The Rocktober Challenge: 2 Concert Fans See 50 Shows in 31 Days

What happens when two concert fans team up to embark on a month-long quest to test the limits of their love for live music?

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve wondered about the insanity and courageousness of concert fans. Back in 2008, I spoke with a fan who attempted to see 20 shows in 20 days.

And now, as 2010 comes to a close and we begin to contemplate and compile our list, we have another amazingly ambitious and crazy concert fan adventure to share with you.

Back in October, I saw the status update below come across my Facebook Newsfeed.

“Countdown to Rocktober Immortality: Seen 47 bands in 28 days. 3 more to go. Many of you said it couldn’t be done. Many of you clucked your tongues and stroked your beards saying “What’s to be done with this Drew Fortune?” Dare to dream people…dare to dream.”

And the second I finished reading that status update, I wanted to know more about this bold quest to see if it was worthy of other exciting fan news in 2010.

And it was.

To discover more of the details and inspiration behind about the Rocktober Challenge to see 50 bands in 31 days, I went right to the source.

So without further ado, here’s the list of 50 bands they saw during their cross-country quest, followed by a Q&A with the ambitious concert fans themselves: Drew Fortune and Tara Anderson.

As they reflect on the meaning and significance of their journey, you’ll see how their amazing Rocktober experience was filled with pleasure, pain, profound discovery and friendship. And for those of you thinking of trying the same thing, pay close attention to Drew and Tara’s sage warnings for concert fans who dare to follow in their footsteps.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about their quest, let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.

Rocktober band list:

1. Guided by Voices
2. Pavement
3. Sonic Youth
4. Yo La Tengo
5. Belle & Sebastian
6. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
7. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
8. Superchuck
9. Spoon
10. Cat Power
11. Fucked Up
12. Girls
13. Cold Cave
14. The New Pornographers
15. Esben and the Witch
16. Come
17. Teenage Fanclub
18. Zues
19. Jamie Lidell
20. Loneliest Monk
21. The Spectral Cities
22. Yawn!
23. Young Man
24. Japandroids
25. Walkmen
26. Craig Waldren
27. Greg Dulli
28. DM Stith
29. Sufjan Stevens
30. Paradise Waits
31. Devotcha
32. Band of Horses
33. Lucero
34. Social Distortion
35. Frank Turner
36. Honda Pavarotti
37. Canasta
38. Black Prairie
39. Bob Mould
40. JW Williams
41. Carl Weathersby
42. Infernaeon
43. Casualties
44. GWAR
45. Milk at Midnight
46. The Cathy Santonies
47. Rachel Roberts
48. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound
49. Peter Terry
50. Joe Firstman with Trey Lockerbie and Marianne Keith

LF: What inspired you to challenge yourself to see 50 bands in 28 days? Did you have any examples of other fans that had tried it before?

DF: It all started when my partner in crime Tara Anderson and I realized how many insanely good bands were playing Chicago in October. For me, it was about the best concert month in memory. Matador Records announced their 21st Anniversary party Oct 1-3 in Vegas with some of my all-time favorite bands, so it seemed like fate had pretty much determined that we were going to be sacrificing an entire month to the music Gods.

We toyed with the idea of shooting everything for a documentary, but I’d just seen Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Not Here documentary, so the idea of us actually losing our minds and blowing lines off of strippers on film might have proved detrimental to our careers. The actual idea of Rocktober seemed far-fetched even when we were halfway through the month, and it really did become an endurance trial. To my knowledge, I’ve never heard of anyone undertaking a project like this, and I don’t advise anyone to attempt it. After all, we’re professionals. And insane.

TA: Insane indeed. Looking back the goal of 50 bands in 1 month doesn’t really make much sense, or even have a nice ring to it. As Drew said it was all about October being epic and the idea kept snowballing with each new e-mail received about a gig that was not to be missed. At one point we even contemplated attending CMJ in New York and Voodoo Music Fest in New Orleans. Surely had we done this the goal of seeing 50 bands wouldn’t have been much of a challenge.

How did you come up with the list of bands and show dates that you wanted to see?

DF: We had a wish list of bands that we wanted to see, but ticket prices and sold out shows were obvious obstacles. Some gigs we had to attend simply to make our weekly deadline, even if it was an artist we knew nothing about on a cold Wednesday night when we were both exhausted. I interviewed Teenage Fanclub and Band of Horses opener Besnard Lakes, so certain shows were work related. At times, it got so desperate that we would have been willing to see a busker on a street corner playing a kazoo just to check off another gig.

TA: Throughout the duration of our quest I would prepare weekly ‘This Week in Rock’ emails that I would send to Drew and we would tweak along the way. This seemed to keep us on track to reach our goal and gave me the opportunity to dictate the bands I wanted to see (insert devilish smile).

What specific criteria did you have for determining what a show was. For example, did the shows have to happen at different venues, etc.

DF: We were pretty strict about our criteria from the beginning. DJ’s playing between sets didn’t count. If a band happened to be playing at a restaurant or a location incidentally, that didn’t count. We had to get the artist’s name and hear at least one song in its entirety for a performance to be put up on the Big Board. Different venues were not a priority, but we did get to experience an interesting cross-section of Chicago venues. For instance, one night we would be at a sold-out gig at the Chicago Theatre and the next we’d be singing the blues with ten people at Kingston Mines.

TA: I can’t think of a single band that we only heard one song and added it to the list. Don’t be so modest Drew, we stuck it out through full sets for those we counted.

What did you learn the most about your love for live music during the Challenge? Would you suggest other fans try the same thing?

