Another day, another long drive to another concert. This trek is from Orlando to Tampa, by myself, on a Saturday night to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers on their “40th Anniversary Tour” with special guest Joe Walsh. As I commence on the journey, I can only think about my mother and how she supported my music & concert junkie habit from the start. From buying me concert tickets to t-shirts to several of the BMG or Clomubia House deals: ‘Buy One CD at regular price, get 10 for a dollar!’ (memba those?)… but the most important thing my mom did to support my habit was drive me to shows.
The first and only other time I saw Tom Petty in concert was in 2012 in at the Amway Center in Orlando. I took my mom to the show. This time, I drove. Although she wasn’t feeling the greatest that night, and even dozed off a few times during the show, we had an awesome time. That would be the last concert my mom ever went to as she passed away less than a year later from over a decade of battling cancer and countless other conditions. As I now drive to Tampa to see Petty for the second time, I don’t feel alone. I know my mom is right here driving me, just like she used to drive me around to all these concerts when I was kid. She would drive me and friends to the Orlando Arena and House of Blues on a regular basis, as well as several trips the Lakeland Civic Center, and even a few hikes over to Tampa. She’d drop us off and just kill time until the show was over. I can’t recall any of my other friend’s moms doing this, at least not as much or as willing as my mom.
This show is for you, Mom, miss ya lots. Happy Mother’s Day! <3
After more than an hour and a half of driving, I finally arrive to Amalie Arena in the Channelside area of Tampa. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to this venue… Radiohead in 2012 if I’m not mistaken. This is my first time shooting concert photos in an arena, so I’m a little nervous but even more excited. Joe Walsh is opening the show and unfortunately for us photogs, we are only allowed to shoot from the aisles next to the soundboard in the middle of the floor. This creates a clustered situation since we have to stay somewhat single file in the aisle instead of being able to spread out. I’m not prepared properly enough and quickly realize I should have brought a telephoto lens, but more importantly, a step stool.
I snap what photos I can muster during the first three songs and we retreat back to the photographer holding cell/office. I drop off my camera and make my way to the bar before finding my seat to watch the rest of Joe’s set. Wouldn’t you know it, he plays “Mother Says” early in the set.
Mother says “Be careful” and don’t stay out too long. Don’t do things you shouldn’t. Miss me when I’m gone.”
Walsh may be getting older, but he ain’t burnt out yet. He has plenty of energy as he parties with 15,000+/- friends and he is clearly having a fun time. The venue is close to capacity and there are even fans filling the seats to the side and back corners of the stage. There are two video screens at the front top of the stage and one at the top on each side, not to mention the giant screen at the back. There are glowing light orbs hanging over the stage that are not on but will soon be once Petty hits the stage. After the first two songs, Joe addresses the audience. “How ya doin’?” he says with the dirtiest New York accent. He says it again and gets the crowd to join in. He says it one more time but addresses the star of the evening… “How ya doin’, Tom?” and again he gets the entire crowd to say it with him. Everyone goes crazy when he begins to play “Take It To The Limit” by The Eagles.
Joe brings the fire for the last three songs of the set. “Funk #49” (James Gang song) is a jam that reminds us of all those late party nights: “Sleep all day, out all night, I know where you’re going.” I might be able to relate. It’s a bluesy rock groove that he funks out hard. Then comes the epic singalong “Life’s Been Good” which puts nothing but smiles on everyone’s faces. Joe smacks the mic at the end of the line “I have a limo, Ride in the back, I lock the doors in case I’m attacked” *smack*. He also edits the verse “I’m making records, My fans they can’t wait, They write me letters, Tell me I’m great” and swaps out the line “write me letters” for “send me emails” to keep current with the changing of the times.
They say I’m crazy but I have a have a good time. I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime. Life’s been good to me, so far.”
Joe closes with his most bluesy rock song in his arsenal, the Colorado tribute “Rocky Mountain Way” which instantly reminds me of my upcoming trip to Denver on July 4th weekend to see three nights of Umphrey’s McGee. Joe has adapted his voice as time goes by, and I like that he sometimes sings with slightly different tones and timing that give the songs a little separation from the standard album sound. What a set… I can finally check Joe Walsh, guitar legend, off my bucket list.
After Joe leaves the stage, I enjoy the rest of my second beer then head back to the photographer holding cell/office and await showtime for Petty. One of the arena staff members was a lovely young lady in her early 20’s maybe, and she said said she didn’t really know who Joe Walsh was but she recognized a few songs he played because she can remember her parents listening to those songs in the past. I had a good little laugh to myself.
The moment finally arrives and along with all of the other photographers, we make our way from the arena tunnels, across the floor, and up to the front of the stage into the photo pit. I awe at the grand piano, many guitar pedals, and lighting rig that are all directly in front of me. I can practically touch Petty’s mic stand. After talking with fellow photographers for a few moments, the lights finally go down and the crowd comes alive.
This isn’t just another stop on the tour. A short 130 miles away is a little town called Gainesville, the band’s old swamping — I mean stomping — grounds. This is practically a hometown show. Petty acknowledges this and all of the friends and family that are swarming every corner of the venue. Again, I think about my mom and how she is with me tonight.
Tonight is the 10th show of the tour, and the band is well into the groove and comfortable in this venue which they have played five times since 1999. With his hand on his heart, Petty says “It means so much to us to be here with you tonight. We’ve been playing this town for a long, long time, and you’ve kept coming back to see us year after year. We’re so grateful.” He later says “The secret of success is fans, because they always come back.”
So I’m standing there taking photos of Tom Petty who is practically standing on me. My eyes stay glued inside my camera, looking up every so often to resset my frame of reference, and to stay clear of the videographer and his chord guy that were constantly running back and forth in the pit. I can remember being surprised when I finally noticed the aforementioned glowing light orbs above the band descending in several different patterns. The overall light show was stellar, and the disco ball was not ignored at it lit up the room on numerous occasions.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was the second song on the setlist. Seeing that up close and personal was probably the biggest highlight for me. The three first songs come and go so quickly for me, the next thing I know I’m being corralled out of the photo pit and again we head back to the photographer holding cell/office to retrieve our belongings. I then have to check my camera at the customer service counter before I make my way to the bar, again, and settle in my seat for the rest of the show.
Another top highlight of the set for me was the liberating tune “Free Fallin'” which I can recall singing aloud with my mom on many occasions.
Petty’s 1994 hit “It’s Good To Be King” is one that I had forgotten about, so that was a nice refresher song to hear. “I Should’ve Known It” perks my ears up and I begin to strut in place a solemn and strong swagger. The set closes with “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” summing up what we all basically strive to do in life. The Heartbreakers come back out for a encore that includes “You Wreck Me” followed by the second single from their self-titled debut album,”American Girl,” which perhaps may be the dream that some of us are “runnin’ down.”
Cheers to you, Mr. Petty, and your Heartbreakers too! Thank you!
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty (vocals, guitar)
Mike Campbell (guitar)
Benmont Tench (keyboards)
Ron Blair (bass)
Scott Thurston (guitar, keyboards, harmonica)
Steve Ferrone (drums)
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