The Eagles - and me - at 50
Their 50th anniversary, my 50th concert and a lifetime following America’s greatest band
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Sitting alone in a 15,000-seat arena, waiting for a band that has long bypassed the term “favorite” to take the stage, has gotten different over the years. It’s gotten more reflective.
After 50 Eagles concerts, a near-lifelong endeavor that began in 1994 and hopefully never ends, some of them start to run together. I can’t necessarily articulate – or remember – the difference between the two St. Paul shows or the four Dallas shows or the five concerts in Tulsa.
But I do remember the feeling, because that never changes. It’s the same in Oklahoma City as it is in Philadelphia. The same in Denver as it is in Indianapolis.
So as I sat last Sunday at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., at Eagles concert No. 50, that indescribable feeling returned. With the Eagles’ preshow playlist cycling through songs such as “Doctor My Eyes” and “I Am The Walrus,” I could have just as easily been sitting in Omaha in 2004 or in Louisville five years ago.
I keep going back because every time feels like the first time. Because there’s no replacement for hearing Don Henley sing live. Because it’s fun to tell people I’ve been to 26 or 37 or 41 or 50 Eagles concerts. Because I can’t get that feeling anywhere else.
The show goes on
The first thing that came out of my mouth on Jan. 1, 2017 was something I’d been thinking about for nearly a year.
“This is the first year,” I told my wife, “that begins with no possibility of an Eagles concert.”
I wasn’t so much as telling her as I was examining how those words sounded coming out of my mouth. Whether they felt real. Whether I could accept them.
Nearly one year earlier, on Jan. 18, 2016, six months after I saw him for the final time – ironically, in North Little Rock, concert No. 30 – Glenn Frey, the leader of the Eagles, died at 67 while battling multiple illnesses.
I got the news from my dad, who was scrolling Twitter moments before our daily radio show went on the air. Needless to say, that was not an enjoyable two hours. The following days weren’t a lot of fun, either.
In the aftermath of Frey’s death, Henley went on record multiple times saying the Eagles were finished. It was Glenn’s band, after all – he emerged, with Henley, as the leader in the years following their 1971 formation and served as charismatic, joke-telling front man during live performances. How could it continue without him?
Henley began softening his stance as time passed. He said the band could only continue if Frey’s son, Deacon, who’d impressed Henley with his performance of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” during his father’s memorial, would help fill his dad’s shoes.
And that’s what happened. Deacon Frey joined country superstar Vince Gill – along with mainstays Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit – in a version of a band some fans called Eagles 3.0 and others refused to acknowledge.
I not only acknowledged this version of the band, I embraced it. There is no replacement for Glenn Frey. But if Henley and the band’s manager, Irving Azoff, were set on continuing, they couldn’t have chosen two better contributors.
As for that assertion, back in 2017? It proved false. The Eagles reformed for The Classic West, a festival at Dodger Stadium on July 15, 2017, and I was there. As Deacon blared out the opening notes of “Take It Easy,” I turned to my dad and exclaimed, “He can sing!” And man, can that guy sing.
I’ve seen them 19 more times since.
A moment for Glenn
Let’s talk about Glenn. He was introduced by Schmit in live shows as “the man with a thousand jokes,” but it seemed he had only four.
He dedicated “Lyin’ Eyes” to “my first wife, Plaintiff” and called “Take it to the Limit” “the credit card song” after his wife’s alleged propensity for maxing out her purchases. He said he was from Detroit, “where ‘mother’ is half a word.” And he quipped that his hometown was the city “that gave us Ted Nugent and won’t take him back.”
Sure, the humor was repetitive. But Glenn was the perfect front man for America’s greatest and most popular band. He set the tone for live performances, and his band introductions were an event unto themselves.
Last but not lost, a man who needs no introduction. He is familiar to law enforcement and hotel staff around the world. He never met a man he didn’t like, never met a room he couldn’t wreck. The Master Blaster on the Stratocaster, from the great state of New Jersey…
Glenn was dedicated to writing hit songs and being part of a legendary band, and he willed it to happen. Working mostly with Henley, he wrote classics such as “Desperado,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “One Of These Nights,” “Lyin’ Eyes, “The Best Of My Love,” “New Kid In Town,” “The Long Run,” “Heartache Tonight” and “Hotel California,” among others.
It can be difficult to quantify the impact a stranger has on your life. But anyone who loves music probably understands the emotional void Glenn left – and the massive hole he filled during his time here. It’s not unlike losing a loved one. You never truly get over it and you feel it at times you might not expect. I revisit Glenn’s memory often. I sing his songs louder now. Their meaning has changed.
And I find solace in the fact that Glenn lived exactly the life he wanted. Playing guitar, singing songs everyone knew, being admired. Telling jokes. An incredible life that just didn’t last long enough.
I’ve traveled to see the Eagles alone 25 times, exactly half of my total. I’ve driven to places such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbia, Mo., Sioux Falls and Omaha without a companion.
