In this series Fugitive Sounds editor Cameron Howell posts selected stubs from his cache of concert tickets, along with his memories of the shows—a “little exercise” that he says “is as much about memory and explaining memories as it is about music or concerts.” Check back at noon each Thursday for the latest installment.
Bull Run Special Events Center (Centreville, VA)
August 12, 2001
This is a ticket for a concert that never was.
In 2001, like a lot of other fans of music, I was amazed and bewildered by Radiohead. My adoration for the band was at a fever pitch.
The band had zigged and zagged since reaching a zenith of critical and popular acclaim with 1997’s OK Computer (and the sullen tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy). Rather than following up OK Computer with a record similarly heavy in angst and guitar riffs, the band went into a period of sustained quiet. Angst was not in short supply. Band members guessed and second-guessed, deconstructed their music, stripped down songs to the barest of layers, and then rebuilt those songs in confounding ways in order to force moments of creativity.
The results were 2000’s Kid A and 2001’s Amnesiac. Kid A has fared better with age. Indeed, it seems to anticipate this present age. Amnesiac, much of which was recorded during the same period as Kid A, has fared less well. Perhaps Amnesiac’s more quiet and experimental tracks are limited by their scope and structure. Perhaps Amnesiac will always be dwarfed by its near twin, released a year earlier.
But this is retrospection and rationalization. In 2001, in the eyes and ears and minds of critics and listeners, Radiohead could do no wrong.
In an attempt to avoid lining the pockets of music conglomerates that then controlled (and still control) many concert venues across the United States—along with promotional avenues, radio stations, record and publishing companies, and merchandise sales—Radiohead vowed to make its 2001 tour as independent as possible. The band wanted to avoid traditional music venues that, allegedly, over-charge(d) attendees for tickets and parking. This anti-corporate stance seemed to flow from a band ethic that, however naively, denounced capitalism and embraced the Naomi Klein No Logo philosophy.
I was in graduate school at the time, living in the middle of Virginia. Radiohead announced two shows in Northern Virginia at the Bull Run Regional Park, roughly where Route 29 and Interstate 66 converge just southwest of Washington, DC. Not the Verizon Center in Washington, DC—or the indoor/outdoor amphitheater in nearby Gainesville, VA that has changed proper names multiple times to coincide with changing sponsorships. But a park near the site of one of the first battles of the Civil War, in July of 1861.
The park follows the “Northern” practice of naming Civil War battles after local rivers and creeks—rather than the “Southern” practice of naming battles after a nearby town. The Northern practice deems the “First Battle of Bull Run” what Southern practice deems “The Battle of First Manassas.” The victors of war evidently decide how battles are named in history books and at public parks.
I was determined to acquire tickets for one of the two Bull Run shows in the midst of what was, at the time, sky-high demand for Radiohead. And, somehow, I hit REFRESH on the keyboard of my laptop at the correct interval, accessed the Ticketmaster website during the few seconds when tickets were available, scored my two tickets, and completed my transaction shortly before the show sold out.
(How Radiohead planned to avoid collaborating with corporate giants while selling tickets through Ticketmaster surely seemed nonsensical to someone in the band’s management at the time.)
And then I waited. I waited as the weeks and months passed by until my then-favorite band would play a concert within driving distance of my home.
But the concerts on Saturday, August 11, and Sunday, August 12, never happened. Persistent rains soaked the Mid-Atlantic for days. My ticket clearly reads, “RAIN OR SHINE.” And I was ready to witness Radiohead in the rain.
The rain soaked the ground at Bull Run Regional Park, and Radiohead’s stage began to sink into the concert field. The band canceled both shows at the venue. (Some are of the opinion that most Radiohead shows in the Washington area have been plagued with mishaps: Read here, and here.
Like most who had tickets for those Bull Run shows, I’m sure, I was bereft. Receiving a refund from Ticketmaster was little consolation. I had missed the opportunity to see Radiohead at its height—or at one of its heights.
I stayed home. The rains continued outside my little rental bungalow, and I watched a marathon of the Godfather films on AMC.