As the Events Editor for PopMatters, I’m constantly seeing live music. This year, I covered SXSW, Coachella, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. One thing that has constantly been on my brain for the past few years is that there is very little danger anymore in the live experience. I was born a decade too late. I would have loved to have seen The Replacements getting wasted and chunking sets. I missed literally getting shit on by GG Allin.

In that sense, after seeing 50 bands in one month, I never saw one fight or bit of bad behavior. That’s a good thing, but I yearn for a time when rock shows were dirty, raw and visceral. That’s just me being jaded. In the end, I learned that having sore legs and feeling fatigue is a small price to pay for the shared experience of seeing live music with an amazing person by my side. If you don’t believe that on any given night a band could suddenly be your life, it’s time to pack it in and buy season tickets to the opera.

TA: For me it was a realization of a preexisting condition: concert obsession. I think this was my way of dragging someone else into my crazy desire to inundate my life with live music. Before this we were already going to several shows a week and even after receiving congratulatory praises for surviving Rocktober, we’ve managed to make it to a handful of shows rather than do what most would expect and lay low for awhile.

What was the hardest part about the Challenge? Did it make you love live music more, or did it get to be a chore as the days rolled on?

DF: I think somewhere around the three week mark, I had completely lost any excitement about seeing live music. When I took a moment to analyze it, it was a scary thought. For me, music is the constant soundtrack to my life, and to not be excited about seeing Japandroids at Metro is just wrong. I’m 28 years old, but sometimes I feel like a 40 year old. I think that Japandroids show was really the turning point.

Tara and I were exhausted, and I slogged into the venue and ordered a 4-dollar water (I’ll refrain from spewing bile about inflated venue beverage prices because I’m already sounding like a bitter old bastard). The opening chords of “Young Hearts Spark Fire” hit me, and suddenly, I was there. I wasn’t thinking about work the next day. I wasn’t thinking about my tired legs. I was suddenly 14 years old again, seeing The Rolling Stones for the first time. Live music still holds an amazing power over me, and sometimes you just need to prick up your ears and wake up.

TA: The hardest part for me was trying to accomplish this task without getting fired or losing all my friends. The Rocktober challenge actually sparked a class action divorce on my Facebook page where friends wrote about my neglect of all other obligations. Somehow I managed to pull through with a job (for now) and plenty of supporters patting me on the back.

What was your experience like physically and mentally during your quest?

DF: I can honestly give most of the credit to Tara for us finishing our goal. All kidding aside, this really was an epic quest. One thing that constantly pisses me off is tardiness. On a Wednesday night, with a band scheduled to go on at 10:30, there is absolutely no reason for them to go on 45 mins late. They’ve got us there, and building the energy by staying backstage does not make me happy.

So, after long nights and early mornings, I pretty much existed in a state of perpetual exhaustion. There were many nights when I suggested we stay in and watch a movie, and Tara would end up dragging me kicking and screaming to a three billed concert just to make quota. What started as a lark quickly became a quest. I have her to thank for it.

TA: Drew hates tardiness, hahaha. In all seriousness, physically I was drained and it appears that caught up to me as I spent the first week of November sick as hell. And mentally, I lived in a fog, a really loud fog.

Other than completing the numbers side of the Challenge, did you have any other personal goals you wanted to achieve?

DF: We talked about the documentary for awhile, and to try and hit as many different venues as possible. We soon realized that the task of contacting publicists to get on guest lists, conducting interviews and merely surviving another week became the main goal. One day I’d like to turn this project into a memoir, and we already have the film adaptation in mind. Richard Linklater or Cameron Crowe will direct, and Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogan will play Tara and myself.

As a music writer and editor, how did the Challenge impact your desire to write about live music? Did you journal or document your adventures with video or audio recordings? If so, what did they show you?

DF: I wrote a piece on our three days in Vegas with Matador, but writing about live events gets to be tricky after the while. There are only so many adjectives to describe the smell of a venue or the socio/economic description of the crowd. However, when a band delivers a killer, full-throttle set, my mind races and fingers fly on the keyboard. At one of the worst periods in the concert business, with high-profile festivals and gigs being cancelled and ticket buying at an all-time low, it’s interesting to see that people will still show up to support artists on a rainy Tues night. That love will never die, and that desire to share an experience with a band, even for an hour, is still a really special human connection. As a writer, I’m constantly interested in that experience.

If you were to do the Challenge again what would you do differently?

DF: It still amazes me that we set the number at 50. My initial idea was to do something with a nice ring to it, like 31 bands in 31 days, and Tara came up with the number 50. I still think she’s crazy, and it felt like a marathon, but a quest should never be easy. Whether you’re scaling a mountain, swimming the English Channel or seeing 50 bands in 31 days, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices.

When you cross that finish line, it feels good. And as we saw our last band on Halloween night, with November closing in at the stroke of midnight, we left the venue and drove off into the night feeling satisfied. There are a few things I would have done differently I suppose (maybe shouldn’t have gotten hammered at the Gwar show). In the end, I have zero regrets.

TA: Honestly I didn’t come up with the number 50 (I blame another person for this madness). But once it was on- IT WAS ON! My only regret is putting that ring on the wrong finger after a night of drinking at a show and ending up in the Children’s Hospital.

Thanks again to Drew and Tara for sharing their Rocktober experience. If you have a question for them or want to share your own concert challenge story, please post it in the comments below.

This Rocktober exploration is yet another fantastic chapter in our ongoing series of Live Fix experiments. You can check out more concert fan stories here.

And stay tuned as we continue to examine the results of this Rocktober Challenge, and more of the emotions, psychology and sociology of the live concert experience!

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