The Filene Center at Wolftrap
22 July 2008
The Filene Center at Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts is both bold and beautiful, both intimate and intimidating. Standing on stage, the performer can easily get swallowed by the massiveness of the venue. Sitting on the lawn area at the back of the covered shed, the average spectator must strain to even see the artist on stage. The talent must maintain a stern presence if they intend to get their message across. No small task, and many are not up to the challenge.
Not so for Mark Knopfler and his band of travelling musicians. On Tuesday night, 22 July 2008 – a mere three years and one month after performing there on his wildly successful SHANGRI-LA Tour, and only two years and one month subsequent to his duet performance with Folk/Country star Emmylou Harris at Washington D.C.’s DAR Constitution Hall in support of their ALL THE ROADRUNNING collaboration – the journeyman singer/songwriter/guitarist and founding member of 80’s rock giants Dire Straits returned to the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area and took the Filene Center at Wolftrap by storm. Literally. On this night, Knopfler and Company proved two facts to be indisputable: 1. There is a God in Heaven, and 2: He (or She) likes good music.
My wife and I had been planning a return trip to Wolftrap ever since first attending a Knopfler concert there in 2005. As soon as the KILL TO GET CRIMSON Tour was announced, anticipation built. No date was listed for the venue, however, so it was Philadelphia and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts that would have to suffice. Then circumstances changed and God smiled – the first of many Heavenly smiles that this event would evoke. Wolftrap was added (or more to the point revealed) and tickets were acquired. Row G, Front Orchestra, Seats 1-4. This time out, a decision was made to include two relatives, both avid Knopfler fans. my wife's mother, a fan since first receiving SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA as a Christmas gift, and my dad’s wife, herself a fan since being forced to absorb hours of Dire Straits music played far too loud by a child not of her womb. Both women in their sixties; both women far removed from the concert going scene. dad’s wife’s claim that the last concert she attended was the Beatles in the 60’s not quite accurate… but close enough to illustrate the possible insanity of the decision. But the decision was made, the tickets were in hand and the night was upon us. Insane or not, there was a concert to attend.
The night started much like 2005’s visit, but vastly different at the same time. Down to dad’s with the two kids, drop them off, pick up his wife, back in the car and off to get mother-in-law. All four in the Rav4 now, music humming, temperature outside topping off at a humid ninety degrees. Dinner reservations already made at the Ovations Restaurant inside the Park. Expecting us at 6:30. Glance at the watch: 5:15 and we’re almost there. Driving too fast… no traffic whatsoever. Gonna be early and not a damn thing I can do about it. Try to slow the forward momentum but can’t bring myself to do it. Anxious and worried. Tense and nervous. Can’t relax. Want this night to go right for everyone involved, but especially for the ladies. Unlike my Wife and I, neither have seen Mark Knopfler perform live. Both have wanted to, especially dad’s wife. Want them to enjoy every minute. If they don’t have a good time…
We arrive. It’s 5:40. Dinner is not until 6:30. We are hungry. There is a sign as we pull in that tells us: “Tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT.” I smile. Out of the truck – good thing about arriving early as we park very near the exit – and decide to start the hike up the hill. Bathroom break for the ladies and I check with the Hostess at Ovations. Maybe we can get seated early. “I’m sorry… what name did you put the reservations under? Ummmmm, no…. nothing for six-thirty… nothing for that name at all. Could it be listed under a different name?” S***. This is starting all wrong. Sweating now. Partly because of the heat, partly because of… “How many of you are there? Four? Fine, come right in.” Now that’s more like it. In we go to a beautiful outdoor, tent covered dining area. Fans rotating slowly… just enough to stir the air and cool the skin. Our meal here in 2005 was to die for, so expectations are high. Seated, drinks in hand – wine for the ladies, Corona with a lime for me – cheers all around. What to eat this time out? Hmmmmm… the buffet again I think. All you can eat of the most delectable dishes imaginable. Chicken with sun dried tomatoes, rigatoni with sweet Italian sausage, baked Mahi-Mahi, roasted pork loin, roasted red skin potatoes, corn, salad, breads, muffins, iced tea, and on and on and on. Fill my plate. Chicken, rigatoni, red skin potatoes, corn, salad… yeah, I know, I’m a pig. But I work out so piss off. Chicken is dry but other than that… to die for. Once again. Fill my plate a second time. Good conversation takes over the meal. Lazy dinner extends until almost 7:30. Waitress snaps a group photo while we dine. Smiles and sweaty faces all around. More concert goers file in. More smiles on everyone’s faces. Things are staring to look good. Pay the bill – mother-in-law treats, hurray for me! – and back out into the heat. Bathroom break for the ladies, then over the hill and the ladies get their first look at The Filene Center. Jessica Hoop is already on stage, warbling away. No worries though, none of us came to see or hear her. Grab a programme and Guy’s CD, a quick trip back to the truck to deposit same along with all four pairs of sunglasses; won’t need them now. On the way to the truck I run across a rather irritated man who seems to be extremely upset about something… can’t quite make out what. Then he tells me that he did not expect, nor does he approve of, the opening act. Money and time wasted travelling all the way up from North Carolina to see the show, only to be assaulted by an opening act. Demanding his money back. Not mocking him, just relaying an encounter. Hope you found a way to enjoy the show my friend as it was well worth the irritation of Jessica’s moaning and strumming. Personally don’t mind the opening act as it has given my entire group the time to pee. Repeatedly.
