by Annette Dashofy
I remember the quiet summer evenings of my youth, playing in the yard while my parents sat on the front porch reading the paper and watching the traffic go by. Sometimes I, too, would just sit and watch the cars. The most entertaining part of traffic watching back then was keeping score of red cars and blue cars or learning to name the different automobile models as they cruised by.
Twenty years ago, that all changed. In 1987, a new concert venue opened seven miles from my rural home. Locals predicted that Star Lake Amphitheatre would be a huge flop and called it a white elephant. After all, people from the country drove to the city to attend concerts, not the other way around.
Since then, traffic watching has never been the same. Since we live on one of the main access routes to the facility, the sheer volume of traffic increases ten-fold on concert nights. “Must be someone playing at Star Lake,” one of us proclaims as a steady stream of vehicles whooshes past our house. But it’s not just the numbers of cars. Oh, no. The vehicles themselves and their occupants provide entertainment for those of us porch-sitters along Route 18.
Country western fans largely drive to the shows in large 4x4 pick up trucks sporting Confederate flags. The occupants imbibe large quantities of beer on their way to the concert. I know because, since this is farm country, rest areas are few and far between, so vehicles often pull off just past my house so that the beer drinkers can relieve themselves. I recognize the stance the guys take as they tumble out of their cars, trucks and vans.
What is frightening is that those fans who drink on their way TO the concerts also drink DURING the concerts and then have to drive home FROM the concerts. As a consequence, the numbers of drunk driving arrests and car crashes on Route 18 and Route 22 have escaladed over the years. Our local cops set up sobriety check points in Burgettstown and often have a half dozen cars pulled off to the side of the road at any given moment. Oddly, they always wave my husband and I by when we encounter one of the check points. I guess we don’t have “the look.”
But to be fair, it isn’t only the country western fans who drink. They aren’t even the worst offenders. On June 23, 1992, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead descended southwestern Pennsylvania. With them came the Dead Heads. Every VW minibus still in existence at the time drove past my house. They parked on either side of Routes 18 and 22 for at least five miles in all directions from the Amphitheatre.
They parked in people’s yards and camped there (some with permission, some without). They camped in the parking lot of Burgettstown’s only grocery store. It was as if the circus had come to town. Sadly, Jerry passed away before the Dead could make a return visit. When they came without him, it just wasn’t the same. The festive atmosphere was gone. And I don’t recall any VW minibuses camping along the road. Too bad. Since they weren’t in MY yard, I found it all rather amusing.
In 1999, the Star Lake Amphitheatre became the Post Gazette Pavilion (although if you ask any of us who have lived here more than a few years, we still refer to it as Star Lake). We may not have Jerry Garcia’s fans to entertain us on our front porches any more, but this past weekend, Jimmy Buffet made his annual stop in Burgettstown.
We don’t need a concert schedule to tell us when Mr. Buffet is here. It’s the only time of the year when cars with inflatable sharks tied to their roofs drive past our house. There are some plastic palm trees, too. One SUV had “Margaritaville or Bust” scrawled across his windows. Ah, the Parrotheads.
Back in the days when I baled hay all summer, one of the gals who helped on the farm also worked as a security guard at the Pavilion. She told me that Jimmy Buffet’s fans were the most unruly of any she had to deal with. I don’t know why, but this surprises me. Intense, yes. Loyal, absolutely. Unruly? Having never been to one of his concerts, I have to take her word for it.
Of course, since I live so close, you’d think I’d attend concerts there all the time, right? Hardly. I’ve been to a few, some rowdy (Hank Williams Jr., the Eagles) and some mellow (Chicago, John Denver).
Frankly, the traffic going to the concerts are every bit as entertaining as most of the acts that perform there. And porch seats are much cheaper.