A people's history - A first person account of my first 311 Day spectacular
311 Day 2020 - March 11th-13th - Park Theater at Park MGM - Las Vegas, NV
Let's unpack a few things first that you will want/need to know to fully enjoy this article, so let me paint you a picture.
This will be the only mention of the current pandemic that not only threatened to shut these shows down but the city, country & world at large that in fact came to pass starting the following Monday (i.e. the forced solitude most of us are currently in, which also inspired this article) It made looking forward to the shows difficult as it was so touch & go while in town you weren't sure they were even gonna take place from day to day or even minute to minute. Bummer.
Next, I was in Vegas on a separate endeavor, working on a documentary on another band that P-Nut will be featured in He & I met over 10 years ago due to his interest in a band I was working with directly with one of it's members. Since then he & I have enjoyed a lasting friendship and we always have fun when we see each other. Here's a fun video we made at the Hive studio last Spring catching up over a few beers you can watch HERE. I was extended a very generous invitation to attend these shows while I was in town. This is my first 311 Day experience.
After an extremely stressful day of travelling & working on the film, I did my best to get over to Park Theater in time for the start of the show. With my filming schedule I wasn't sure I was even gonna be able to attend any of these shows but with such a kind expression of generosity I made it a priority to make it if nothing else to the first show that was actually on 311 Day, March 11th.
Making it inside just as the lights went down, what greets you is this intense white noise over a simulated transmission befitting of the band's Ode to An Alien motif that suggests each member is being transported to the show by some paranormal entity. It sounds corny as hell but it was super cool looking & impressively well done & ultimately effective. It gave you the vibe that some real arena rock of an Iron Maiden level was about to go down.
It also came with a countdown of an additional 15 mins. Cool, now I can relax, use the bathroom & get a beer (which they were serving a 311 specific beer Amber Ale, that I only had once when Aaron kindly brought us one from his cooler back in Dallas).
You might should also know that I'm largely unfamiliar with the majority of the 311 catalog & somehow wasn't even aware of this bi-yearly celebration until recently (see link to video above). However I did get to enjoy a few perhaps enviable experiences for younger fans as I saw the band a few times in some tiny clubs way back in 1992 by happenstance as they were an unknown band at the time opening for a local band that our friends were in. At that show I bought one of their early, pre-major label releases. A pun intended grassroots effort with a black & white photo for the cover sleeve called Unity (that ultimately it's sell on Ebay almost 15 years later helped finance my move to NYC in 2006).
In fact those first 2 records were kinda our life at that time from '92-'94 when capricious youth puts ultimate importance on having that one obscure band only you & your friends seem to know. Here's a silly pic of me from 1994 (which could be in the running for most 90's pic of all time).
And then for whatever reason around the time Transistor was released we had just moved on completely. It wasn't until 311 management invited us out to a show at Jones Beach in 2010 that I was aware the band was even still together & started to feel nostalgic for that time. But ultimately it's my unexpected & enduring friendship with P-Nut that motivated me to kinda find out all I had missed. I know these special shows are all about the deep cuts for the hardcore fans which I can totally relate to & while their was so many I was unfamiliar with, I loved sharing the enthusiasm of the people around me getting to hear something they had longed for. Every song felt like a gift to someone & collectively everyone.
One thing that originally drew me to the band is it's message of positivity & it was great to meet so many nice, excited people.
