August 30th, 1995. It was a hot night in Indianapolis, a crowd of about 10,000 people packed into Deer Creek Music Center, an outdoor music venue. I was 15-years-old, and missing high school cross country practice to be there; my coach was not a forgiving man (he made me run extra laps the following day), but there’s no way I’d have been anywhere else. My parents were with me; I’d made them stand in line at the local Ticketmaster outlet to get the tickets. Those were the days before regular use of the Internet, and I’ll never forget hearing the news at school from a friend: “Paul, I heard on the radio this morning that Diana Ross is coming to town!”
I don’t think I actually believed I would see her until I was there, inside the amphitheatre, the opening music pumping. Her voice manifested before she did; that iconic, breathless voice filled the air with the words “Take me to that place…higher…” I didn’t recognize the song — nobody would have, since “Take Me Higher” wouldn’t make the charts until the following month — but the crowd roared when she suddenly appeared, standing atop a short staircase, just as she would in the song’s upcoming music video. She wore a short black dress, her hair a mass of wild curls. She rushed down the staircase, her background singers wailing the words “Take Me Higher,” and that 15-year-old boy burst into tears.
That, of course, was the first time I saw Diana Ross in concert; I still have the ticket stub, the tour program, and the concert review from the local newspaper. Miss Ross performed for two hours that night, running through dozens of her hits and several new songs from the Take Me Higher album; I vividly remember falling in love with “Voice Of The Heart,” “Only Love Will Conquer All,” “I Never Loved A Man Before,” and “Don’t Stop.” I lost count of the costume changes, but recall her famous “casual” red pantsuit, which she wore for the show’s final number. Aside from sounding fantastic, Miss Ross was especially funny during the show, stopping mid-“Good Morning Heartache” to put on bug spray. And there were so many hits I’ve never heard her perform again: “Missing You” and “Muscles” and I think even “Chain Reaction.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about that first concert lately; in just a few days, I’ll be seeing Miss Ross again (for the 7th time), during her stop in West Palm Beach on Saturday. I was lucky enough to see the Return To Love tour before it ended; I saw her twice during promotion for I Love You, and twice more here in Atlanta, during recent summer tours (read about those shows here and here.) I almost didn’t buy tickets to the West Palm Beach show; after all, I don’t live in Florida, and I don’t expect the setlist will be any different from the past two times I’ve seen the singer in concert. She’s not promoting new music and hasn’t radically changed her show, so why go back?
The 15-year-old boy seeing Diana Ross for the first time back in 1995 could probably answer that question better than I can. I think he was so happy that night — so grateful to be there, to hear the songs, to experience the magic of a seasoned entertainer in her element — that he’d want to see as many Diana Ross concerts as possible. Life wasn’t always easy; there was a lot going on inside him that even he couldn’t understand at the time. But that night at Deer Creek Music Center was pure bliss. That’s the kind of effect Miss Ross has had on my life, and the lives of all her fans, for decades. Her soothing voice has been our solace, our escape, our motivation. The least I can do for her is show up and have a great time this weekend.
So I’ll be there Saturday night — and better yet, I’m taking a friend who has never seen Diana Ross in concert before. Through her eyes, I’ll get to experience the thrill of the show for the first time again.
And this time, I get to do it without worrying about having to run extra laps in the morning.