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Rebecca Zamon is the manager of audience growth at The Globe and Mail.
There’s a common feeling I’ve noticed among my fortysomething friends – and my parents and their friends: As we get older, discovering – and genuinely loving – new music is a lot harder. Any time we throw on tunes, almost inevitably it’s a playlist of songs that were popular during our teens and twenties. And why not? These are the songs that made us obsess over music, the soundtrack to some of our most meaningful memories.
This isn’t a new observation by any stretch. As Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern explained in an article about the charmingly named “neural nostalgia” a few years ago: “Researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults – a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.”
For me and many of my peers, summer is now lived vicariously through our kids. They’re at the age when they’re starting to push toward independence, have their own adventures at summer camp and yes, create playlists that will carve out very specific pathways in their memories. It’s easy as a parent to get lost in their plans, but every summer, I try – and I think succeed – to reclaim a bit of myself in the form of concerts.
Fortunately, the summer music calendar tends to deliver, targeting many of its shows toward people of a certain generation. This year, it’s bringing out those elder millennials, Gen-Xers and their parents who have been waiting all through the pandemic to sing along to old favourites. In Toronto, we’re lucky to have a slew of outdoor venues, my favourite of which is the Molson Amphitheatre (another way to show your age? Insist on using the names of venues as they were called in your youth. Shoutout to the SkyDome!).
Every time I enter those venue gates, near the shores of Lake Ontario, I’m instantly transformed back into the girl who was there in her teens for Lilith Fair and in her twenties for Moby, once again unabashedly singing and dancing, as the weight of grown-up responsibilities slides off my shoulders.
For more than 20 years, as August nights start to cool their way toward September, I’ve attended Blue Rodeo’s annual concert in Toronto with a group of women I’ve been friends with since we were 10 years old. From our lawn seats, we belt out the songs we sang at summer camp together, laugh at stories worn shiny with time and reconnect over Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s harmonies in a way that we couldn’t do anywhere else.
Summer concerts are the stuff of tradition, the adult equivalent of sitting around the campfire as that one person who can play guitar strums lazily to Neil Young and Bob Marley. They let you jump up, squeeze the hands of those you’re with, forcibly tap your toes or do whatever it is that allows you to be present and gratified by the undeniable bliss of live music on a warm night. They bring you back to yourself, to all the selves you’ve been before, and remind you just how much more there is to come.
What else we’re thinking about:
Outside of concerts, the sounds that are most likely to fill my ears are those of podcasts. I rely on news shows like The Globe’s The Decibel to fill me in on details of big stories, I nerd out on tech news with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, I revisit the movies I used to love (seeing a theme here?) with the Rewatchables and I chortle along with the irrepressibly engaging hosts of Forever35 and Normal Gossip. These voices accompany me as I wash dishes and clean up messes, but they were also there for me during the toughest days of the past two-and-a-half years, providing an intimate escape into a huge variety of other worlds.
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