Back in the Day (Part 3) – “Thank God for Festival Seating”

We pick up our story with my cousin Nick and I somehow finding a parking spot for his Karmann Ghia, taking care to keep it “engine-out” just in case upon leaving, we would need to ask somebody to help us jump start the car (I’m just sayin’). 


We had finally arrived at the One World Festival of Music!  I had been to a few concerts by that time in my life, but I had never before experienced an honest to goodness, full sized, “Change-Your-Life” Rock Festival!


 We made our way to Pitt Stadium, melting into the flow of young humans winding in streams around the stadium and eventually through the entrances.  Soon, we discovered that there was no assigned seating—naturally it made sense for the One World Festival of Music to have “festival seating”. 


For those who don’t know, that means that everyone could sit wherever they wanted, and that included on the ground directly in front of the stage.  This turned out to be heaven sent as we’ll soon see.  Nick and I worked our way toward the stage intending to make contact with our friend, George, who actually was the stage manager for this massive event.


 When we got to the stage, I turned around to look at the crowd.  The stadium was filling, and I noticed the area in front of the stage was rapidly being covered with a thousand different colored blankets.  There were banners and flags proclaiming the “One World!” sentiment, and I was filled with a sense of what “Power to the People!” could mean.  I was overwhelmed with the possibilities if all of these people were united in action.


“Arte… hey man!”  I snapped out of my musings; George had come to the edge of the stage and was trying to get my attention.  He said that the “Powers that Be” had given the OK for me to perform after one of the main acts as the stagehands set up for the next, since I only needed a microphone for my voice and one for the guitar.  “Watch for me to give you a signal, then come up.” George said as he dashed off to resume his stage manager duties.


At that point the whole experience began to take on a dreamlike feel.  So, it hadn’t really sunk in… I was to perform for this healthy chunk of humanity!  Nick was in overdrive, telling me how awesome it was that today some 50 or 60 thousand people would come to know me and my music. 


“You have to do at least one of your original songs, man!” Nick was saying as he circled me, coming at me from another angle.  I told him that I wasn’t sure about that.  My songs hadn’t really been tested enough for something like this.  I didn’t want to blow this chance to make a good impression on so many potential fans. 


I was walking slowly, scouting for a place for us to sit as Nick babbled on about how fantastic this whole situation was.  My mind was on my performance.  What would I play?  How many songs?  I wonder what it’s like to play with a sound system.


I spotted a couple sitting alone on a huge blanket, and I asked them if Nick and I could join them.  “Love and Camaraderie” must have still been in the air—they smiled enthusiastically motioning us to sit. 


The concert got underway, and after all these years I don’t remember the order of the main acts.  But, after the first act played their last note, I anxiously watched for George’s signal… for about 45 minutes.  The signal didn’t come, and the next act launched into their set.  Well, there must have been a good reason that George didn’t call me up.  I will probably get the signal after this act.  But, I didn’t.


I didn’t get the signal after the band that followed, or the one after that!  I should tell you here that I was now on an emotional rollercoaster.  Gearing myself up to perform—my excitement and confidence; my attitude; drawing on my energy reserves; feeling positive—only to come tumbling down when I wasn’t called.  And there I wallowed in doubt, disappointment and growing despair.  I had told around 350 people that I would be performing here.


So, on the next break, to take my mind off the rollercoaster, I began to play and sing as I sat on that blanket.  There was no one onstage, and Nick and the couple who owned our blanket were immediately into it, clapping their hands to keep a beat. 


Soon others nearby joined in.  I mentioned before that I had a powerful voice with a machine-gun guitar style.  With “festival seating”, there were a lot of people on the ground in front of the stage close enough to hear me play—easily in the hundreds.  And I let it rip!  It felt great to break away from the rollercoaster!


There’s no question in my mind that some of those within hearing range had seen me at the gas station the night before.  Because, somebody shouted, “Go up on the stage, Arte!  Go up on the stage!”  Then they started to chant, “Arte!  Arte!  Arte!” and I couldn’t sing over their shouting.  Then out of the corner of my eye I saw George waving from the stage to get my attention.  When I waved back, he motioned for me to come over. 


“Do three songs, Arte.  Just do three songs!”  he was saying as he pointed to the left side of the stage.  “The stairs are over there.”


This was it!  My mind was reeling as I found my way to the steps and climbed onto the stage.  With the guitar in my right hand, I started to walk out to the center where 2 mics were hastily set in place.  And I walked—left-right-left-right.  I glanced out toward the crowd. 


The crowd sounded like if you whispered and elongated the word “R-a-w”, only amplified it times a hundred.  And I continued to walk—left-right-left-right.  I looked toward the microphones—it seemed like I wasn’t any closer!  So, I walked and walked and walked and looked again.  I had made little progress  Damn, that stage was a lot bigger than I had imagined!


As I was walking the announcer told the crowd, “We have a special treat for you!  From out of the audience—he’s ONE OF YOU!  Please welcome Arte Tedesco!”  And the audience went wild!  One of their team had made it to the stage!  And, I was still walking toward the center.


When I finally reached the microphones, I stopped and slowly turned to look at the audience.  They had calmed and were waiting to see what I would do.  I smiled and raised the guitar over my head as a salute and they went wild again.  The sound and energy was rushing through every molecule of my being.  In one, swooping motion I snapped the guitar down in front of me and started to bang away at the chords to Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”.


They showed warm enthusiasm for the first song.  Then, I told them that my second song was dedicated to them, because I couldn’t think of a song more appropriate for the moment than “A Little Help From My Friends”—again warmly received.


With one more song to go, the debate in my mind ended.  I was playing one of my own.  I lost myself In the song about people who cried out for help that never came.  And, with the last words from my lips and the last chord from the guitar dying, Pitt Stadium went silent. 


My heart leaped into my throat!  Oh no!  This one, they didn’t like.  I had them and I blew it.  I turned and started the long walk off the stage.  … left-right-left-right—suddenly the stadium erupted with the sound of some 50,000 people shouting and stomping their feet!  I continued to walk as the noise grew louder, morphing into a chant, “Arte! Arte! Arte!”  I was still walking—left-right-left-right, when George ran out from the side of the stage motioning for me to go back… back out to the microphones.  I nodded and turned around to the roaring approval of the crowd. 


I went on to do another 45 minutes of my music before it was all over and Taj Mahal took the stage. 


My career has gone on for some 43 years since that day at Pitt Stadium.  The first 10 years were brutal, since I steadfastly refused to do anything but play music for a living.  But, through the trials and challenges that tried me, if I started to doubt my abilities or the path I’ve chosen, the echo of the sound made by the audience at “The One World Festival of Music” would come to me.  And, I would think, “Yeah, this is what I was born to do.”, and I knew that somehow things would work out for the best.


Thank you all for spending the time here.  I appreciate your interest in my music more than words can say, so…


‘nuff said!