Down the hill, to the truck, back up the hill and back inside the gates. Sweating. Damn it’s hot. And there it is. The grand stage at The Filene Center. If you have never been there… well, words just do not do it justice. It is a massive wooden structure with multiple levels and rows upon rows of seats extending all the way up and down a huge hill. My wife looks at me: “Let’s go in. I just got stung by a mosquito.” In we go. Oh wait… I have to pee now. Men’s room, in and out and down into the seating bowl. Down we descend… and down… and down. The temperature dropping several degrees with each step. Passing row upon row. Hundreds of fans already seated. Thousands. Row K, Row J, Row I, Row H… then Row G. The end seats. In, down and… wait a minute… do I have to pee again? Just as I hit the seat, Jessica Hoop announces: “This is my last song.” Cheers go up. So do the lights. She looks so small up there! She exits. Crew enters with guitars. John McCusker tunes up a bit. My wife asks: “What’s up with all the Rock-A-Billy music?” Guy’s pre show playlist. I smile. It’s time.
Mark Knopfler and Gang storm the stage. From this moment on, we… all seven thousand sold out sweaty and sticky fans… are transported to a higher plane. CANNIBALS begins and Mark’s guitar is nowhere to be heard. I see the man playing it, but where is the sound? The band seems relaxed, but again… no guitar. The song ends, Mark rubs some powder on his hands and just like that, there she is. That sweet, liquid guitar. WHY AYE MAN, WHAT IT IS, SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA… the momentum builds. A quick stolen glance to my left reveals ear to ear grins of the ladies faces. Two tracks from KILL TO GET CRIMSON sound even better than on the album. And then it starts. Mark finds the smallest of openings in the sky splits it open. Like a gaping wound into the Heavens. Mark Knopfler starts speaking directly to God. Forget the sea of faces below him… this man is on a mission. He’s not playing for us anymore. This note’s for God. And he looks absolutely HUGE doing it. Ballsy. Gutsy. Bold and sure. Confident and assured. HILL FARMER’S BLUES is when it starts, this open forum with God… making proclamations during SONG FOR SONNY LISTON and MARBLETOWN (the former laying bare Danny Cummings roaring talent for all to see and the latter showing off McCusker and Worff’s luscious interplay) and it does not abate until well after the final note of GOING HOME. The crowd, almost as if it senses that Mark has left us, starts to scream and holler during, between, before and after each song. Forget a “listening audience,” this group of dedicated fans wants to be HEARD! Cheering Mark on with each riff…urging him deeper into this mystical conversation with God. And do you know how I know God was listening? Because I saw the lightening. Sometime after the first chords of TELEGRAPH ROAD, the sky became alight with the most massive display of appreciation from the Heavens that one has ever seen. Perhaps in response to the massive display of firepower that was SPEEDWAY AT NAZARETH, (during which a space ship like descent of that famous steel guitar lighting rig transpired) or perhaps in response to mere fact that Mark was holding court. Either way, the Heavens responded in full force. Shards of explosive light ripped across the sky. Even from deep under the cover of the huge Filene Center roof you could see it. Even when I closed my eyes I could sense it. It looked exactly like the album cover for LOVE OVER GOLD. And the track playing was from said album. Tell me again there is no God. God was listening and God was happy. And you know what God did, or more to the point did NOT do, in addition? He (or She) refused to announce one single crack of thunder. God did not dare interrupt Mark’s genius. Wise choice on God’s part as one would be foolish to tamper with Mark when he is strapped behind any number of magical guitars which graced the stage. The man was simply unstoppable. It was moving. So much so that very near the end of BROTHERS IN ARMS, a fan who clearly could not contain himself shouted: “Thank you Mark!” Yes that fan was me and no it was not planned. I was moved nearly as much as God was. Maybe more so.