Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

tom petty in baltimore

The Cheap Seats Tour took one to the gut on Monday.  Still deep in shock over the mass killing at the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas late Sunday night, the news that Tom Petty was found unconscious and unresponsive in his home in Malibu was more than I could fathom. I was in the middle of things at work and had to hold it together for 4 more hours before I could process and deal with it. I stuffed it down, wiped my tears and acknowledged the news as clients, friends and family were texting and coming in sharing what was going on.  Concerts and fans were hurt so deeply this week (I’ll have to blog about that in the near future – so oppressively heavy this week.)

Let me rewind back to December 9, 2016 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers announced their 2017 tour and it would likely be their last. Jon and I decided to get to Baltimore to see them. We had to. We couldn’t not see them as they were HIGH on our bucket list. Red Rocks Amphitheater or the Ryman Auditorium were our preferences but it didn’t work out.  Baltimore in late July was the next best for us. We got our usual cheap seats and were delighted to find good ones close to the stage up on the sides of the venue – Royal Farm Arena.  We had never been to Baltimore together before, so it was a great weekend – driving up on Saturday, roaming around the waterfront the rest of the afternoon and most of Sunday and then going to the concert on Sunday evening. We stayed across the street from Royal Farm Arena which is in the inner harbor area. It was perfect. We took in Camden Yards and the inner harbor area by foot and water taxi.  We literally didn’t touch our car until we were leaving on Monday morning.

The show was great. We shopped the shirts – happy that it was their 40th anniversary and we had celebrated that with other bands this summer too.  Our traditional Fireball shot was done in our hotel room, but we were pleased to see Fireball vendors at the arena.  Cheers – we toasted again.  We settled in and just really enjoyed being there. Peter Wolf of J. Geils fame opened – it was ok. (I probably set myself up for disappointment because I would have preferred the Joe Walsh opening act from earlier in the tour).

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were on stage and the place was filled with happy, happy, joy, joy rock and roll juju. In the moment I was filled with a happiness and a feeling of being at home in something familiar and loved. The tour was supposed to be the Wildflowers tour, so I expected the full album and then some. It was and it was great. They played the same setlist pretty much through the whole tour.

  1. Rockin’ Around (With You)
  2. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  3. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  4. Forgotten Man
  5. Into the Great Wide Open
  6. I Won’t Back Down
  7. Free Fallin’
  8. Swingin’
  9. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  10. It’s Good to Be King
  11. Crawling Back to You
  12. Wildflowers
  13. Learning to Fly
  14. Yer So Bad
  15. I Should Have Known It
  16. Refugee
  17. Runnin’ Down a Dream
  18. Encore: You Wreck Me
  19. American Girl 

It was great. Big screens. Great visibility. Tom moved on the stage and played to the cheap and the VIP seats alike. The whole band sounded great. Tom sounded and looked great. We left in the glow of a really great concert – probably perfect as it was just enough (not too much like Bon Jovi who played about 12 songs too many).  I was so happy and fulfilled on a soul level. We knew each song like the lines on the back of our hands. Each song on the setlist was like a marker in time in my life and Jon’s. We met shortly after the release of Full Moon Fever, so a lot of his music was in the time of us.

“Wildflowers” was probably the highlight for me. I soaked every second of it in.  I swear I thought we recorded it, but we didn’t. Probably best so it remains in my mind forever.

It was such a great, satisfying concert that I didn’t realize until yesterday that they didn’t play “Breakdown.”  Breakdown was the first song I recall hearing Tom Petty sing.  The beats and the first chords drew me in and then I was cinched in with “the voice.”  Kinda Bob Dylan, but different. It was unlike anyone else.

I’m playing Breakdown right now and it hurts to hear. Too bittersweet. Maybe too soon.  I  wanted to watch the Tom Petty documentary last night and wallow in it, but Jon said it was too soon and to sad for him to bear. I concurred. I’m bracing myself to play a full hour of Tom Petty in a tribute class I’ll teach on Friday night (there will be Petty fans there and we can grieve together.)

So today, I’m looking at the farewell tour setlist and like the concert itself, it is a perfect farewell.

They started with the first song of their first album, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Rockin’ Around With You” and closed with the last song on the first album “American Girl.”  In between were their seminal hits and the sweetness of most of the songs of “Wildflowers.”

Not included in the tour setlist were Breakdown and songs from a sweet soundtrack album TP&TH did for She’s The One. My favorites on that are “Walls (Circus),” Beck’s cover of “Asshole” and “Angel Dream #2.”

Why does this hurt so much? It hurt so much when Bowie died suddenly after his last album was released only hours before. It was incredibly sad when Prince died and especially under the circumstances of his pain. This has broken my heart to the point where I can’t even get through his songs without crying like I have lost a dear friend.  Maybe it’s because Bowie and Prince were like unicorns. We lived in the time of them, but they were like precious creatures from another planet. Tom Petty, he was one of us. He wasn’t exotic looking. He wasn’t extravagant. He was like us.  His life was hard. He loved music and the people who established the deep roots of rock and roll. We shared his giddy delight in collaborating with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn and Roy Orbison, to name a few. He became friends with them. He held them in high esteem. He learned from them and they learned from him. I love the stories of how hard he tried to get George Harrison to play the ukulele. He recreated, reassembled his original band Mudcrutch and took them out for a few performances last year. Wish I had attended.

I deeply respected that he intended to hang up the tour bus keys and spend the rest of his life with his family. Just like us, he wanted balance and was making choices. I only wish he had more time to spend with them. I was happy to hear his daughter was front and center at his last performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Just like a friend, his death was too soon. Yes, we have his music, but he was one of us. I’ll leave you with the words to Walls (Circus) –

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

Sundowns are golden
Then fade away
And if I never do nothing
I’ll get you back some day

‘Cause you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down

And all around your island
There’s a barricade
It keeps out the danger
It holds in the pain

Sometimes you’re happy
Sometimes you cry
Half of me is ocean
Half of me is sky

But you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down. Yes they do

And some things are over
Some things go on
And part of me you carry
Part of me is gone

But you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down

Baby you got a heart so big
Oh you could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down
They fall down
Ah, yes they do
Yes they do
They fall down


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