Sleater-Kinney Freak Confesses

Vegas’ Vegoose festival lures all types, including our shameless writer

Richard Abowitz

I should have said it was for my little sister who is a big fan. That would have made it a bit more acceptable that I had run onto the Jokers Wild Stage at Vegoose the moment Sleater-Kinney finished their set, helped myself to the playlist by ripping it off of a monitor and then asked the exhausted band to sign it. But my little sister isn't that little; a lawyer and mother of three kids, she has never heard of this indie punk band from Washington State, which I have revered since 1996. And so, yes, the autographs were for me, a man pushing 40 and way too old to be asking for signatures that I am not selling on eBay.

I am not planning to sell it on eBay. I am going to frame the thing and keep it on my desk. I was geeking out. Let's put all the shame on the table. I had no plan to do this, and so I had no pen. I did not let that stop me. Though it had been a beautiful day to be in the audience, it was also a very hot hour on stage for Sleater-Kinney. The band was ready to go recover, and I should have let them. Instead, I asked them if they had a pen. None of them did. Guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein (who looked in particular need of hydration) shrugged, and the band began to drift toward the stairs leading off stage and out of my universe. So I turned to the people setting up for Spoon, bummed a pen and charged after Sleater-Kinney. I got my autographs on the song list.

For the past decade I have written about music and never behaved like that. Even more, when I was actually young enough for it to be acceptable to get autographs, I never asked for one, not even once. It would have been beyond uncool. I was a teenager; uncool was the third rail of life. But the thing about being old is that you are freed from the tyranny of cool, not caring or worrying about it. The other thing about being older is that there are fewer and fewer artists who make you speechless with admiration. Or maybe it is that you tend to admire older artists for work of theirs that is even older. Yet, for almost a decade now, Sleater-Kinney has managed to offer music that has made a meaningful contribution to my joys, perceptions and understanding of the world. That's a lot to say thank you for. And I wanted to thank them for their music, their concert and for coming to Las Vegas for the first—and probably last—time.

Before starting, Brownstein had asked the crowd how many of us were from Vegas. My hand shot right up, and she pointed at me and said, "Just you." I couldn't see the entire crowd like she could, but I hope that wasn't true. Still, local or not, I was not alone in being there to see Sleater-Kinney. If not hundreds, there were certainly dozens singing along with every song.

But Vegoose was a festival made up primarily of the jam bands, which meant that of an audience numbered at 40,000, only a few hundred had been on hand to see Sleater-Kinney at all. I spent the set (that is, before I headed for the set list) standing comfortably right at the front of the stage. As Sleater-Kinney rocked out, a stone's throw away, by the soundboard, a few folks were spread out on blankets watching the show.

By contrast, when The Flaming Lips took the stage less than three hours later, the crowd was so thick that I could not even see the soundboard from where I was standing far, far back, yet still in the midst of the gigantic swell of an audience. The Flaming Lips, of course, are not a jam band at all. The real draws like Widespread Panic and String Cheese Incident were in the stadium.

So, my goal achieved, I left the band alone and returned to the crowd. No one came up to get a gander at my cool souvenir. Sleater-Kinney's other singer/guitarist, Corin Tucker, told me in a pre-Vegoose phone interview about meeting her idol Patti Smith: "It was cool. It was weird." Well, in this case they were cool and I was weird.

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