What a way for concerts to make their return to Utah! Saturday, March 20th, 2021 brought us not only Vivint Smart Home Arena’s first concert of 2021 but their first concert in over a year. Utah-based indie-folk band The National Parks played Vivint Arena in a socially distanced sold-out show in front of thousands of concert hungry fans.
This was the first headlining arena show for The National Parks and their first large show of any kind in quite some time. Over the summer of 2020, The National Parks embarked on their Campfire Tour. This was a small tour that took place according to the COVID-19 protocols with crowds of around 50 fans spread out in backyards across the country. From what I have gathered it was an amazing tour, but this show was something to remember.
Like everyone, I hadn’t been to a concert in over a year. I must admit it felt a little weird to be heading back. For one, we’re not totally out of this pandemic so heading to an indoor venue with a lot of people made me a little anxious. I also felt really out of practice. I arrived at Vivint Arena so early! Deciding where to park was even a challenge. There was a new door I needed to meet arena staff at so figuring that out was interesting. Tickets and everything is now digital so I was nervous about making sure I had the app pulled up. Getting my camera settings ready took me a little longer since it had been so long since I had shot in concert lighting. Not life or death things, just a little off my game. It was all just a little weird.
What wasn’t weird was seeing The National Parks on an arena stage. It just looked right. Their career has been heading in this direction and they looked so natural up there. Last year was supposed to be a huge breakout year for them until everything shut down. They released their highly acclaimed album, Wildflower, which I imagine had a huge tour in the works to promote it. This band has been a favorite in Utah for quite some time, so it only seemed fitting that Vivint Arena was where they made their arena debut.
The night opened with electronic pop artist, Tishmal. Tishmal has also made her mark in the Utah music scene. Having recently moved from New York City to Los Angeles, Tishmal was a very welcomed guest to the lineup. The audience, still making their way to their seats, as Tishmal took the stage were gracious in their praise and applause. They seemed to really enjoy the set and I could see a lot of fans happy to have her back in Utah. It can never be easy going on first. I thought Tishmal did a great job in her performance.
Next up was The Strike. I feel like I have been hearing about The Strike for years but for some reason, this was my first time getting to see them in person. I was looking forward to finally seeing them because I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “Hey, you’ve really got to see The Strike! They’re such a good live band!” And those people were correct.
The Strike was a really fun band to watch live. The majority of the crowd had arrived and it seemed like they knew quite of few of the songs if not all of them. It was pretty clear that The Strike was pretty excited to be performing on this stage. They came out so fired up. Their songs felt so familiar, almost from a certain era where I’d been hearing their songs for decades. And yet, their music has such originality. They got the crowd going. To quote a lyric from their song “Painkillers”, “Tonight we’re going to dance our pain away”. And that we did. The pain, the weirdness, the struggles of this last year were being danced away by the fans in attendance. They perfectly set the stage for what was to come with The National Parks.
The setup at Vivint Arena was unique. Socially distanced, COVID-19 protocol in place. Throughout the arena floor, there were sections of only 4 seats together. And of course, those seats were then spaced out so people could just stay within their groups. Because of this, I had the opportunity to walk across the arena floor in a way I hadn’t before when I went back and forth to my seat between doing photos of the artists and sitting in my seat for the rest of the set.
I could see much closer the excitement in everyone’s eyes. Especially because their eyes were all I could see due to everyone wearing masks. Well almost everyone. I don’t really understand people who can’t just follow the guidelines of the event. No need to make it harder on security. Anyway, for the most part, the fans in attendance were team players. And I could see how bright-eyed they were for this night.
The crew finished their setup and the stage was now empty. It was time. Time for the headliners to make their sold-out Vivint Arena Debut! The lights went out. The crowd roared. At that moment as I’m preparing to take my photos I just soaked in that sound. I missed that sound so much! And the feeling I got was people were so eager to let that emotion out. It was unbelievable. There in the darkness appeared a neon cactus, then another and another. There were seven neon cacti in total lining the back of the stage. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brady Parks appeared in the spotlight, strapped on his acoustic guitar, and then looked out into the crowd. His face was priceless. He seemed so ready for this moment.
All those months of preparation and planning were for this moment. As the instrumental “Superbloom” crescendoed into “Wildflower” the audience rose to their feet as the electricity from the stage circulated throughout Vivint Arena. I had a hard time focusing on taking pictures because, like everyone else there, I was caught up in excitement and emotion of the situation.
Take a second now and just look at this picture of Sydney Macfarlane. I took this right when the lights went up and the crowd roared for the first time. It appeared for a moment that she tried to keep composed and then realized how amazing this all was and try as she might, couldn’t hide her smile. I can’t imagine there are many experiences better than an arena full of people screaming their heads off as the lights shine on you for the first time.
The night was full of fun surprises. During “Wind & Anchor”, Brady walked out into the audience and clapped along as the crowd echoed the vocals “Don’t leave me like this, don’t leave me like this. I belong to you.” I have to give it to the audience, they all stayed in their specified area. They didn’t rush up to Brady or crowd together around him. I was impressed. Take that coronavirus! You’re not ruining our night! That must have been so incredible to be in the middle of the Vivint Arena floor listening to people singing a song you wrote.
There was also a moment in the show when The National Parks donned cowboy hats and western jackets with fringe. Sydney, Megan, and Brady bunched together next to one microphone and swayed side to side as we all met “…where the cactus grows.” It was a really fun part of the show. If I remember correctly they even extended this song (Painted Sky) out so we could all soak it in.
