Friday, June 20, 2008

Splendor in the grass

The SSCP and his moll indulged in a rare taste of culture en plein air and a little dejeuner sur l'herbe the other weekend when they took in ELH's concert at Morton Arboretum just down the road in Lisle. It is a sure sign of encroaching middle age when a two-mile drive seems like a major adventure. I find it a little odd to find myself, a one-time hardcore Rolling Stones fan, now getting all misty-eyed over a similarly aging country star. Not sure exactly how it happened but it might have been the evening I turned on Prairie Home Companion (another sure sign of age) to hear Mark Knopfler and ELH sharing their then new Road Running album. About once every two decades I hear a transcendent song and If This is Goodbye was one such. Of course, being a huge Dire Straits fan FROM THE VERY BEGINNING (not just from that infernally popular song about fridges) didn't do any harm.

Anyway, the Arb, as we affectionately call the salt king's garden, was the perfect locale for ELH's mellifluous, melodic, melancholic music; as we sat back in the fading light the songs swirled among the rustling leaves of a pleasant summer evening.

The occasion was not without its annoying aspects though: surprisingly biting insects was not one of them but the other humanity there was. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life and know not the ways of the modern world; but when I attend an event of the performing arts, it is my expectation that the audience is indeed there to be auditors: silent listeners in other words, and participants only when called upon. It seems I am mistaken; for at the Arb, at our somewhat distant location from the stage, the gentle vocals of ELH had to compete, often unsuccessfully, with the constant, clanging chatter of the crowd. Does this happen at the theatre, at the Lyric, even at the local cinema? I think not for the most part. Okay, being a college professor (not that kind of doctor) means I am not the world's wealthiest man, but I still think $50 is a significant sum for most people (to put it in perspective we are inclined to wait for films to make the rounds of the Glen ($6.50) and tolerate the ancient seats and the sticky floors); so why do they bother to spend $50 just to sit and chat. One woman in front chose the beginning of the set to show the rest of her group some photos on her camera; our view of the stage was compromised by the girth of her not inconsiderable rear end. To our left two young women continued an animated conversion in which one of them had her back to the stage the entire time; fortunately she left early. Why bother coming in the first place?

The other notable about the event was the TSA-like rigour with which the Arb staff interrogated our "carry-ons." Although we were not required to remove our shoes, belts or even trousers, the contents of the picnic baskets were subject to intense scrutiny for any contraband drink. Not that drinking was not permitted; only that drink purchased on the grounds was permitted. How I was quaking with fear as the Argentine Torrontes secreted in one of those ridiculously expensive environmentally conscious (supposedly) SIGG metallic bottles was likely to be exposed. Fortunately, the indolent youth that search our bag did not bother to open it, and we were able to dull the pain of the ceaseless chatter without recourse to the local beverage.

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