Early into the show I couldn't help but notice this one girl with great style & so gorgeous I wasn't sure she was even real. To disclaim, I'm sooo not a creeper & beyond fortunate to be married to the smartest & most beautiful woman I've ever seen. In fact, I'm so dizzy in love with my wife that most women I see in everyday public barely register other than the acknowledgement of respect to another human being. I tell you this to drive home the point that this girl was impossible to ignore, to the point it was almost a distraction. I mention it as a footnote of more to come + this is a first person account and just trying to paint a picture of my experience. Anyway, at one point I guess I was doing pretty well matching the fast ending rap on Don't Stay Home when Perfect Girl turns around stunned/impressed smiles at me & gives me a high five. Good times
I should/shouldn't mention that before I left my hotel in a hurry to make the show, I decided this would be the perfect time to try out this new ear/nose trimmer I just got for my birthday the week prior. I've never used one & was in a hurry and as I was walking from the parking garage at New York New York across the box office entrance to the T-Mobile arena (to illustrate how last-minute this soiree was for me, I wasn't even sure where it was.) There was a about a half dozen uniformed cops standing in a circle chatting while on duty, when I interrupted one of them to ask where the concert was (I didn't seen any 311 fans to follow yet). I'm smiling and non-threatening as one does when making the choice to be in the company of police when he looks me at all concerned, silences the other
cops, and looks at me with a bold stare and says "Young man, are you OK?" - This was unexpected so I said, "Yes sir, just looking for a concert" while unbeknownst to me, I had practically sliced my ear off back at the hotel & in a rush didn't notice/feel there was dry blood from my ear to my elbow.
Only in Vegas would this happen to me. So I had that to deal with before making my way in to the show.
Setlist: Night 1
Show was great, admittedly there was alot I didn't know but it really didn't matter, it had the same level of energy & fun throughout. They opened with Freak Out like I remember from the old days, did this ill cover of The Stones' Waiting On A Friend with some really great archival footage from again those early days that made me feel super nostalgic. And forgive me if this is old hat, but something super cool happened during Let The Cards Fall with people really getting into the Vegas motif were throwing cards in the air. P-Nut said it best at the end with his expression of gratitude of what the 311 fan community has become. I had no idea, it was like being at 311 Comic Con, people were sharing homemade bracelets & made their own jerseys with their fave songs on the back. I've only seen that kind of dedication for very few other bands.
Same entry as above (minus the bleeding ear thankfully) & again arrived just a few minutes before the "transmission intro". I decided to watch from a completely different place on the floor & wouldn't you know it, I look up and right in front of me once again is Perfect Girl. I'm thinking now, "Ok she's gonna think this isn't a coincidence and I'm just gonna move to another part of the floor". But before I do that some friends of hers apparently took her and her friend away.
So, I'll stay put.
Don't know if it's a debut or not but this ran through this ill jam listed on the set as Jump Room & I swear I thought I heard Nick does his verse from Firewater in there.
Perhaps my fave moment of the whole three day experience is when bandleader Nick Hexum brought his 10 year old daughter Echo out to play piano on a cover of Asia's Only Time Will Tell.
I'm a proud father to our little boy & we are expecting our little baby girl to arrive in just a few short months & I could really relate to this & it touched me deeply. You could see & feel Nick doing his best to contain his emotions while beaming with such pride & totally present for a memory of a lifetime. I spoke to Nick briefly about it the next day and he was practically levitating. I don't know Nick on a personal level but it was such a great thing to witness him bringing the inspiration to do this to life and enjoying it's rewards.
Their was ALOT in this second set I was unfamiliar with. Of the 15 songs I think I knew like 4 of them haha but Welcome that opens the Music LP & Summer of Love both brought back some great memories from that period for me.
Unfortunately this part is gonna be a bit of bummer (but I promise it ends well so stick with me). Though I had a guest pass, I wasn't planning on coming the third night and/or I was certain it was cancelled + I had a red eye flight that evening at 1am. In just a few days word had gotten around that the world was about to change dramatically. Also I was suddenly feeling guilty for even being in a large crowd as my wife is 8 months pregnant & I was worried that I could now be putting her & the baby in danger. This wasn't truly iluminated till a few days later & I like most people was still in quite disbelief. Then all my shoots got cancelled so I really had nothing else to do, so I thought I can just go to the airport or I can rawk out one more time, on Friday the 13th no less at what may be the last concert for minute. My support for the band to continue with the show remains.
However gloom seemed to set over the entire day, I ate at this really great place Esther's Kitchen in the arts district right before coming to the show & ended up having to bounce the drunk jerkoff sitting next to me at the bar. To be clear, I'm not a tough guy by any stretch & pose no intimidation, it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances where he was harassing the girl to his left & there was no other choice. The restaurant handled it perfectly & thanked me for my assistance. Then as I walked to the car, it was pouring down raining, so I showed up in kind of a bummer mood.