I think the best part of seeing The National Parks perform live is seeing how much fun they’re having. They really seemed to be loving every minute on that stage. It’s easy to see the joy in their eyes. There were subtle glances and not so subtle, “Can you believe this?!” looks. The energy each one of them exerts is remarkable. I’m pretty sure I’d be done by the third song at the pace they go. That’s why they’re on that stage and I’m writing about it. They’re just so fun to watch. They clearly have joy in what they do.
Megan Taylor Parks brings such a cool aesthetic to her side of the stage. Her blonde hair whips around in a frenzied motion as her bow moves with precision up and down along the strings of her fiddle. While at the same time she’s moving all around that stage. I don’t know how she makes the beautiful music she makes with all that going on. I love it!
While more stationery behind the keyboard, for the most part, Sydney has her own style that is fun to watch. Sydney does this thing where she’ll crouch over and bring her head down to the keyboard keys as if she’s letting the waves of music she’s playing flow through her.
When Brady isn’t at the microphone singing, he’s moving all about the stage. He makes his way to his bandmates, and to the front of the stage. He’s got a great voice and I’m impressed that he never seems out of breath after all that jumping an moving around. I’ve seen people move around like that and then when they get back to singing, they sound terrible because they can’t breathe. That never seems to be the case with Brady.
Then there’s Cam on the drums. He’s just back there doing his thing. He’s a fun drummer to watch because there is a casual laid back air about him. What I mean is, he’s not going nuts and mugging for the audience. But then there are moments where he seems so into it where he’ll stand up to get the crowd to clap along, or he’ll smile to his bandmates. He’s really good, and doesn’t need to do to much for the audience to know it.
Something I really enjoy about The National Parks’ music is the songs are arranged so well. The instrumentation always seems purposeful. There’s never a “Well we haven’t heard the fiddle in a while, let’s throw in a solo here.” When Taylor has a featured solo in a song, it just makes sense. Same goes for Cam on drums, or Sydney on keys. It seems like such a simple thing but I think it’s what separates a typical band and a band that just sold out Vivint Arena. The instruments blend so well together and compliment the band’s sound. There’s no better feeling in music than listening to a song and being surprised with what comes next. The National Parks do that so well.
I have to admit, as someone who’s been to a lot of concerts, particularly at Vivint Arena, I was a little nervous about how good the sound was going to be. Don’t get me wrong, I knew there would be good sound people there. But I’ve seen some of the biggest bands in the world stop by Vivint Arena and struggle to get the sound right (my lips are sealed! I’ll never tell!). There is a lot of metal and concrete in that venue so the sound can kind of bounce around. So like I said, I had my concerns.
But one of the first things I noticed when I went back to my seat, (The sound is going to be awesome right up at the stage so I wanted to form my opinion when I was further back in the arena.) was how awesome everything sounded. I was so impressed. That can make a difference in a show. Generally, you’ll only notice the sound if it’s bad because it’s diminishing your concert experience. So excellent job to the sound guys.
Everything from sound and lighting was almost perfect. Yes, there were some glitches and technical difficulties. But very few. There were two moments in particular that stood out. The song was stopped and restarted. No performer wants to have to do that. But sometimes that negative can be turned into a positive. It creates a moment that is totally unique to that show.
I thought the whole band, Brady in particular handled these moments admirably in two ways. One, he kept it light. He didn’t get upset or seem visibly annoyed. Acting like that (and I have seen people act like that.) can make things awkward for the audience or can stifle momentum that the show has built. Brady didn’t do that. He smiled and even if he was upset, he didn’t show it. Second, he made it about the fans and this special evening. He told the crowd that they wanted to do the song right for them. The audience ate it up. Again, I know the band hates when those issues happen, but when handled correctly, and this was absolutely handled correctly, it can make for a great memory for the fans. In fact, they become an enjoyable moment in the show that I kind of look forward to now.
The show flew by. Before I knew it, The National Parks walked off stage as the crowd screamed for an encore. While we cheered for their return I looked around the arena again and saw young teenagers and kids with their parents who I imagined were at their first concert legitimately wondering if The National Parks would come back. I saw these same groups lose their minds when they saw the eight green Nikes walk back on stage to give us more music.
The National Parks shared with us multiple times that this was a dream come true for them. I have no doubt! I hope they realize that this was a dream come true for their fans as well. Seeing a band from a backyard party, or an apartment complex courtyard, Battle of the Bands at Velour, to this, a sold-out show at their hometown arena is what fans hope to see for a band they love.
The night concluded with “As We Ran”. The perfect closer. That first chord hits our ears, then the drumbeat, then the fiddle, and we’re off and running. It almost seemed like the audience saved up enough energy to go wild during this song. The more the song picked up the more they got into it. Brady got the audience to crouch down as low as they could go. There’s a break in the song that builds. All the instruments stop and when it started back up again everyone lept not only to their feet but into the air. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that no foot touched the ground for the duration of the song. People were dancing, singing, masked, distanced, and having the best night they’ve had in over a year.
There were so many special moments at this show. As I walked out of the arena I overheard people talking about Sydney performing, “Mother Nature”. Cam getting to do his drum solo twice leading into “As We Ran”. Brady coming out into the audience, or hearing Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” in the middle of “Come Closer”. How awesome Megan’s cow pants were and wondering where she got them, and if she was classically trained or self-taught on the fiddle (violin), because “OMG she’s so good”. And so on and so on.
When I spoke with Sydney leading up to the show, and we talked about how it feels like we all know each other. Like we’re friends even though we actually don’t actually know each other. We the fans feel like we know them because of following their career and The National Parks feeling like their fans are their friends because they’re so loyal and kind to them. Well, on March 20, 2021, at Vivint Arena, our friends did real good! It’s a night none of us will soon forget.