Over the last couple months, the city of Middletown has sponsored concerts down at Harbor Park with the excellent local music promoter known as Manic Presents.
When I heard we were doing this I was skeptical about a number of things: is it worth our tax dollars? Can we get artists worth seeing? How's our setup? Why are we doing this and where is it all going? Much of that skepticism was cured by the late-September announcement that we had booked Soccer Mommy, and the rest of it was taken care of by the end of the November 10th show.
Sophia Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy, is an Indie Rock performer from Nashville. While she hasn't achieved the same level of fame as comparable artists like Olivia Rodrigo, critics have recognized the lush guitars and brilliant song-writing, and this year Soccer Mommy was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys. Personally, I've been listening to them since 2018, and believe they are part of a new generation of female artists that are carrying rock and roll's present and future.
I parked on Court street at around 6:45. I was later than I had planned and by myself. Childcare challenges struck again. The three-block walk down to the pedestrian tunnel was farther than I had hoped, but because it was off Main Street and after 6pm it was free to park.
Let me run that back for those of you who haven’t been paying attention... *clears throat...* THE SHOW AND PARKING WERE BOTH FREE!!!
As I waited among the crowd, I couldn't help but notice the flow of traffic on Rt. 9 North. It was kind of loud - would the setup be enough to drown out the noise? I took a lap around the stage and boardwalk. I knew that DPW had been doing work on the riverfront, and it looks like good improvements have been made with more on the way. The area was well lit, public restrooms were available with no lines, and there was even an area for Merch (someone please scoop one of the lavender hoodies in a medium for me, thanks)
The band came on and played two songs before introducing themselves. I was immediately struck by the fact that the highway was drowned out from the very first guitar strum, and that Soccer Mommy is a very good live band. "Circle the Drain" into "Shotgun" was a clear high point early in the show. After a stretch of lesser knowns and songs off the new record, the band stepped offstage while Sophia played "Still Clean," a song that talks about love in the language of consumption, predator and prey, a relationship where someone feels like they are chewed up and spit back out. By the end we discover that the predator isn't getting the kind of satisfaction out of consuming people that Soccer Mommy found herself victim to.
Every moment drew me closer. I bustled, "excuse me, sorry," my way to the front of the crowd. The slope from the 9 North guardrail down towards the crowd and waterfront filled slowly over the course of the show. That felt like a magnetic choice as well. Folks wanting to do everything they could to get a better view. And there was something poetic about a trail of taillights zipping off into the distance mirroring songs about refusing to be controlled, damaged, or used by the cliches and norms of love.
She closed with “Your Dog.” This is my favorite song and so naturally I lost my shit. Aside from an excellent guitar hook, the song is my favorite because of the line “I want a love that lets me breathe,” which summarizes much of Soccer Mommy’s songwriting thesis, and a love that I am grateful to say I’ve found in my own life - the kind of love that frees me up to go to a concert by myself on a thursday night while she gets the kids pj’d.
After this show I can say that Soccer Mommy is one of my favorite bands, and they put on a great show. It was a warm night with a beautiful moon heading into a three-day weekend. The contrast between the taillights and the stage lights, the still river and the wisping dry ice, all to the soundtrack of an artist that can sound like Kurt Cobain one minute and Sheryl Crow the next was breathtaking. It was one of my favorite moments in the nearly ten years I’ve lived in Middletown.
Look folks, my biases should be clear by now. Whoever is responsible for this idea gets my eternal gratitude. As I walked through the pedestrian tunnel back to my car, everyone was talking about the show, where they were going to eat or drink, and who we would get next year.
My lesson from Soccer Mommy at Harbor Park is, to pull one of her lines, that “I wanna be that cool.” I want us as a city to be so cool that we are able to test-drive the kind of culturally creative economic development strategies necessary to grow and develop our riverfront. I want us to have more opportunities to be energized, connect with each other, and see or hear something beautiful for a modest cost. This show and concert series felt like the beginning of something. It felt special. It felt uniquely Middletown, and I’m really excited to see what we do next.