I’ve called Eagles concerts a religious experience; you might share it with many others, but it’s a personal journey and no person’s relationship with the band or the music is exactly the same.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I increasingly value the memories made with others before, during and after Eagles concerts. Singing “Hole in The World” with my mom and sister, Sarah, on the train back to our Washington, D.C. hotel after Eagles concert No. 5.
Walking way too fast uphill in the cold to see the band in Springfield, Mo. with my dad – that was show No. 12. Enjoying the first show of the History of the Eagles tour, in Louisville back in 2013 – No. 21. Driving to Philadelphia with Sarah, eight hours from Columbus, Ohio., without cruise control in the summer of 2003 for show No. 4.
The two shows with my daughter, who recently said her love for the Eagles was a 9 out of 10. Talk about a proud parent moment.
When the music starts, the company is basically inconsequential. I’m lost in the moment, singing along with every word – except on “Desperado,” that one belongs exclusively to Don. Playing drums on my legs, replicating guitar sounds with my mouth.
But I have to admit, having someone to talk to afterward enhances the experience. It beats walking to the car alone, driving back to the hotel – alone -- and waiting hours to come down from the natural high. Alone.
When you’re in the same space as Don Henley and Joe Walsh, you can never be alone. The moments before and after, though, are better when you’re surrounded by those you love almost as much as the band (just kidding. Mostly).
When you tell people you’re approaching 50 Eagles concerts and have a lifelong obsession with the band, they have some questions. Usually, they’re the same questions:
Have you ever met any of them?
Oh, man. Yes! And how proud I am to answer this in the affirmative. I paid a lot of money to quiver in the presence of Don Henley during a concert/Q&A/photo op near Dallas. And a little less money to be too afraid to say anything to Joe Walsh in Kansas City. I often wonder whether we would be friends to this day if only I’d had a little more courage.
What was your favorite show?
I have a five-way tie here:
- The Millennium Concert in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 1999 at Staples Center.
- The first show of the History of the Eagles tour, in Louisville on July 6, 2013.
- The first Eagles 3.0 show, with Deacon Frey and Vince Gill, at Dodger Stadium on July 15, 2017.
- My first Eagles concert, in Denver with my dad at Fiddler’s Green in Denver on June 15, 1994. This was not long after the Eagles reunited after 14 years for the “Hell Freezes Over” tour.
- My second Eagles concert and the first one with my mom, at Polaris Amphitheater in Columbus, Ohio on Aug. 13, 1994.
What’s your favorite Eagles song?
It changes often between “One Of These Nights,” “The Long Run,” “Train Leaves Here This Morning” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Wasted Time” and “Waiting in the Weeds,” a little-known but incredible ballad from the band’s Long Road Out Of Eden album in 2007.
In live shows, my favorite song is Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” There’s nothing quite like screaming “HE’S COOL!” along with 15,000 other people.
Have you ever sat in the front row?
One time. It was in Sioux Falls on June 4, 2015. Eagles show No. 29. I needed to do it, and I swear I made eye contact with Don Henley at least 16 times. I did everything I could to make sure he knew I was his biggest fan.
Who’s that guy playing guitar at the end of the stage?
That’s Steuart Smith. He replaced Don Felder back in 2001 and has been their touring guitarist for the last two decades. He deserves to be an official Eagle, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
While we’re at it, Scott Crago is the second-string drummer, behind Henley, and Will Hollis and Michael Thompson are on keyboards.
Don’t you get tired of hearing the same songs over and over?
An Eagles-filled life
My 50th Eagles concert was the Eagles’ final show of 2022, their 50th anniversary. The band got together in 1971 but released its first album the following year and hit the airwaves for the first time with “Take It Easy” on May 1, 1972.
This was the 15th time I’ve seen the Hotel California tour, which began in 2019 and resumed in late 2020 after the pandemic. The Eagles play the legendary 1976 album in its entirety, with Gill picking up two lead vocals, followed by a greatest hits set full of singalongs.
The Eagles are a huge part of my life, but at the same time, they’re not real life. In a lot of ways, their concerts are like traveling to a different dimension.
Like a whirlwind, a dream. Multiple times throughout every show, I remind myself that I’m looking at Don Henley, and it feels … strange. Unreal. This man’s voice has filled my many houses and many cars for the last four decades, and here he is singing in front of me. How does that happen? How is that real? How does it happen 50 times?
If you know, you know.
I’ve left many Eagles concerts feeling as though I’ve just seen my last one. The principal band members – Henley, Walsh and Schmit, turned 75 this year. For the last 10 years, at least, I’ve begun to come to terms with the fact that it can’t go on forever.
Except it can. Whether I see one more concert or 50 more, I have memories to last another 100 years. Of Henley, Frey, Walsh, Schmit, Felder, Gill, the other, younger Frey and Bernie Leadon, an original Eagle who rejoined the band for the History of the Eagles tour nearly a decade ago.
The Eagles are more than a band. More than a couple dozen instantly recognizable songs. More than a group of talented musicians who turn out to be far greater than the sum of their parts. More than a night in North Little Rock and more than a milestone.
They’re the best parts of me. Loyalty, love, commitment, exuberance, participation in a community bigger than myself. They’re a feeling I can’t find anywhere else. They’re a life well-lived.
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