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This must be the place: Ode to Paul McCartney, ode to being together again

Paul McCartney in Knoxville. (photo: Jeffrey Delannoy) Paul McCartney in Knoxville. (photo: Jeffrey Delannoy)

Amid a brisk walk down Phillip Fulmer Way towards the Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, last Tuesday evening, I found myself quite possibly the last soul with ticket in-hand to enter the venue for the Paul McCartney concert.

It wasn’t my intent to be a tad late to the gig. But, when your best friend in all time and space (who resides in Knoxville) is in need of counseling over a cold pint of ale at Boyd’s Jig & Reel in Old City Knoxville, well, you can’t rush the process of being there for your brother-in-arms, let alone dart out the door mid-sentence when he currently finds himself at an existential crossroads. 

That, and time is all but one moment anyhow, don’tcha know? With the thoughts, emotions and sentiments of that conversation swirling around the depths of my mind, I wandered into the massive arena for the highly-anticipated sold out performance with tens of thousands in attendance. 

Though I’d seen McCartney in action several years prior in South Carolina, I once again entered the vibrant, overwhelming atmosphere of witnessing a Beatle onstage with the idea of simply taking in the whole spectacle — the hits played, sensory overload stage production, roaring audience with endless ear-to-ear grins, with Sir Paul in the flesh standing up there in front of the microphone.

It’s hard to convey just how astounding it is to see McCartney in-person. I mean, seemingly every single human being on this planet has probably heard a Beatles melody at some point, with the vast majority of folks on this space rock knowing dozens (maybe hundreds) of songs by heart. 

It goes without saying that the music of The Beatles is forever etched in our collective memory, this melodic touchstone we stand on for footing in uncertain times. The soundtrack of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Each person at the show has a cherished memory attached to the lyrics and sonic textures of the likes of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Blackbird,” “Get Back,” Lady Madonna,” “Helter Skelter,” Live and Let Die,” “Band on the Run,” etc.

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The, perhaps, most powerful moments of the entire three-hour extravaganza came about during “Hey Jude” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” with both selections eliciting intense crowd participation and this genuine sense of self amid the grand scheme of things, where thousands of jovial entities sang in unison, and yet for their own specific reason and purpose. 

As in the studio recording, “Hey Jude” live is McCartney sitting at his piano, all while easing himself into the musical masterpiece. For every word sung and note played, the song — like many of the Beatles iconic hits — slowly builds on itself. Layer after layer, this process of one voice soon being joined by more forces at work, either instrumentally or vocally, this message of togetherness in a sometimes-cruel and lonely world (or personal existence). 

By the end of “Hey Jude,” McCartney emerges from behind the piano and steps to the foot of the stage, waving his arms to encourage the entire arena to sing along, each seating tier of eyes and ears another layer of importance to the process of not only the song, but also the moment at hand — “na-na-na, na, hey Jude” echoing relentlessly throughout the space for several minutes, ultimately signaling a beacon of light, more so nurturing camaraderie, in this post-pandemic era.

But, it was “I’ve Got a Feeling” that conjured the absolute deepest of tears and goosebumps, utter chills up and down one’s spine. On the huge screen behind McCartney radiated the staggering clip of The Beatles singing the same tune atop the roof of Apple Records building in London in January 1969 (known as The Beatles final public performance).

And yet, what was so incredibly powerful was standing there and watching McCartney sing “I’ve Got a Feeling” in real time in Knoxville in 2022, all while the late John Lennon would share vocal duties as the two legends did a duet, some 53 years and two continents apart — “Everybody had a good year/Everybody let their hair down/Everybody pulled their socks up/Everybody put their foot down.” 

Heading for the exit of the arena following the encore, I found myself with a bit of a kick in my step, the kind of kick that only comes about when in the presence of songs immortal. While thousands of people spilled out into the streets surrounding Thompson-Boling, I kept thinking about the essence of the Beatles, the eternal message at the core of the band and its ethos — “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Making my way towards the Old City, I had about a mile and half walk back to the Jig & Reel. But, no matter, there was a Beatles song in my heart and a lightness to my being, interactions, and experiences from that point forward (or back or wherever you currently stand). That, and time is all but one moment anyhow, don’tcha know?

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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