In 1991, grunge rock was formally introduced with the release of two giant albums; Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten. By 1994, bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Sonic Youth were playing on every teenager's Walkman.
But just prior, in 1993, remnants of what had been the prevailing music trend—the hair band—were making a futile last stand. That summer Guns N' Roses played its final show with all the familiar members, Aerosmith released Get a Grip—selling more copies than all releases since, combined—and British rock band Def Leppard embarked on its last major world tour.
On the Forth of July that year, I attended one of those shows at The Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington.I was 15. It was my first summer concert and my only ever hair band experience.
In line for the show and with no shade in sight, my buddy Jeff and I were ablaze with excitement. I held my ticket like it was a lifeline, oddly afraid someone might take it or it would drop and disappear in the slow-moving stampede of flip-flops.
Once inside, we walked down the path to the stage, following the crowd to the general admission area on the hill. The view caught us off guard.
Well below us, the Columbia River stretched out behind the stage, cutting through the rock face of the bluffs. We were two small town hair-band-loving kids—unremarkable in appearance—perched at the precipice of live music hysteria. We instantly felt like princes in a kingdom.
Eventually we found our reserved seats—the last row before General Admission and straight back from the stage. Opening act Ugly Kid Joe rushed through its smattering of hits. When the band played the song, "Sweet Leaf," the people in front of us began lighting up joints. Jeff and I were convinced we'd be in trouble just for being around it.
As the sun descended behind the stage, slowly melting into the bluff, Def Leppard appeared and bombarded our ears with splitting glam rock as one-armed drummer Rick Allen kicked the bass drum into submission.
One by one, the hits "Animal," "Rock of Ages" and "Armageddon It" fulfilled our rock-and-roll fantasies. Beach balls danced over the crowd and in an apparent show of solidarity with the band. A man in Speedo-like Daisy Dukes hopped the fence separating General Admission from reserved seating, sprinting around our chairs with a British flag cape; the security guards finally tackled him.
Def Leppard played "Two Steps Behind"—the band's last big hit in the U.S.—from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Last Action Hero, and then ended our Independence Day by performing "Photograph" to a laser beam light show across the sky and over our heads.
After that summer, I too turned to grunge and rock and roll was never quite the same for me. But play "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and I'm right back at the Gorge on that sunny July Four. SW
Your first summer concert this year could be:
Dave Matthews Band,
Gorge Amphitheatre, Aug.30, 31 and Sept. 1
The Avett Brothers
& Portugal The Man,
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, July 5
Michael Franti & Spearhead,
Les Schwab Amphitheater,
The Head and the Heart,
Pioneer Square (Musicfest NW), Sept. 7