We had the incredible privilege last week of attending one of the 40th Anniversary shows for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens. Below, check out dueling perspectives: one die-hard, and one more casual fan, as they work through their reaction to the Rock and Roll legend’s NYC show. 

The Die-Hard

It’s a song I’ve heard hundreds of times. Yet, every single time I hear the opening chords of “Free Fallin'” a wave of happiness pours over me.

Tom Petty’s show on Wednesday was seven years and two days since I had last seen him live, and my reaction to his casual transition into his classic love song mid-set was exactly the same as it was the first time I saw him: a tiny yelp, a few hops and some shaking of the shoulders of the person closest to me in proximity.

Seeing Mr. Thomas Earl Petty at the ripe age of 16 in 2010 was a quest crossed off my bucket list. He is my favorite musician of all time, and hearing my favorite song elicited nothing but happiness.

But this time around, my reaction to the end of “Free Fallin'” was much different—I cried thinking of how special a moment it was. Forest Hills Stadium, as big as it may be comparatively to some other venues in the city, has an intimate feel to it. With a full crowd practically hugging the stage, the feeling of a cool summer night’s breeze during the chorus was expectedly powerful. It was only halfway through his set, and I was already emotional, screaming “And I’m Freeeeeee” with thousands of other fans. My favorite song of 20 years being played right in front of me (again) and I couldn’t help but just feel thankful for how much happiness this one dude has unknowingly brought me throughout my young life.
Luckily the tears didn’t last too long because I’m not THAT much of a sap, and I was perfectly fine to jam the rest of the concert. From his hits like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “You Got Lucky,” to his own personal favorites, I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire show with each recognizable intro to assure me of the perfect sounds about to bless my humble ears. Sure, I would have loved to hear even more of the hits (here’s to looking at you, “Don’t Do Me Like That”), but with a catalog as rich as his, the dude can play whatever the hell he wants and still have a memorable show.
Tom Petty is almost an anti-rock star, with a nasally voice, stringy blonde hair and a Southern drawl full of twang, but it all works so perfectly. Even on their 40th anniversary tour, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sound as crisp as their first album. He told the crowd he wanted to jam and played “I Should Have Known It,” the hit of his 2009 album Mojo. A recent song, a song I’ve rocked out to alone many times, that still fits perfectly into decades of work and one that shows off the skills of his longtime guitarist, Mike Campbell, with a solo I can’t help but bang my head to.
With time to do just one encore song, Tom sent the crowd off with “American Girl,” an anthem about longing for more but still somehow making us feel infinite. Although it’s his go-to capper on nearly every setlist, it’s a poetic ending for a night dedicated to some of rock and pop music’s best ditties. The crowd of all ages seemed more energized as the night went on, and this lifelong fan is still enchanted by the spell of Petty.

Kristen Nelson


The Serendipitous Convert

Have you ever found yourself as a casual fan in a sea of die-hards? In any venue, really—a sporting event, live music, monster truck rally, etc.—it can be an interesting space in which to operate. Personally, I’ve found myself in this capacity a few times in the last month, and it’s been interesting to react in real time to different scenarios in different places.

The latest, for me, came last week at the first of a pair of 40th Anniversary shows for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the wonderful Forest Hills Stadium in Queens. This is a slight variation from the scenario that I described—I wouldn’t even consider myself a casual fan of Mr. Petty; rather, I’m a pretty ardent fan. I know (and love) all of the hits, and find myself listening to him fairly regularly*. But when it came time to the show, I was simply outclassed in my fandom—the people around me knew every word to every song.

*Especially in the summer, as Tom Petty is a mainstay on any good summer BBQ playlist

But again, when you’re a genius making perfect rock music for 40 years, as Tom Petty, both with and without the Heartbreakers, has, that’s generally going to be the effect that’s had. I knew almost all the songs that were played, and from the early-set selections of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” to the mid-set groove of “I Won’t Back Down,” and to the obvious encore closer of “American Girl,” it was a near two hours of complete and utter rockstar perfection. With his deep southern drawl (which, to be fully transparent, I was not aware of beforehand!), Petty bantered between songs, keeping the crowd constantly wondering what would be the next song in his seemingly endless catalog to be brought to life in front of them.

Even as one of the more casual fans in attendance, I was dancing, singing along, and enjoying every last song on the setlist. As a fan of Parks and Recreation, I had a pretty strong emotional reaction when hearing “Wildflowers” play live—it’s a beautiful song by itself, and having that strong memory of an important moment in one of my favorite shows of all time only aided that, and made those feels even more real. It can be tough to feel a close musical connection at bigger stadium-size shows sometimes, but Tom Petty makes songs that cause so many people use to feel such a wide and differing range of emotions; to recall memories, to decompress, to live, and to enjoy themselves. That kind of energy can make even the biggest venues—say, a stadium in the middle of queens—feel intimate.

-Evan Romano

Featured Photo from Petty’s Boston Show by Allston Pudding

Terrible iPhone photos by Evan Romano


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