Also, (this is gonna make me sound like zero fun haha) + as mentioned I love the positivity that surrounds these guys but their is also such a thing as toxic positivity and quite frankly the insistence of it by some was starting to get on my nerves.
Secondly, while I have nothing against weed & the cannabis industry as a whole, I've always loathed that thing some people do where smoking pot is somehow their identity. It's their center of gravity anchored with some type of clothing with marijuana leaves as a badge & it's all they talk about. The only turd steamier is when this package comes supersized in the form of white guy with dreadlocks obsessing over one of those fucking vape pens. This is the part of the aesthetic I have to maneuver & was clearly outnumbered.
Now I may been in a bummer mood but that doesn't excuse the dude in front of me being so rude as to have his elbow menacingly close to my face for two straight songs & even after I made him aware so he could make the right decision when I kindly asked him to cool it. He basically told me to go fuck myself so I made the decision to put a stop to it manually. When he was clearly flaunting lack of any compassion or concern from the warning I gave him, I prevented his reckless fist pumping from connecting with my nose by grabbing his arm, twisting it behind his back & pinning him to the barricade. The girl he was with could see blood in my eyes and begged me not to break his wrist. This is not what I came here for. Even shittier is that if there were any deep cut that I knew/hoping to hear is Bomb The Town which they were playing during this little scuffle.
Thankfully it was the last song of the first set and rude boy & his girl fucked off after I let go.
Strong All Along
Don't Tread on Me
The Great Divide
You Wouldn't Believe
Life's Not a Race
Can't Fade Me
Getting Through to Her
Bomb the Town
It was a really fun set full of old songs that I knew, wish I could've enjoyed it more.
As the second set began I started to feel terrible & like a real asshole. Here I am an invited guest & getting into nonsense with a stranger. It was just a really heavy day & I considered leaving during the extended drum solo. Then something kinda amazing happened - For whatever reason I started to flash back to a special night with old friends way back in 1994 that I still think about from time to time. I hadn't really put it together that the song that enters my head when I think about that night is 1,2,3 from Grassroots. The line "....it's alright to feel good, it's ok for nothing to be wrong" has always comforted me & all these years I've just repeated the line when I'm upset but somehow my memory has separated it from being associated with 311. Then the epiphany hits and I go "Wait! that's a 311 song!, I could really benefit from hearing that right about now". And as almost if on cue, (my Jedi powers are REAL I tell you!) they played it.
Stealing Happy Hours
Charge It Up
Who's Got the Herb? (H.R. cover)
One thing I found funny was the audible groan when they started to play Down and Amber (two of their most popular songs) there are purists even among 311 fans! haha
They wrapped the show & week & a dual encore: The former with a light show from the fans phones through a special band branded app. The latter all acoustic played at the front of the stage to drive home the point that they've been here for 30 years & aren't going anywhere anytime soon with I'll Be Here Awhile.
Livin' & Rockin' (w/ 311 Day light show App)
Creatures (For a While) I'll Be Here Awhile
It felt befitting of the culmination of being a band for 30 years & what a beautiful thing to celebrate & going all out with their most dedicated fans they came from far & wide.
As I'm walking out, now into the casino the crowd kinda pushes me & another person to walk side by side for about 30 yards and wouldn't you know it, it was Perfect Girl.
Before I could even resign myself to say this is ridiculous and simply introduce myself, she calls out to me & says "Hey! Great rapping the other night" & we
had a great chat & laugh at our seemingly cosmic constant proximity. Her name is Benee' (even her name is perfect haha) was hands down the friendliest & most welcoming person I met in this whole experience. Cheers to her for being so awesome.
How's that for an ending?! - Now onto the airport!
Much love & respect to the entire 311 band & crew - Extra special thanks to my man P-Nut & management for having me, greatly appreciated.
Congratulations on 30 years of rawking, it was quite a sight to witness how profound this thing has grown since I first saw it in front of 20 people in on off-campus bar near TCU in Fort Worth 28 years ago. Here's to a hundred more - Cheers!