By Betsy Ashton
August 24, 1972. Blazing hot. Greek theater was packed. Music was amped up. Counter-culture smoke wafted skyward. Tree people leaned dangerously from their illegal perches. The audience was impatient. Lights finally dimmed. The stage went dark. One loud downbeat, and the show started. The musical prologue went on forever.
From the opening number to the last encore, we were a collective whole there to adore, the performer there to be adored. Neither let the other down.
I was cheering with "Crunchy Granola Suite," crying with "Song Sung Blue," and rocking with "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show." Unabashed fan in heaven.
Mind you, this wasn't the first time I'd seen Neil Diamond in concert. And it wasn't the first time I'd been to a concert at the Greek. I lived a 25-minute drive from the theater. (Two hour drive home afer the concerts, though.) I went all the time in the '70s. Noone, not Manilow, not Devo, not great blues artists, not Earl Klugh, nothing wove the spell Diamond did that night.
My friends and I knew he was doing 10 (!) performances at the Greek that summer. All sold out in minutes. Even with our connections, we had opening night seats in the nose-bleed section almost under the tree people. Man, if anyone of them had fallen, we would have been squished. None of us knew the concert was being recorded. When the double-vinyl set come out, and we heard Diamond give a shout out to the tree people, we knew we had witnessed music magic. We could say we were there on that hot August night.
I've seen Diamond in other venues, larger and smaller, since, but when I think back on that night, when I listen to the CD (now, because I played the grooves off the vinyl), I can still feel the heat of the bodies, the smell of really, really good grass, the music pounding and whispering, the shrieks from the audience. And the grateful bows from Neil Diamond himself.
I wouldn't have my hot August memory any other way.