Blossom Music Center – Ohio, USA

Blossom Music Center
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA

Blossom Music Center
Driving Time: Just over six hours from Bloomington, Indiana
Total Mileage: 350+ from Bloomington, Indiana

For my birthday a few years ago, my very cool sister gave me two tickets to see the band Radiohead in concert. That was by far the best birthday present I’d ever gotten. It was a gift in celebration of getting ready for my first year of college, it was a chance to spend time with my sister, two years my senior and a hundred miles away, and it was a chance to rock like I’d never rocked before. I was, to put it plainly, stoked.

But then, after my initial excitement died down, I actually looked at the ticket. And I thought, “well, crap.” Not only was the concert just a few days away, it was in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – a place I’d never heard of, much less knew the geographic specifications of. I figured big sis would probably take care of getting us there, but I knew I might have trouble giving the second ticket to a friend on such short notice, especially since most of my friends were lame, non-Radiohead-liking people.

The plan was for my sister, a friend of hers, me, and whomever I chose to accompany me to pile into her little Saturn and take off at dawn, check into a hotel, jet off to the concert, have the time of our lives, crash a night and drive back the next morning. But as my sister and I left our house to pick up her friend that morning, things started to get interesting.

First off, I hadn’t been able to find a friend of mine who simultaneously a) liked Radiohead b) wasn’t working or otherwise committed for two days and c) met my sister’s approval for sharing space with for six hours. Okay, no big deal there – it would have been hard not to have a good time no matter who I was with. It did leave us with an extra ticket, which I figured would be easy enough to sell at the show. But on the short drive to pick up my sister’s friend, let’s call him Ken, she explained to me that the dynamic was about to get strange.

Those of you reading this who never experienced any romantic drama in your late high school/early college years, thank your lucky stars. Those of you who lived through it, I invite you to reminisce with me through a very interesting and somewhat frustrating car ride.

Apparently, the night before we were to leave for the show, Liz (my sister) and Ken had had an important discussion. They’d been friends for a long time, and Liz had had a serious boyfriend for much of that time, but Ken had never made a secret of his more-than-friends feelings for Liz.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

Long story short, Liz had finally broken to Ken in a not-so-subtle way that she wasn’t interested, was not planning to leave her boyfriend for him, and that he should probably just shut up about the whole thing before her boyfriend kicked his butt. Not an easy conversation to have with anyone, but remember that no one in this story is mature enough to deal with this kind of thing in an adult manner. In retrospect, Ken probably should have stayed home. Or driven separately. Or done anything at all instead of get in the car with us that morning. But Ken is a stubborn, stubborn guy, my sister is equally stubborn, and both were insistent about pretending they weren’t furious with each other for the duration of the trip.

The first three hours or so were devoid of conversation. I sat shotgun and snoozed, Ken sat in the back, perfunctorily ignored by my sister and feigning sleep, and Liz’s stereo blasted mix CDs at top volume. It may have been tense, but at least it wasn’t explosive. Until we stopped for gas, anyway, and I switched seats with Ken. From that point on, the two of them spent my birthday trip trying to outwit, out-cool, and out-nonchalant each other. I’m still impressed by my own calm and non-violent stance throughout the trip; I imagine that if it were to take place today, I’d have something to say about what morons they were being.

It started with the music. They talked about music, something each of them thought they knew more about than the other, and dodged sarcastic barbs from each other while straining to formulate elaborate monologues about the ‘truth’ in one band’s music or machine-gunning useless trivia about this group or that, each more obscure than the last. I suppose it was fitting, considering our destination, but good heavens, it was annoying. I spent my imprisonment in the back seat staring out the window, trying to pick out the cars headed to the concert, which were usually identifiable by the signs in the windows or the shrieking kids hanging out of them.

One of these signs ended up being our relief from the weight of the extra ticket. We passed a car somewhere in the wilds of Ohio with a pleading “NEED ONE RADIOHEAD TICKET” sign in the window, hailed them over to a rest stop, and my sister bartered away the ticket. Everyone left happy, especially me, since Liz gave me the proceeds to pocket.

The mood inside the car lightened after that, although both Liz and Ken were unflinchingly too cool for each other for the remainder of the ride. Eventually, we made it to the hotel. I was really surprised – the hotel was freaking nice; it turned out that Liz’s boyfriend, who was a Mariott employee, had hooked us up with a deal on a Residence Inn suite for the night. We got settled, and Ken went to take a shower, leaving me alone with my sister.

For twenty minutes, I listened to her vent about what a jerk Ken was, how he didn’t seem to have the most basic understanding of social communication and blah blah blah. Then, when he came back, Liz went outside to talk on the phone with her boyfriend for half an hour, during which I heard the exact same rant from Ken about her. Talk about stuck in the middle. Yikes.

I managed to smile and nod long enough that we made it to the concert intact, and as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, the whole ride became worth it. The Blossom Music Center is a huge open-air venue, holding almost 20,000 people (including the lawn seats), and it was rocking that night. Our ‘seats’, or, to be more exact, the spot of grass that we claimed, was about as far away from the stage as physically possible without actually sitting in the concession stands, but the huge monitors to the sides of the stage made the problem disappear, and the acoustics were great. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring our drugs, but I think someone would have been willing to share if we had asked. Just kidding. Security was actually pretty tight, and from what I hear has gotten tighter; not only are you no longer allowed to bring anything besides bottled water in, it seems that the Ohioan neighbors to the Center complained about the noise in recent years and bands have since had to turn it down a few notches. Too bad for rock as we know it.

The Beta Band opened for Radiohead, and the show was totally awesome, in case you were wondering. All told, the Blossom Music Center was a mix of good and bad: the sound and atmosphere were good, but it was seriously crowded, which wasn’t really a problem until everyone tried to leave the poorly-designed parking lot at once. Blossom is also kind of out of the way. Cuyahoga Falls is relatively close to Cleveland and Akron, but what I mean by ‘out of the way’ is ‘as soon as it got dark, we got lost because someone left the map at the hotel’. After such a show, though, we were all too energized to nitpick at each other, even though it took two hours to drive ten miles back to the hotel, which was a relief.

I slept the whole way back the next day to block out the bickering in the front seat, and in addition to getting to see a darn cool concert, I learned an important lesson about road tripping. You don’t have to be best friends with your travel companions; in fact, some of the best times come from getting to know people you might not otherwise have gotten to know while in the car. But gift or no gift, it’s imperative that you clear the air of unrequited love or other hairy baggage before you start the engine. Choose wisely your words and accompanists and you can diffuse a situation, but a lot of times it’s easier just to avoid it.