When the New Times asked me to attend Ted Nugent's concert last night at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix (Sunday, August 5, 2018) and write about the crowd, I was apprehensive at first and a bit conflicted. Why was this, you may ask? Well, for a few reasons.
First and foremost, I like Ted Nugent. Talk to him about music and you'll understand why. The guy is a huge fan of rock and roll music. He is, dare I say, "Bigly" passionate about the subject and has an almost encyclopedic mind when it comes to bands and concerts he attended. When I interviewed him in 2016 for this article, we talked for almost 90 minutes about all manner of things, but mostly his obsession with the art form that has given him so much opportunity in this lifetime. It's kind of endearing, really, but there are the other layers to the Ted Nugent onion.
Even though I like Ted Nugent the music fan, when you talk to him, you realize that the only thing he's a bigger fan of than music is himself. He likes to talk about himself and the confidence he exudes goes way beyond charming bravado. He's a walking Ted Nugent propaganda machine, which is also amusing, to a point. Then he opens his mouth about politics and the state of our country and things really start to go sideways for a guy like me who likes to look at all sides of the argument before making up my mind. With Nugent, there is only one argument and that is his own.
On Sunday night, at least for the first half of the show, Nugent stayed true to form and riled up his audience with multiple accolades about how great his riffs were and are. He did say wonderful, and well deserved, things about his top notch band which features Greg Smith on drums and Jason Hartless on bass, but still most of the focus was on how great his songs were and how great it was that he was in Phoenix to play them for the crowd who he referred to as the "Last great white buffalo" at one point before deciding that he, himself, was actually the "Last great white buffalo."
Another reason for some apprehension on my part, at least for this assignment, was that I usually write about the band, not the crowd. I am part of the crowd, you see, so when I start to point fingers, I have to remember that there are still three fingers pointing back at me. The only way to do this fairly is to just call it as I saw it and what I saw was, in most ways, pretty much what I expected to see, even though I had never been to a Ted Nugent concert.
The first thing I noticed was just how shitty many Nugent fans park. There were lots of oversize trucks in the parking lot which is a direct reflection on Nugent's attitude about many things: go big or go home. Anyway, as we drove through the lot looking for a space, it was hard not to notice now many people were having a difficult time fitting their car between two small white lines. Tailgating was also in effect and Bud Lights were getting downed with impunity at several instances by middle aged white dudes in t-shirts bearing the images of animals and cars in most cases.
While on the subject of middle aged white dudes, of which, technically, I am one, this was the bulk of the Ted Nugent audience. Most of my fellow 45-55 year old guys were wearing some combination of a concert or car-related shirt and cargo shorts and walking slowly as to not spill the $10 beer in their hand. It is odd that so many people were getting their drink on in a major way yet Nugent never touches the stuff. Personally, I always felt a little odd drinking at Fugazi concerts back in the day, but I guess, to be fair, I didn't let their views on alcohol stop me either.
While I'm not a statistician, I'm moderately good at math and would estimate that 65% of the crowd was a white male aged somewhere around 53. 30% of the crowd was white females who also looked to be about 50, and 4.9% of the crowd was Native American males and females, also in a similar age range. The other 0.1% of the crowd were children and people of color. So who goes to see Ted Nugent (at $50 for the cheapest ticket, mind you)? That's right. Middle-aged white people and not necessarily the pretty ones.
I expected to see a lot of Trump hats or shirts but I only saw one. There were a lot of people wearing camo (one extremely furry, i.e., bearded dude had a killer camo kilt), but not as many as I expected and a lot of people wearing clothes that represented the US flag or the US military, as well. One young-ish lady, early 40s, I'm guessing had a wonderful shirt that said "LOVE" on the front but each letter in "LOVE" was made up of either rifles or hand guns. Fitting and definitely a great way to get Nugent's attention.
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A very patriotic crowd for a very patriotic artist, I suppose. In fact, the backdrop for Nugent's stage was a large US flag, so it was fitting that he opened with the Star Spangled Banner, as well, which guaranteed an immediate standing ovation at the end. It's not that most of the crowd didn't seem friendly, because the few people we spoke to were very nice (and drunk), but there did seem to be an underlying vibe of confrontation in the air, which Nugent loves. The guy loves to be the loudest guy in the room and when he's holding a guitar, that's fine, but much of the crowd also seemed like they like to be loud in rooms, too.
My wife said to me at one point, "This is the true Republican America here" and I have to agree. There were about 1500 folks gathered to celebrate their particular brand of freedom rock with Uncle Ted on a Sunday night and they had a blast. They might not have been the most stylish or diverse crowd, but they ate up everything the "Motor City Madman" had to offer and then some. Would I want to go to another Nugent show? Probably not, well, definitely not, but I still admire the guy's taste in music and he's a fantastic showman, even if he also serves as his own hype man, kinda like Chuck D and Flavor Flav wrapped into one almost 70 year old hard rockin' body.
And if you don't get that last reference, you were probably at the concert.