The first time I saw Tom Petty was August 19, 1999. It was a Thursday night. I was a sophomore in high school. It was my first concert since 1991. It was also the first time I had not gone to a concert with my parents. My best friend Justin and I had both loved Tom Petty and this was going to be our chance to see live, the man who had provided the soundtrack to our youth. This was 1999, we didn’t have the Internet, or cell phones, heck we barely could drive. When tickets went on sale, we had to go to Dillard’s at Paradise Valley Mall, go to the Ticketmaster stand, and get our tickets there in person. The day the tickets went on sale came, and we were at the mall at 9:45AM. We waited outside the doors of that department store. It was a weekday, so there weren’t many other people waiting to go shopping. The doors opened at 10, and we made our way into the store, and walked at a fast pace through the maze of different departments to get to the Ticketmaster booth that was in the back of the store. We had gained another friend who wanted to go, his name was Matt and he worked with us at the golf course. All three of us had saved up $50 to put towards tickets. We got to the counter, and told the lady we would like three tickets to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She typed in a DOS prompt on her computer, and then placed a map of the arena in front of us. How much do you want to spend? She asked. We told her we had $50 each. She told us we could only get upper level with that amount. We were fine with that. We didn’t really care, we just wanted to be at the show. We nailed down a section in the upper level that was closest to the stage. We paid our cash, and waited patiently for the dot matrix printer to make our tickets. The lady put them in a Ticketmaster envelope and told us to not lose them! We were so excited, we were 16, we had just bought our first concert tickets on our own, and on August 19, 1999, we would be going to America West Arena to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. August couldn’t get here soon enough. Our summer was spent working at Kierland Golf Club, picking up golf balls on the driving range, washing golf carts, and the soundtrack to our shenanigans was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Thursday August 19th, 1999 finally arrived. That day at school couldn’t go any slower. The arms of the clock moved like molasses. Finally, the last bell rang, and I was free. It was the first week of school, so I didn’t have a ton of homework, the little I had, I got done right when I got home. Then it came time to head down to the Arena. Justin was in charge of driving. Our chariot for the night was his Mom’s beige Ford Windstar minivan. As I waited for Justin to arrive I received the typical lecture from Mom and all the reminders that came when I left the house. Wear your seatbelt, be safe, and come home right when the concert ends. I agreed, and watched out my living room window for Justin to arrive. As Justin pulled up, he layed a quick double honk of the horn to let me know he was there. I say goodbye to my Mom, walked out the door and we were on our way. We picked up Matt, made sure we all had our tickets and then got on the 51 and headed south to downtown Phoenix. We parked the minivan and headed into the arena. The Blind Boys of Alabama were the opening act. We were all surprised that they were actually all blind and listened to them sing their hearts out. They ended their set, and it was time for Tom Petty.
The excitement we had for this concert had been building for months. He came out and started the set. I don’t remember the exact setlist, but we stood up and never sat down the whole time. The smell of marijuana rose to our second level seats and we found ourselves singing all the songs that had accompanied so many memories of our lives. I can’t tell you how many times we high-five'd each other. I had never experienced live music like this. I got goosebumps multiple times. I remember clearly the guitar solo during Don’t Come Around Here No More, and the strobe lights going off made the hair on my neck stand up. Live music was my new addiction and this concert was my gateway drug. The concert continued and hit after hit was played. As more time went on, I still had not heard my personal favorite song, Free Fallin. I didn’t think he couldn’t play it, but then as the lights dimmed, and it seemed like the concert was over, I figured I wouldn’t get to hear my favorite song. I hadn’t been to a concert in a long time, and was not particularly familiar with the concept of an encore. When the lights went out and the band exited the stage, I noticed the energy pick up. The crowd was not moving, people were banging their chairs, and I wondered to myself, does this really work? Will he come out and play another song? It seemed like an eternity that we stood there yelling “One More Song” over and over. Then it happened, the moment that will stay with me forever. The lights stayed dimmed. I could see some movement on the stage. All of a sudden a spotlight shined down on the microphone at the center of the stage. There was Tom Petty, guitar in hand. He stood there for a minute, the crowd got more quiet as time went on, and then with two strums of his guitar came the chords so many of us wanted to hear and along with those chords we heard “She’s a good girl”...This was how the concert ended. And I couldn’t have asked for a better live music experience then that. I have been to hundreds of concerts since then, some have been good, some bad, and some have been amazing, but none of them will ever hold a flame to that concert and that moment when Free Fallin was played during the encore.
Tom Petty’s music would continue to be the soundtrack of my life after that and still is to this day. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself going through a tough time and listening to “Learning To Fly” and how the lyrics “So I’ve started out, for god knows where, I guess I’ll know when I get there” have brought me solace. Or the peace I get when I listen to “Wildflowers”. I could list so many songs and lyrics that feel so much like they are a part of my life and the parts of my life where his music was playing in the background. I am so grateful to have been able to experience Tom Petty live on that August night back in 1999, my love of music would not be what it is today if I had not. Thank you Mr. Petty and Rest in Peace.