I don’t know about you, but during my childhood, eating before an outdoor event involved a cheese and pickle sandwich, munched on in near silence inside the family car with unrelenting rain cascading down the windows.
In the States, it’s very different. They have actual long hot summers, the jammy sods! Last week, I experienced my first American tailgate at a Tom Petty show.
Forget baseball games. The tailgate is the quintessential American experience. It’s a sort of makeshift camp involving parking along side friends, lighting up barbecues and imbibing pre-event beer. A very convivial atmosphere abounds that shows American friendliness off to its best advantage. Don’t have a beer? – have one of ours. Hey man, you like TP, I like TP – come and eat some brats.
Although the tailgate is a staple of America’s summer culture, it has remained dormant in the foreign consciousness. For unknown reasons, it hasn’t crept into Hollywood films until fairly recently. But Silver Linings Playbook and How I Met Your Mother have included tailgate scenes if you want to get a visual.
We ended up tailgating with the head brewer at Short’s Microbrewery: a brewer in the vicinity is guaranteed to be the most popular man in the room around here – next to Tom Petty.
I don’t think Tom Petty is as big a deal back in the UK but over here he is revered, retaining a cross generational appeal. Just look at this clip from the 2008 Superbowl.
Quite strange really; mention TP to an American guy, and they either go ‘F*%$ Yeah, Tom Petty!’ (young men), or a fond smile steeped in nostalgia sweeps across their faces (baby boomer men), and at one point during the concert, a young woman leaned over to me and said ‘I know he’s really old, but I’d still totally tap that!’ Disagree on whatever you wish but Tom Petty is probably America’s best bet at achieving world peace. I suspect it has something to do with weed.
As we pulled into the car park at Pine Knob ski hill, the air was thick with the stuff. The irony of our location was not lost as we drove past countless fifty/sixty-somethings cranking up the car stereos and partaking of the ’erb (somewhere, a 20-something graduate is going without a house down payment). As the designated driver, I could tell this was going to be a long night.
It seemed our group had enjoyed the tailgate a little too much. By the time we had climbed the steep steps to the top of the hill it was packed. We set our rugs down right at the top of the hill and the warm up act, Steve Winwood (yes, he of the ‘Valerieeeeeeeeee – call me’ dirty aerobics video that was always playing at Pure Gym on Broad Street) was a minute spec at the bottom, our view blocked by a shifting array of tall people and their Amazonian girlfriends who never pass up the opportunity to sit on their boyfriends’ shoulders.
Galling! The sound wasn’t up to much from our alpine perch, and eventually half of us descended the hill in search of better acoustics (and beer). The difference was immediate; suddenly Tom Petty was at least a centimetre bigger and I could hear the lyrics – something about Mary Jane? Ahhhhhh. We took advantage of this position until the penultimate song, scrambling up the hill to be reunited for ‘American Girl.’
The Aftermath: I was keen to vomit – the contact buzz from thousands of politely shared joints was finally overwhelming me. Rubbish littered the site like a last minute Glastonbury. Last night (Kiss) was sold out too – how do the staff clean up so quickly? The stairs were rammed – a bottleneck caused by someone vomiting down the steps. A boy on crutches decided to bypass this by swinging himself down the ski hill. The inevitable happened – crash, bang, thud – looked like the good leg caught it this time. It turns out that no matter what country you’re in, binge drinking will turn us into arseholes.
I started driving back to settle my stomach. My husband reclined, dozily in the passenger seat.
‘Now that baby,’ he slurred, complete with nostalgic smile, ‘was the real America!’