Remembering the Night I Met Sheryl Crow and Beck
The memory of a live concert experience is especially poignant now, having just survived the worst year of everyone’s life. So many of us long to be in a crowd of people, hear live music, or go to a concert with our friends again.
The pandemic decimated business-as-usual and collapsed live music.
It took a wrecking ball to venues, even as the buildings stand as ghost homages to a life we all once took for granted. Local bands in local dives and rockstars in stadiums have been sidelined, silenced, and secluded. Relegated to Zoom feeds and Facebook streams — the show must go on.
My prayer today is for our culture, our world to remember and know how precious and necessary music and art are for humanity. After the greatest darknesses in our history, art renaissance followed.
Keep the faith, stream the shows.
And the moment we break free I will meet you at the amphitheater and we will lay our hearts down at the Altar of Mojo and dance our asses off.
The phone rang.
“Whatever you’re doing Saturday night, cancel it.” This made me smile. I loved hanging out with my very sophisticated friend Judy. We rarely did anything together on the weekends. Those days in her world were usually reserved for her husband and dogs. In my world, the weekend was reserved for rehearsals, shows, and my boyfriend; a.k.a the bass player in my band.
I ran down the stairs of my 1920’s Spanish style apartment building in Los Angeles and hopped in Judy’s olive green Range Rover. Her blond hair fell perfectly to her shoulders without a single strand out of place.
It always amazed me how she could dress so effortlessly casual but look stunningly formal. We could have gone to a local hang for a glass of wine that night, or to a gala. Either way, she was dressed for success.
She drove us past the long line of cars waiting to park at the Hollywood Bowl.
At the backstage entry point, a man in a green reflector vest directing traffic waved us through the barricade. She parked near the buses. Dark, shining, long, decadent tour buses with tinted windows.
We walked up to a nondescript backdoor entrance. The guard nodded at her and opened the door. Judy wasn’t wearing a lanyard or a badge. She didn’t need one.
The amphitheater was built in 1929 after humble beginnings as an outdoor community theater.
It is nested in the Hollywood Hills, just off the freeway, with the Hollywood sign in the distant background. In 1965 The Beatles played there and recorded a live album, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.
Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Cher, Muddy Waters, and too many greats to mention, have graced the iconic bandshell.
A tingling of jangled nerves and excitement coursed through my body when Judy led the way to the near front-row seats reserved for us. Background music was broadcast across the loudspeakers as a capacity crowd of 17,500 people spilled into the amphitheater taking their seats.
I was giddy.
This was amazing to me. A low-level singer-songwriter who grew up in the mountains of Montana and dreamed of stages like this as a kid, was now sitting before this great altar adorned in lights and mojo.
I don’t remember the opening set by Gavin Degraw. Maybe because I couldn’t see it through blurry tears of happiness, or because I turned around to behold the massive audience behind me watching the performance.
The concert was in 2005. Some of the details are hazy.
But one crystal clear image burned in my mind after all these years is the moment after intermission. They killed the house lights. A bright blue spotlight fell on the stage illuminating the grand entrance of the mythical goddess I had been singing along with on the radio in my car for years.
There she was, right in front me, a modern-day Euterpe. The Goddess of Music and The Tuesday Night Music Club: Sheryl Crow.
She commanded the stage with playful confidence and exuded an energy of mischief.
Good mischief. You know, like the friend we all had in high school that on Friday night would say, “Hey, let’s just take a drive down River Road and see if we can sneak into the Double J. We’ll study when we get back.”
You know you won’t be back until Saturday and you’ll be hung over as hell and cramming for the test you never studied for, but it’s so much fun you don’t care.
Sheryl’s band was the bomb.
I mean these cats were insane. They made it look so easy. Made it look like they were driving the magic bus so Sheryl could just dance and sing and have the time of her life with 17,500 friends and not have to keep her eyes on the road.
After the show, the place was emptying out.
Judy ushered us backstage to a room that smelled of expensive perfume and martinis. It was a small room, stuffed with people who all looked at other people to see who those people might be.
Judy, Senior Vice President of Creative at Warner Chappell Music, strolled through the mingling crowd like a queen at court waving a wine glass around, stopping every now and then to shake hands and make small talk.
Against the blank back wall stood a man with a youthful face, exactly one inch taller than me.
Standing next to him very close, was a petite woman who I liked instantly because she was wearing no makeup. Judy smiled at him, “Beck, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, one of the songwriters who landed on my doorstep.”
Beck smiled at me and nodded, “What do you write?”
Judy looked at me with mild disbelief.
The smile faded slightly from her face, and she turned her attention to the pother happening at the doorway across the room. She graciously made a joke and Beck gratefully laughed as we turned to leave the scene of the social crime.
We strolled towards the guest of honor who was radiant and surrounded by admirers and partiers and all kinds of beautiful people. Breath caught in my throat and my skin felt hot.
Butterflies cartwheeled through my stomach and light-headed, I careened a little as I approached this mythological goddess who, for my entire adult life, was otherworldly and untouchable.
The Rock Goddess saw Queen Judy approaching and beamed a warm, electric, red-carpet smile at her.
My legs weakened with every step closer. Then suddenly we were standing a hug’s distance away from this woman who embodied my deepest wish and dream, who represented a life and a world that was never available to me or any of my relatives.
I was holding my breath, trying not to cry.
Just as Judy started the introduction, an older man in a navy blue suit squeezed Judy’s right hand and yanked her over to meet two younger executive-looking men.
Sheryl laughed then looked straight at me, still glowing from the larger-than-life performance she had just given in one of the most coveted venues in America, “So, how do you know Judy? What’s your line of work?”
Felt a hot rush of childish embarrassment wash over me, then spit out, “I’m a songwriter,” so fast it sounded like a foreign language.
She smiled warmly and was on the verge of asking me something else when I stupidly said what you should never, ever say to a rockstar, “What do you do?”
Michelle McAfee is an Oregon based writer, photographer, musician, and creator of SONGBONES Podcast & Magazine. She was a staff songwriter for Bluewater Music, Song-Tree Maypop, and Warner Chappell Music, and is currently composing essays, blogs and a Memoir. You can find her on Instagram @michellemcafeemuse.