I’ve been going to concerts now for almost 45 years, starting with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1972, back when people would smoke cigarettes (and other things) at arena concerts. I’ve been to a lot of great rock concerts since then, seeing Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, U2 and George Thorogood multiple times, as well as The Who, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Boomtown Rats, Rush, Bob Seger, Cheap Trick, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Pretenders, Moody Blues … the list actually could go on longer than my weekly columnar space allotment, but you get the idea.

For all the concerts I’ve seen over the years, though, I’ve actually only camped out overnight in line for tickets for one concert: Aaron Carter.

My apologies to those of you who just did a spit take all over your newspaper (or computer screen).

When the teen pop sensation came to La Crosse 15 years ago, my daughter, Becca, was deep into an Aaron Carter infatuation phase. She was 8 years old at the time, and though I had tried to raise her with an appreciation for classic rock and early rock ‘n’ roll, she preferred the hip new fresh sounds she was hearing on Nickelodeon.

Typical.

As a journalist, I wasn’t making the kind of money that would allow me to lavish Becca with all the fancy things a young girl might want, but I recognized the opportunity to give her a great memory. With an aim of getting her front-row seats, I decided I would camp out to buy tickets for the Aaron Carter show.

It must have been early January when the tickets went on sale, and it was frigid. I put on thermal underwear and the insulated overalls I only wore for subzero snowblowing and pulled my snowmobile boots over three layers of socks. I think I know what Randy in “A Christmas Story” felt like.

I got down to the La Crosse Center about 3 a.m. and Pearl Street already was lined with cars. There must have been at least a few dozen people in front of me in line, clearly more committed to front-row memories for their kids than I, but maybe some of them didn’t want to sit so close. I sat down on the sidewalk with my back against the Center building and waited for at least a couple hours until, to my surprise, they opened the lobby of the Center so people didn’t have to wait in the cold.

In the lobby, I peeled the upper half of my overalls off and even then it still felt like a steamy jungle in there for me. It must have been at least an hour later, maybe two, that I reached the box office window and asked for two tickets. “Second row OK?” the ticket seller asked.

I was a little bummed, of course, but I think I made up for my front-row failure. When the time came to interview Carter for a Tribune story, I called him from home and I let Becca listen in on the other line (this was back before cell phones). She actually got to ask him a bunch of questions herself, and I arranged for her to be part of Carter’s pre-concert meet-and-greet, where she got her favorite CD autographed and got her picture taken with him.

I was reminded of this by the recent announcement that Aaron Carter, now pushing 30, is coming to perform Feb. 2 at La Crosse’s Cavalier Theater, a more intimate venue by far than the La Crosse Center, which he filled with screaming fans at the tender age of 14. No doubt his performance at the Cavalier won’t have the fancy light show, the three-tiered set and the troupe of backup dancers he had at the Center, but I’m tempted to go with Becca.

On the plus side, these days they have this thing called the internet and you can just click on some keys to order tickets instead of standing outside in the cold.

I’ve been amazed at the flurry of concert announcements coming out of the Cavalier lately, considering how few there have been for most of this year. Other concerts announced at the Cavalier for 2017 so far include Afroman (Jan. 26), Riff Raff (Feb. 6), Band of Heathens with Great American Taxi (Feb. 10), Vibe Street with Evanoff (March 1), OG Maco and Young Greatness (March 21), Kool Keith (March 25), Grateful Dead Experience: The Schwag (April 1), Jeffrey Foucault (April 5), comedian Neil Hamburger (April 9), two days of Mid West Music Fest shows (April 14-15) and Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque (June 5).

They aren’t all exactly my cup of tea, but I couldn’t be happier to see the Cavalier getting all these shows, especially considering how dire things looked a couple months ago.

Rock on …

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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Randy Erickson, formerly the editor of the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life and Coulee News, covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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