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Entertainment and county government reporter

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.

Freedom Fest

John Fogerty performs at Freedom Fest.

Well, that’s one more lap around the sun in this crazy race. It sure feels like we set a new speed record getting through 2017, but it has felt like every year goes faster for some time now — I think ever since kids came into the picture. I’m excited for another go-around, but before we get into 2018 I want savor the current solar circuit for a moment.

Musically, 2017 was a great year. I had some memorable major concert experiences, including seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and U2 shows in the Twin Cities, and catching a performance by one of my all-time rock ‘n’ roll heroes, John Fogerty, right here in River City during Freedom Fest.

The U2 show was epic in scale and ambition, celebrating a 30-year-old album that was a major part of my 1987 soundtrack, presenting the “Joshua Tree” album with a stunning visual backdrop and a visceral kick to the songs you might not expect from guys my age.

I will always treasure getting to see Petty’s show in St. Paul. I might have whined about him not playing many of his early rockers — and the show lacked the grandeur and gravitas that U2 brought to the table — but getting a chance to see Petty, the major artist I’d seen in concert more than all others, was such a treat. Given the tragic turn things took for Petty after the tour ended, the concert has become all the more special to me.

As great as those shows were, I don’t know if anything could have topped seeing John Fogerty ripping through classics from his Creedence Clearwater Revival heyday as well as hits from his solo years. It was beastly hot that day, and Freedom Fest organizers came perilously close to shutting the concert down at the last minute because of lightning strikes in the area.

But the lightning and the rain held off and Fogerty held forth, leading a crack band (including his son, Shane, on guitar) through classic hit after hit, with Fogerty offering stories and charming intros between songs. I got to see that show with my wife, my two daughters and my parents — it was fun to see my folks grinning and bobbing their heads to these great songs — and I doubt I’ll ever top the thrill of getting to stand right at the edge of the stage and snap photos for the first three songs of the show.

I’ll remember and treasure a lot of other musical moments from 2017. The whole Mid West Music Fest experience this year was a hoot, capped by a double-dose of thunder — Tenement at the Cavalier Theater followed by a show by Midnight Reruns that might have blown the roof off The Root Note (I hope they checked for structural damage).

This year, I was lucky enough to be in on intimate house concerts featuring Emily Earle and Chicago Farmer — if you’ve never been to a house concert, it honestly might be the best way to see a musical performance, particularly if it’s an acoustic solo or duo act. Everybody at a house concert is there to give 100 percent of their attention to the artist, and having a show in someone’s living room makes it feel like all the people at the concert are friends, artists included.

Other favorite musical experiences this year included Son Volt in Madison and local shows by Dawes, Surfer Blood, Quiet Hollers, Har Mar Superstar, Band of Heathens and Great American Taxi at the Cavalier; Horseshoes and Hand Grenades on the street in front of the Charmant Hotel; Elizabeth Cook in the friendly confines of the Charmant; The Mayer Brothers Band and the Tommy Bentz Band at Leo & Leona’s Tavern and Dancehall; The Voodoo Fix at the Trempealeau Hotel; The Ultrasonic Duo’s Simon and Garfunkel/Everly Brothers tribute at Features in West Salem; Shannon Curfman at The Helm; Porcupine at Riverfest; Shen Teh’s farewell show at the Popcorn Tavern; Twins and Blackfoot Gypsies at The Root Note; and the Woodstock doubleheader at Riverside Park to cap a great year of Moon Tunes.

My musical highlights list really should be longer, but it’s getting harder to remember everything. Also, there were just too many nights when I looked in the mirror and decided the beauty sleep had to be the priority instead of staying out late to hear music. The promising thing, though, is I see a lot more shows with earlier starting times.

This year, I fully intend to get out and see as much live music possible — but then, I probably say that every year. The earlier start times will be an attraction, but there are times when you just have to stay up late. Maybe I’ll see you out there. In any case, here’s hoping for a great 2018 for everybody.

Rock on …

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