Of the components that make up a concert experience, the “where” is generally second to the “who.” For the right band, it doesn’t really matter where the concert takes place. Radiohead will probably rule in an arena or at a festival or at a water treatment facility. If Kanye West told fans to go to their town’s seediest gas station to see an intimate performance, there would be a line down the block. Depending on the level of fandom, artists can transcend the location, with the space just a footnote to the unforgettable performance witnessed.
But often, the location is almost just as big of a player as the artist. Sometimes this is simply because of the city or country that hosts the show, as concerts while on vacation can certainly be more memorable than seeing a concert in your hometown. Or maybe it’s because of the size of venue, as a big band playing in a small setting has made for some unforgettable live music experiences. But my personal favorite, and something that doesn’t get nearly enough play, is the idea of non-traditional music venues.
This is mainly what drew me to the North Carolina Museum Of Art in Raleigh on Wednesday, for a performance from Father John Misty and Jenny Lewis. I’d just seen Father John Misty weeks earlier at another one of the best live music venues in the world, the Hollywood Bowl, but I was convinced that seeing a couple of music’s best songwriters outdoors during the museum’s summer concert series would be something different, something special. And particularly in the summer months, music fans all over the country are drawn to parks and other non-venues for the same reason.
In my home of Los Angeles, there are a few of these types of spaces. Most notable is Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which hosts large outdoor concerts during the warmer months and smaller indoor concerts year round. It’s the site of both Chris Cornell and Johnny Ramone’s grave, features an abundance of geese and at least one peacock, and allows visitors to bring blankets and picnics to make a whole evening of it. Artists will generally allude to the surroundings, playing songs that evoke death or burial. When Sufjan Stevens played the space, he used the opportunity to reflect on human beings’ place in the universe, while Explosions In The Sky actually made the entire cemetery an immersive listening experience in advance of their concert.