Sued51's Blog

{November 28, 2012}   The Orpheum Theater, Boston

Orpheum Theater, Boston

Orpheum Theater, Boston

Deciding to become a volunteer usher at the Orpheum Theater after my first season at Concerts on the Common was one of the best decisions I ever made. Julie and I decided when we started there to branch out and make other friends (we spent so much time together). We picked different aisles to work so we could meet new people; it was healthy and exciting. (Little did I know that working there would be my ONLY social life at times.)

If you read its history, the theater is quite old. Some performers liked that aspect…I overheard some call it a dump. If you take a look on the Orpheum official web site, there’s a list of the shows scrolling on the right-hand side by date. I love that they have this so I can remember it all. I saw so many bands over the years, and also some comedians and oddball events: even a wedding! (Two of the ushers who met there, got married there.)

Orpheum wedding

Orpheum wedding

My husband used to say that we saw “bands on the way up and bands on the way down.”  This was because of the size of the venue: not a club, but a small theater seating approximately 2800 (this is a generous estimate). It seemed like there were always broken seats. They were pretty difficult to repair after a time…too many holes drilled over and over in the wooden backs of the same ancient velvet seats; I always pitied the maintenance guy working with all those old bits and pieces.

But the Orpheum has great acoustics. Many live shows were recorded there during my time including James Taylor and the Allman Brothers (we called them the “house band” because they played there so often).

Allman Brothers Live at the Orpheum

Allman Brothers Live at the Orpheum

As volunteer ushers, we finished working officially not too long after the headline band began to play. Once we were “released” everyone would scramble to find a seat on the aisle steps in the mezzanine — the best place to see the show. You were close to the stage, but with an unobstructed view from above. And structurally it was designed to “give” or move, which made it an adventure sitting there for some shows. You could “feel” the music. When the B52’s played there and everyone was dancing, some people were frightened because you could actually see the mezzanine moving up and down. You could barely walk from one side to the other in a straight line; it was like trying to walk on a wave-tossed boat.

And it had that old smell — like mustiness, sweat, and old beer. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the old place.

{November 17, 2012}   More About the Music

After finishing my “Fan’s History” series, I have been thinking hard about what to tackle next: an alphabet of favorite authors…an alphabet of favorite plants…but none of those ideas were sucking me into a vortex of passion.

So I guess I will go back to music. After my club scene days, I worked as an usher/usher supervisor/head usher for a variety of venues. There are many more music stories to write! For many years I had the idea in my head to write a screenplay for a comedy series about my ushering days, but I don’t have the foggiest idea how to do that, and the more time goes by, the blurrier the stories get. So maybe I’ll just begin…

Concerts on the Common "apron"

Concerts on the Common “apron”

When I donned the red apron of a volunteer usher for Concerts on the Common (yes I still have it…I’m a terrible packrat), I had no idea how much it would change my life and where it would lead. Until that time, my musical interests were pretty limited. As a child I loved show tunes because my parents owned LPs of some of the most common ones: South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and Sound of Music. As a result, I was in chorus and drama all through school…never a star, just a member of the crowd. Then came my friendship with Eric and Jane, when I became a fan of Punk, New Wave and Rock…still pretty limited. Concerts on the Common changed my musical tastes forever. The concerts covered the range of music genres — jazz, folk, blues, rock and pop. From Joni Mitchell to George Benson, from the Village People to BB King to Julio Iglesias, I worked them all and discovered that I really loved music.

As I wrote this, I searched the Internet for some great links relating to what I saw, but there was surprisingly little. I found a few blogs where people actually said, “Does anyone remember Concerts on the Common?” Not much beyond that. For those who don’t know about it: an area of the Boston Common was sectioned off for the summer and folding chairs were set up for the audience. This was long before venues like Great Woods or Harbor Lights (now under other names) were built. There certainly was something different about watching a concert outdoors in the middle of the city with a squirrel running up a tree right next to you. Unfortunately, it only lasted a few years before the neighbors’ complaints about the noise put a stop to it.

My friend Julie worked at a law firm in downtown Boston with a woman who, along with her husband, were in charge of the volunteer ushers for these concerts. (I still remember their first names: Elise and Dan, but very little beyond that.) She asked Julie if she was interested and Julie asked me — Hell, yes!  I don’t remember how it happened but we pretty much immediately started hanging out with a group of ushers that included an usher supervisor who later became the head usher for the Orpheum Theater, taking it over from Elise and Dan. I remember him taking a small group of us backstage after the Peter, Paul and Mary show for a piece of the Puff the Magic dragon cake they had in honor of the 20th anniversary of the song. I remember that The Thompson Twins wouldn’t let the ushers hang out for sound check, in contrast to Huey Lewis who talked to us and took requests! I remember the screaming of the women and tossing of bras and panties for Engelbert Humperdinck and Julio Iglesias shows. And watching a whole audience of people try to do the YMCA dance was a trip! There are personal memories of the time too; during that time I dated a Berkeley student who went on to publish trivia books on music and write for national publications. I wish I remembered more, but I’m getting to that age…

When the summer season ended in 1982, my new friends asked us to work concerts at the Orpheum for the winter. I was hooked!

et cetera
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