Happy Father’s Day to the Leader of the Band

“My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.”

Father’s Day 2017 was a difficult one for my brother and me. Lots of talk about it being a “different kinda summer”. The Leader of the Band had died in September, which meant that our concert-going triumvirate was reduced to a duo. We forged ahead that summer and recalled some of the most memorable concert nights with dad. These memories included:

The good: Tim McGraw dedicated “Live Like You Were Dying” to anyone battling cancer, and dad stood proudly as 50,000+ fans cheered.

The bad: On that same night, we lost my dad in a sea of 50,000+ sun-soaked fans who nearly trampled him in the Met Life parking lot.

And the ugly: Brett and I stayed for Vince Gill’s encore at the Allentown Fair, which meant that the funnel cake stand closed before dad could get one. “Hey assholes, you can’t whet my appetite like that and then screw me out of a funnel cake!”

No matter how good, bad, or ugly the night was, Brett and I always posted a wholesome photo that, to the casual observer, showed:

A) 2 sons still enjoyed hanging out with their 70+ year-old dad.

B) A 70+ year old dad was still cool enough to hang out with his sons.

C) My guns aren’t big enough for cut-sleeves.

D) All of the above is the correct answer.

Blake Shelton – BB&T Pavilion, August 2013

Yes, casual observers only saw the obvious sweetness in these photos. But Brett and I knew so much more. Today, I’m remembering the countless classics as if they happened just yesterday. What I remember the most about our concert nights together is how perfectly imperfect they really were. I could almost set my watch to the precise times that each of the following would occur:

  • Dad, feeling left out of a “young-guy” conversation: “This is why old people shouldn’t hang out with young people. Not one God-damn girl has checked me out all night! It doesn’t help that I have tits!”
  • Brett, feeling left out of a “smart-guy” conversation: “Hey Icabod, was I supposed to study for this conversation? Will there be a test tomorrow?”
  • Shane, feeling left out of a “tough-guy” conversation: “Dad, how old was I when you first realized I might be gay?”

We never felt more free to be ourselves than when we were together at a concert. Just three big personalities; one giant powder keg filled with our unique set list of emotions. We talked. We yelled. We sang. We fought. But mostly, we laughed…until we cried!

Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw – MetLife Stadium, August 2012

Summer 2017 and beyond…
Sure enough, the concert tradition continued with Brett and I as a duo. Names like Bosephus, Zac Brown, Garth, and Skynyrd come to mind. In fact, it was during our time as a duo that we created our bucket list of acts to see in concert. After all, Elvis died just two weeks before a young Brett would have seen him in concert. That story inspired us to see all of our favorites in concert before they died. The results were mixed.

Tom Petty and Don Williams: They both died before their respective boxes could be checked off our list.

Gordon Lightfoot: He looked like he was dying on stage instead of singing. Once he started sucking on oxygen (I wish I was joking), we checked off the box and called it a night.

(Note: The story of Brett and I seriously considering the Air Supply concert in Morristown has been greatly exaggerated and is also completely true).

Despite dad’s absence, Brett and I always fell into our familiar/familial concert-going roles. He was still the tough guy in the black Elvis T-shirt, which accentuated his guns. I was still the straight-laced/straight-A kid in any shirt that accentuated my “#2 pencils”. (That’s how Brett described my guns).

For a few pre-pandemic summers, we were still dad’s duo, playing our parts to imperfect perfection. We talked. We yelled. We sang. We fought. But mostly, we laughed…until we cried!

Zac Brown Band – BB&T Pavilion, July 2018

Father’s Day 2021
Which brings me to Father’s Day 2021. For obvious reasons, this will be an especially difficult Father’s Day for me. After The Leader of the Band died in 2016, Brett and I became a duo. When Brett passed away in April, I became a solo act. Does that make me the Leader of the Band now?

Fortunately, a love of concerts runs deep in my family…so we have a full slate of post-pandemic concerts scheduled. They include Rock: Green Day, Kings of Leon; Country: Eric Church, Luke Combs; Pop: Harry Styles, The Biebs; and Comedy: Ricky Gervais and Bill Burr.

I’m so excited to have live concerts back this summer. I also feel fortunate that I can still share these experiences with the people I love. Still, it’s sad to realize that I’ll never experience another concert with my father and brother. No, I guess the band won’t get back together for several more decades. In the meantime, I’ll spend the rest of my concert-going life checking off all the boxes on our list. In their honor. With my #2 pencils, of course!

Lynyrd Skynyrd/Hank Williams Jr. – BB&T Pavilion, August 2017

I shared the following words of wisdom with my kids on the day Tom Petty died:

If you have a chance to see your heroes in concert, don’t wait! See them now!

I’ll also share these words of wisdom that just came to me as l was crying through the writing:

If you have a chance to see concerts with your heroes (like I did with my father and brother)…go with them every chance you get!

Remember: Life’s too short, and there are still so many buckets left to check off your list.

Happy Father’s Day in Heaven to the Leaders of the Band! Brett, I hope Elvis performs all your favorites. And Dad, I hope they’re still serving funnel cakes long after the encore.

George Strait – XL Center Hartford, February 2013
Bill Burr – Madison Square Garden, November 2018
Brooks & Dunn – Mohegan Sun, July 2011