MTV, 25 years later, when I learned of her death, I did think to myself that maybe she was just a really troubled human being and I was too harsh in my snap judgment of her. 

And above all, the world would be a pretty dull place, if we all valued the same things. There would be no yard sales, and concert ticket prices would be more astronomical if we all enjoyed the same performers. 

As for Whitney Houston, I hope for her – as well as for all of us – that she has been able to find a harmony in the afterlife that she maybe didn’t have here on earth.  RIP, Prom Queen of Soul.