Running on Petty fumes, and reveling in my higher (music) power

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Erik “Fingers” Ray opening the show with “Listen to Her Heart.” Courtesy Photo

NEC LOGO GSMI’m still coming down from the savory fumes set off at the Tom Petty Tribute show at NEC last Saturday night. It really was a remarkable show of devotion and love on the many, many faces in the sprawling crowd.

And there were lots of different faces, for sure. Old ones, semi-old ones, feeling old ones. Even faces that faked trying not to be old ones. They were all gorgeous, all heartbroken, but still very much Heartbreakers.

Young faces too, lots of them, teens and 20-somethings, huddled right up next to the battle-worn Petty fans, who’ve been singing “Here Comes My Girl” for 30 years.

Scattered on the floor, sitting at an office desk, fannies to the wall, 50-odd chairs occupied with plenty of revelry taking place backstage where the musicians loosened their throats, their yelps, their deepest timbers, as Walker Smith and “The Don” worked out “Handle with Care” before they hit the stage.

To stand in the back room with all that talent splashing against each other, to a music junkie like me, is unworldly. There’s no place on earth I would rather be. When I look over and I see Erik “Fingers” Ray talking shop with a musician like Will Hatch from Concord, I make sure to stick an ear in their direction.

I ask only for a smidgen of inspiration.

But, it’s the power these musicians possess that literally, if done correctly, will seize the soul and captivate each and every audience member at some point throughout the night. It happens, I witnessed it.

I saw tears in peoples’ eyes at the Petty Tribute. I saw lips quivering, nostrils spreading, romances revisited. There were people dancing on the sidewalk outside the venue, just “running down a dream” at dusk on a Saturday night.

Try singing along to “Free Falling” and not swell with joy. If you don’t catch a whiff of euphoria, your blood is likely oil.

My big sister and her husband drove up from the North Shore of Boston to see the show, and I’m glad they did. I’ve been after my sister, Laura, to open a small arts venue in our hometown of Melrose, Mass., something similar to what New England College has on Main Street. No frills, all energy, community based, an offering of ideas that feeds the people and their artistic vices. Film, word, music, art. Bang!

A place where everyone is included: editors, mothers, sign-makers, veterans and disk jockeys.

I presented this same idea to one of my oldest friends, Egghead, who still lives a full two streets from his childhood home in Melrose. I was telling him about these monthly tribute shows and how they seem to have really hit their stride over the last few months, starting with The Last Waltz Tribute. I was so excited to share my thoughts with a dear friend, someone I stood up for as best man at his wedding. Someone who let me kneel down on both knees so I could hug him when my father died a few years back.

A true friend. Terribly odd. But true, nonetheless.

“You’re a clown, guy,” Egghead said, with such conviction that I could practically taste his spittle through the cellphone, “Nobody cares about your music stuff.” Just like that.

Those words, though penetrating, didn’t stop me from railing on about the goodness behind the music, the beauty that fills out the edges of it, and the raw emotion that comes roaring forth during a brilliant performance.

He simply hung up the phone.

Obviously, Egghead didn’t see Dean Harlem from Epping cut through the night with his version of “Southern Accents.” Or Jasmine Mann do what she does, covering “Stop Dragging my Heart Around.” Or when John Zevos and Company lead an encore of “The Waiting” as the evening met its crescendo.

Without nights like Saturday, I’d swear the world was burning. The negativity is relentless most days, between the feeds and the tweets and the garbage on the airwaves. But the world is far from burning, because when we take our faces out of our phones and turn ourselves over to a higher power – in this case, music – we free ourselves of wasted time.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Concord. What a night.


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Rob Azevedo covers the NH music scene and is host of  Granite State of Mind on Friday nights at 9 p.m. on WMNH 95.3 FM. He can be reached at



About this Author

Rob Azevedo

Rob Azevedo is an author, poet, columnist and radio host. He can be reached sitting in his barn at Pembroke City Limits and