- Written by Bill Levine Bill Levine
COVID’s social distancing has been an anathema for those real crowd lovers. You know, those ultra-social creatures who wade into the July Fourth Boston Pops concert on the esplanade to claim their 1 square foot of personal space.
I do not seek out crowds, though, and thus have not been laid too terribly low by outdoor gatherings reduced to dinner-table size.
But one of my endorphin-boosting tricks is to focus on a shoehorned Beach Boys crowd in August 2018 at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. Thinking about this event still gives me good, blissful vibrations more than two years out.
In the last 15 years, going to Hampton Beach is a once-a-year solo pilgrimage, a very special hour’s drive from suburban Boston. It’s solo because my wife doesn’t admire the honkytonk Hampton.
I always park in a lot behind the Hampton Beach Casino, a block-long wooden structure and the focal point of the Hampton Beach Boardwalk. The casino building itself is a retro beachside experience with family restaurants, mini golf, souvenir shops, and jewelry stores. The centerpiece is the ballroom on the second floor.
On the eve of the concert, I got to Hampton Beach early, around 6 p.m. It was too late to join my two friends for dinner at a rare, tableclothed boardwalk restaurant.
Instead, I grabbed a sub from one of the boardwalk cubby-hole takeouts and watched the teeming midsummer crowd settle into evening routines: the departing sunbathers cramming coolers and beach umbrellas into hatchbacks and the early-dining couples walking hand in hand to boardwalk eateries.
After soaking in the early-evening atmosphere, I met my friends at the ballroom’s entrance, and we slowly made our way to the ballroom amidst hundreds of baby boomers anticipating some high notes of nostalgia in the perfect setting of a crowded beach venue.
My first high-note experience of the Beach Boys in a crowd was in my basement as a 14-year-old.
At a junior high dance I won a The Beach Boys in Concert album via a raffle drawing. The album upped my record collection to about 12, none skipping from too much playing.
But The Beach Boys in Concert got a lot of play in my basement. All the radio hits were on the LP, but my listening was enhanced by the synergy of the crowd and the live music, which created a more real-music experience than my stereo-alone production could provide.
About eight years later, I got to attend a real, live Beach Boys concert in central Maine. According to the internet, the concert took place on May 13, 1973, at my college. The internet provides the playlist from the concert, but I can’t remember any one particular song.
I do remember being part of a large outdoor crowd that grooved out to surf music in the periphery of the Maine woods. There was a specialness to experiencing rock legends — even if a little faded — outdoors with 1,000 other fellow students.
Back in 2018, once I was seated in the casino ballroom, I realized that “ballroom” is not really an appropriate name, as the spaciousness and eloquence associated with a ballroom are nonexistent.
There were 1,800 crowded seats organized into about six or seven very elongated rows. They appeared to be all filled up. The two long bars were squeezed into the SRO area in back. The only open space was the large stage, which could hold a rock orchestra.
The scene could be a claustrophobic’s nightmare. For me, it was a delight to be wedged into such a likeminded crowd, one that spent the ’60s channel-surfing for this group on the AM band.
Twenty loud songs later, I left the ballroom, stringing together past and present into a nostalgic chain of contentment that I have worn for the past two years.
The Beach Boys band featured only Mike Love and Bruce Johnson from the original group. It didn’t matter, though, because the sounds were authentic enough to evoke my 1960s life, from report cards to draft cards.
Several songs had an indelible memory, like remembering hearing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” at 15 in summer camp and wondering whether its “stay the night together” lyrics were ushering in a post-PG-era manifesto.
Just as important, I was witnessing this reminiscing in tandem with my baby boomer cohort. We were still lighting up the dark together, but it was with camera-phone flashes, rather than the cigarette lighters of the ’70s.
I had an hour’s late-night ride back to my home, but I didn’t mind this coffee-less trek. I felt great that I could pronounce my formerly expensive $75 ticket: priceless.
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny. He may be reached at email@example.com.