It’s better late than never: How atmosphere can make or break a concert.

In the last month or so I’ve had the privilege to check out two great shows at great venues — and it made all the difference.

The latest show took place Sept. 24 at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, Ohio, and featured Yo La Tengo. This marked the third time I’ve seen a show in this beautifully restored, historic opera house and I’ve never been disappointed.

Yo La Tengo at Stuart's Opera House

Yo La Tengo at Stuart's Opera House

The crowd is always among the more musically intelligent I’ve been among for a show. You won’t find drunken frat boys grinding inappropriately to the drunken sorority girls at awkward and inopportune moments, or a bunch of old fogies who refuse to stand up or clap or show any sign of life. That’s not to say the ages skew in the middle. On the contrary, college age hipsters, minus the pretension — is that possible? Never mind, let’s not worry about it. — and hip, in-the-know people who could be their parents mingle in the lobby drinking PBRs and microbrews before the show.

The crowd there knows when to stop talking and watch in awe at the performers — and when to stand and hoot and holler when the music becomes transcendent, like all great music does, taking you to another headspace entirely.

The Yo La Tengo show was no different.

Ira from Yo La Tengo

Ira from Yo La Tengo

While I generally despise anything resembling a jam band, I also tend to get too bored at shows where the performers simply recreate the record they’re touring to promote, down to the second. If I wanted to listen to the song as is, I would have stayed home. I came for an experience, dammit, and it’s an experience I want you, the performer, to give me. Just don’t go on too long. I’ll get bored. I’m fickle, what can I say.

Yo La Tengo captured this balance perfectly however, alternating between beautiful acoustic strummed, love songs and noisy freakouts that harness the power of the distorted guitar like the primed beast it became under the hands of Jimi Hendrix. And the crowd “got” all this perfectly, and responded accordingly.

Georgia from Yo La Tengo

Georgia from Yo La Tengo

Seriously, if you’ve never been to a show a Stuart’s, it’s well worth the drive.

The first show I saw this fall took place at Harris Riverfront Park about a month ago, and featured Old Crow Medicine Show.

It was the first time I’d been to the park and the venue consists of an outdoor stage overlooking the Ohio River, with lawn steps leading up the riverbank.

It was nearly magical listening to OCMS with a slight drizzle, whiskey in my belly and a foot-stomping, harmonizing bluegrass country band before me, singing about coal and West Virginia and drugs and booze and rivers and shantytowns and heartbreakers and cheaters and all the sordid and awesome things I love about this great state. And hearing it all on the banks of the Ohio River: priceless.

It was enough to make my sentimental heart swell and burst, and while I really didn’t expect the band to perform “Country Roads,” as an encore, I left a little disappointed they didn’t. That still didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the show and the venue, though, and if nothing else, it led to some rousing renditions on the walk to the parking lot.

Oh, and more wonderful things couldn’t be said about the two promoters/official-type people I’ve dealt with at these two venues: Tim Peacock at Stuart’s, and Amanda Weiss, at Big Sandy. Both people have always been more than helpful and accommodating, and if you ever get a chance to talk to Tim about music, take him up on it. He’s intelligent and witty and fun to chat up.

Our last discussion started about my Yo La Tengo interview and devolved into some rambling talk of Dylan and motorcycles, which, frankly, is never a bad place to end up in in any conversation.


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