In a 2018 column titled “Dear Cool Dads and Moms: Stop Bringing Your Young Children To Concerts,” Uproxx’s cultural critic Steven Hyden pointed out two reasons he believed parents brought their precious noise-cancelling, headphone-wearing cargo to concerts.
They were either indoctrinating their kids to “have good (i.e., ‘their’) taste in music,” or trotting them out at shows as proof that they aren’t “lame like other parents.”
I can think of a third and fourth reason: In the right circumstances, it can be a fun bonding experience. And it’s cheaper than a sitter.
That’s where my head was on Father’s Day when I loaded my 8-year-old son Brooks, his hooded dinosaur blanket in case he got sleepy, and a resealable bag of Honey Nut Cheerios into my car to see Tears For Fears from the lawn of Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. We went with some dear old friends and there were a whole lot of other families with young kids.
I’d thought about having someone watch him, but it was a holiday weekend and people had plans. And since neither my son nor I have a living father, I decided to make our own tradition about celebrating stuff we dig, like sharing music. He’s taught me Lil Nas X and BTS, and I’ve taught him the words to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” It’s a cultural exchange.
I didn’t become a mom until my 40s, when I was already seeking out comfortable shoes and saying “no” to activities requiring me to leave the house after 8:30 p.m. So I never shared what Uproxx’s Hyden presumed were the motivations of a dad he saw wrangling a bored toddler at a festival performance by the band The National. I’m not in some existential cool crisis. I’m 51 and unironically watch “Little House On The Prairie” marathons. That cool bird has flown. And it needs a nap.
Still, I recognize that having kids can mean reconciling your pre-parent life with your current one. Do you have to swap out Beyoncé for “Baby Shark”? Or do you go to the other extreme and dress your newborns in tiny Nirvana tees and play Tupac lullabies in the nursery?
Parenting choices in our culture aren’t just about how those choices affect your kids, but about what they say about you, from trendy names to preschools that are allegedly a straight path into Harvard. Little Baby Cilantro doesn’t care about going to Harvard. She doesn’t know what that is. She doesn’t have teeth yet.
But cool points were not why I, or, I imagine, the many 50-something parents sitting around us on blankets, brought their children. Not that you’re ever too old to like it when people compliment your shoes, but that’s not a motivation it might have been in my 20s or 30s. I just want to open Brooks’ ears and life with as much varied music and experiences as I can. And I got a kick out of being able to do it in the venue where, 37 years ago, my Uncle Melvin took my sister and I to see neo-soul singer Paul Young for our first show.
“This place must have been around a long time!” Brooks marveled. He’s lucky he’s cute.
It’s important to note that I’m careful about the sorts of shows I’d take him to, both for his safety and for the enjoyment of others. I imagine a Tears For Fears show in 1985, when they first broke big, is a lot different than this one in 2022, when we all have to be at work in the morning. It wasn’t a rave.
Not every show is kid-friendly. I was horrified to hear of the 2021 trampling death of the 9-year-old at Houston’s Astroworld show, and know that a lot of people asked why a child was there in the first place. But nobody turned him away at the door and it’s cruel to suggest that there’s any way the parents knew what was going to happen.
Personally, I don’t think I’d take my son to a big festival, because of the possibility of crowding and because we’re still in a pandemic and I don’t want to be all up on people like that. At this point I’m more concerned about shows where the lyrics and stage patter are what I’d want to filter through the parental control app on my remote. I’m also not one of those idiots who’d take my kid to a show sure to have profanity and get mad about it.
But even the most carefully curated experiences can go sidewise. My cousin-in-law Robyn Rose, who was raised in Pikesville and now lives in Fairfax, Virginia, took her kids to see innocent-seeming pop group AJR at Merriweather, only to discover that the opener was singer Gayle, known for the song “ABCDEFU.”
“She comes out and says, ‘Who’s f---ing horny?’” Robyn said, laughing. “I was like ‘Well, here we go.’ There was nothing we could do about it then. And I don’t even think my 10-year-old knows what that means.”
Even at the Father’s Day show, there was some unanticipated spicy language from the excellent Shirley Manson of opening band Garbage, which earned a bemused smirk from my kid. But he got over it, and enjoyed not only his pretzel but the music and the collective kinetic energy that only a live show can create. And he was delighted to hear lead singer Roland Orzabal converse with a kid in the front row who knew all the words.
“That was cool,” Brooks said as we walked back to our car.
The evening was cool. It didn’t matter whether or not I was.