Robert Plant Plays Tulsa, 2005 (Or “Rick & Sean’s Excellent Adventure”)
By Rick Barrett
The weekend of merriment began when my good buddy Sean Connolly drove up to Houston on Thursday night, March 10, 2005 from Corpus Christi, Texas. Some hardcore Led Zeppelin fans may remember Sean from various Zeppelin conventions (New Jersey 1988, London 1992, Cleveland 1998, Niagara Falls 99, and Cleveland 2000), as well as a well-known tape trader and contributor to Jay O'Toole's fanzine “The Ocean” in its day. He also worked for Merit Adventures for quite a few years, and processed many Led Zeppelin collectible orders in the 1990s.
After about 4 hours sleep we started our trek at am from Houston to Tulsa, loading up on breakfast at Whattaburger and caffeine at Starbucks. Not having seen each other in 4 1/2 years, we had tons to catch up on, and thoroughly enjoyed the long ride through Texas and into Oklahoma. Many Zep CDs lubricated our ride, too. Upon our arrival for Plant's first U.S. show of 2005, we decided to check out Cain's Ballroom and see what the logistics would be to meet Robert before or afterwards; here's a few pertinent links:
Out back, a security guy and stage hand let down their cold shoulders when told we'd just driven 9 1/2 hours to see the show, and we chatted a bit. When shown a bunch of Plant memorabilia, one said to hook up at a certain place after the concert and they'd try to be of help. They said the show would be packed, as they sold 1700 tickets instead of the limit of 1300...Cain's was willing to risk the wrath of the fire marshals. After that encounter we checked into our room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel down the street, ate a nice dinner, and crashed for a couple hours.
Once rejuvenated we went back to Cain's, which was completely packed. It took some tact and maneuvering to get up close at the show, and people were generally really nice. The buildup to Robert's entrance was a long one, and made the crowd's response frenetic. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and overall I really liked the flow of Plant's song selection, as the Zep selections really kept it fun and accessible. After hearing the bits of new Mighty Rearranger songs I had downloaded a little while back, I'm glad I was familiar with a bit of the new stuff. Sometimes I feel its hard to listen to new songs in concert, and they can drag things down, yet that didn't happen for me at this show. The best case in point for me was the COMPLETELY rockin' new one called "Tin Pan Valley"...it was terrific live!
I also thought Robert was really enjoying himself; he was the focus of the excited crowd, he teased us with decent versions of Zeppelin classics, and obviously was the center of attention. I can't fault him for doing what he likes, even if it's in an environment many would prefer was different and on a bigger scale. I've had my judgments, yet I'm glad for the guy...whether some like it or not, he's doing what he wants to!
It was amazing to see all the cell phones pop up whenever a Zep song was played; some were taking pictures, while others were calling friends to let them in on the audio. Definitely life in the 21st century. Sean took his digital camera and got a few shots from the left-hand side:
The merchandise was a bit weak for someone of his stature, though I suppose it was par for a show of this size and the limited number of shows being played. There were white jerseys with 3/4 black sleeves ($45), simple black t-shirts with artwork for Mighty Rearranger ($30), white t-shirts with "Robert Plant Tour 2005" ($35), blue ladies ringer t's with "Robert Plant Tour 2005" ($30), black baseball hats with just "Robert Plant" embroidered on them in yellow ($20), and a set of three 3/4" buttons ($5). No high end stuff, no programs...maybe later?
Afterwards I attempted to locate the stage manager as instructed, yet was confronted by security on several occasions. Finally a Cain's employee took sympathy when they heard we'd spent the whole day in a car driving to Tulsa for the show. The guy we'd met in the afternoon was found, and he said there would be no meet and greet, though he'd try to get something signed for us later or in the morning if we left something with him. I did so, and crossed my fingers, hoping that a handful of 95 Page/Plant key chains would also grease the wheels! (I never saw my items again, as Cain’s regular stagehand Jaime out and out stole them from me for good, despite my request for them back numerous times; rock and roll…)
After leaving, we walked around back to see if the tour bus was still there (hopefully with Robert outside it), and instead we found the opening band's bus. They said the Plant crowd was looking for a steak house and then would wind up at the Double Tree Hotel, so we decided to camp out there awhile. Figuring we'd see them upon their return to the hotel, we spent several hours in the lounge in the lobby (where we could eye the front door) talking to the bartender. There was a lot of activity, and we stayed until exhaustion set in at 2:30am. Grateful for an awesome concert, we went back to our hotel and conked out without setting an alarm.
When we awoke on Saturday, we packed up at a leisurely pace and decided to just check out while foregoing an expensive hotel breakfast. Once we went down to the mezzanine level to pay for the room, I saw a band member on the level below and said "Sean, there's the bass player from last night." So I took care of the bill and shortly thereafter when I met Sean downstairs, the rest of the Strange Sensation was there waiting to leave. I said hi, set down my duffle bag, and after one question turned around to see an the escalator completely empty except for Robert riding it! I said "Sean, get your camera", and when Plant hit the landing asked if he had a moment; he replied "Nope...but I'll be back in a minute." He walked 10 feet past us, grabbed some candy from a table in the lobby, said something to his road manager, and came back over to me.
I showed him a couple 8 x 10s from 1985 and 1993 when we'd previously met, and asked him if he'd sign a couple things...though he looked VERY tired, he instantly warmed up and said "Yep." The night before I'd had two things which were too large to bring into Cain's, yet I had them with me at the Double Tree. When we went to our room for the night, I instinctively took them with me rather than leave them in the car...so I happened to have them right on me in a bag by my duffle! I took out a 12" by 24" Dreamland display flat and Robert asked my name; he inscribed it to me and autographed it in his usual way; Sean took a picture:
I complimented him on the new songs he'd done the night before and he replied that they were "Better than a poke in the eye with a stick, as we say in England". I asked if there'd be more dates added to the itinerary, and he said yes but after they played the UK. Then I said "One more?" and he said "Sure", so I reached down for a BBC poster which I'd already had signed by Jimmy and John Paul; Robert completed that item nicely.
I thanked him and asked if Sean wanted a picture and reached for the camera, and Sean asked Robert if it was OK, and Plant again said "Sure":
Thanks again were exchanged, and good wishes conveyed as well, and off Robert and the band headed to their two vans. I was just completely amazed at our good fortune, especially after killing so much time after the show the night before. While walking to my car in the parking garage, Sean said "Maybe it's a good thing we went to the Double Tree last night...if we hadn't stayed up so late we wouldn't have slept in so long, and we would've left earlier." Obviously he was right, as the timing of things couldn't have been better...the rock n' roll Gods were certainly with us on this trip.
Our reconnection, the great concert, the unbelievable chance encounter, and the joy of meeting Robert again made for a super ride back to Houston. We rehashed the past 24 hours several times while listening to Zeppelin bootlegs, and finally got back home in the wee hours of Sunday morning. I couldn't ask for a better experience...all of the expectations since buying the tickets two months earlier were more than met, after an intense emotional buildup. What a blast to see Robert play live and to meet him again!
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