June 16, 2013
This was no ordinary sweat. It was thick and suffocating. Beads of perspiration dripped in streaks all over my face, neck, hands and all the way down to my socks. The heat was unbelievable – over 100 degrees, with the humidity index off the charts. It was almost too hot to make the effort to walk from my car to the stage where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be performing.
Day Four of the Bonnaroo Music Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, about 30 minutes south of Nashville. Many say it’s the Southern stepchild of Woodstock; I believed it. But no matter how hot or crowded it was, I wouldn’t be anywhere else that day. I was standing in the middle of over 80,000 screaming fans, all chanting the name of the rock and roll group I met by chance in the mid-1970s and worked with for many, many years after. A band that became iconic superstars because of a few people who passionately believed in them and worked to get them played on the radio.
My heart was racing. I felt like I was 21-years-old again, and I could hardly wait for them to come on stage!
I inhaled a deep breath of the scorching, marijuana-scented air. It lingered thick and heavy and stuck to me like the heat. It was so strong, even a non-smoker could get a contact high. Pot was everywhere. Alcohol was everywhere. Fans stripped bare from the heat. Teenage girls no older than 16 or 17, clad in teeny-tiny halter-tops and cutoff shorts started screaming as they crowded around the stage, chanting “Petty! Petty! Petty!” The crowd chimed in.
Besides the band and their great long time manager, Tony Dimitriades, I was probably the only one of the 80,000 fans there that knew Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers real story. I wondered if the fans realized how a band made it to superstardom of this magnitude: the songs, the singer, luck? Or possibly a series of circumstances that took place at the right time, the right place? It was all the above.
Normally, I would be backstage with the band, but today I just wanted to be a fan, a free-spirited spectator at a concert. The band I helped to become rock and roll superstars were about to hit the stage and I’m feeling just as frenzied as the crowd around me.
I couldn’t help but think back to my first encounter with this rock and roll band and the set of serendipitous circumstances that paved the way for this very day.
I flashed back to all the things that had happened in the last thirty years to help create their success. It was a long strange journey and I have loved every minute of it.