The Baxter Bulletin — April 27, 2012

Sonny Garrett’s Odds & Ends: Nothing clears the head like a road trip, Tom Petty
By Sonny Garrett
The Baxter Bulletin — April 27, 2012

Sometimes, you just need a road trip, and that was the case last weekend when I headed down to Little Rock to see Tom Petty in concert.

It had been months since my last actual, honest-to-goodness road trip, and I was ready for something more than the drive to and from work. The opportunity came when Kim’s sister, Mickey, called and said she’d won tickets to the Tom Petty concert at Verizon Arena. No one else could go with her, and she wondered if I’d be interested. A road trip and a free concert by a music legend? Sure.

So, a week ago today, I pointed the Tacoma toward Little Rock and hit the road. Or, North Little Rock, to be precise since Verizon Arena is there, although the two cities tend to run together. I like road trips, getting out of town and just driving and listening to the radio (because Amelia has my cassette adapter for my MP3 player) with the volume turned up on some good driving music. Something about that clears the head and seems to lift weight from your shoulders. Even if it’s just an overnight trip, it’s amazing what relief it provides.

Mickey and I met up in Conway, where we stayed because it was cheaper than staying in Little Rock. We headed over early to avoid potential traffic and meet one of Mickey’s old friends. If you’ve never been to Verizon Arena, it’s really simple to get to. Take the interstate into North Little Rock, switching from I-40 to I-30 and jumping off at the exit marked for the arena. You can’t miss it, because it’s a pretty big building. Parking was no problem as early as we arrived. In fact, we parked in a lot a block from the arena and directly across from the pub where we were to meet her friend. Nothing like going to an Irish pub with someone named McGuire.

We did get there a bit early, which was fortunate as it turned out because it wasn’t long before a steady stream of patrons packed the pub. I mean standing-room-only, elbow-to-elbow packed. Like unto a sardine can. Now, I haven’t been to such big-city establishments in a while, a long while, so I was surprised by a couple of things. Prices, for example. Three guys, apparently from the local Air Force base by their appearance and conversation, sidled up to the bar where Mickey and I were sitting (the only seats available) and one of them ordered three whiskeys on the rocks. He called a brand name I couldn’t understand. The bartender filled three big shot glasses, and the price was $41.85. When I was in college, that would have taken care of my portion of the monthly apartment rent. These days, it almost could buy a tank of gas.

After a while, we headed over to the arena. To borrow a Tommy Lee Jones line from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” you sure could put a lot of hay in that building. That night, they put more than 14,000 people in the seats. While waiting for the show to start, Mickey and I were able to people watch, an excellent way to pass the time wherever lots of folks are gathered. It was a good mixture of young and older people, a lot of whom weren’t even born when Tom Petty had his first hit. I’m amazed at how people dress for concerts. Most were fairly casual, T-shirts and jeans. Some were business casual, slacks and buttoned-down shirts and maybe even a sports jacket. A few apparently thought it was a prom. And a whole lot reverted to their teen years, which were many, many years ago.

The seats Mickey won were in the upper section of the arena. We had a good view of the stage way down there, but fortunately we didn’t need a Sherpa guide to get to our seats. But, hey, they were free, and we could hear the music quite well.

Tom Petty’s been around a while, and it doesn’t hit you just how many hits he’s had and how many songs he’s known for until you hear him live. And even then he doesn’t get them all in the lineup. It was interesting how he started two or three songs and the audience began singing along before he even sang a note. I thought he sounded better live than he does recorded, unlike a couple of contemporary performers. It was an excellent show, and I had a good time, even if the folks sitting behind us talked a lot during it (including a discussion of the best DWI lawyer, whom I assumed one of them would need before their night was out).

Actually, it was one of the best live shows I’ve seen, and the crowd ate it up. It may have been Tom Petty’s first trip to Arkansas in his long career, but I bet he’ll be back after the reception he received.
There were other aspects of the road trip that were fun, too. Got to eat at Waffle House; no road trip is complete without at least one stop. Went by the legendary Stoby’s in Conway, home of world-famous cheese dip. They were having an all-you-can-eat pancake benefit, and all you could get was pancakes; maybe I can try the cheese dip next time. Came home via Big Flat, where managed to get some photos, and up Push Mountain Road, which is a fun drive.

The whole outing was something I’d been needing. Thanks, Mickey.

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