Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

Two years ago, when I turned 29, I knew that I wanted to commemorate turning 30 in a special way. The concept of the 30 at 30 project was born. The initial idea was a music project: compiling 30 CDs, each consisting of my favorite tracks from my 30 favorite musical artists. Thanks to the suggestion of my wonderful wife Jessie, I also decided to write about each of the CD mixes that I created, which I would post periodically on the site. The final one (Counting Crows) was posted two days ago. However, the 30 at 30 project is not over.

As much as I enjoyed writing about my favorite musical artists, I felt like I was leaving out important pieces of my personal story. So I expanded the 30 at 30 project and decided that I would write 30 lists with the musical artists counting as one of them. My first list was published in June of 2014, counting down my favorite student comments left for me on my end-of-the-year survey. Since then, I’ve published an additional 18 lists covering a wide variety of topics. I still have 11 more to go to achieve 30 at 30 status though, so I think I’m going to let this project extend into overtime and continue writing at age 31. I still have plenty of fun topics to cover, including my favorite movies, books, and foods.

More than anything, I’m grateful that the 30 at 30 project has provided me with a creative outlet to write again. sat dormant for more than five years between posts before I launched the 30 at 30 project. Altogether, I’ve written more than 95,000 words since that introductory post a year and a half ago. With my list articles averaging nearly 3,500 words, I’ll be well over the 100,000 words before all is said and done.

As the calendar shows September 7, I am officially 31 years old today. Age 30 proved to be a very good year, and I hope that the rest of my thirties will follow suit. A year ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have nine years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to check in and assess my progress after one year being a thirtysomething. Continue reading Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

30 at 30 Lists #19: Musical Artists

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

30at30Since this is the list that inspired the whole 30 at 30 project, and I’ve already written at length about each of the musical artists featured on the list, I’m going to keep this introduction rather short. Suffice it to say that music has played an instrumental role in my life thus far. Although I am not a musician, I have been influenced and inspired by many musicians—famous musicians like many of the names included on this list—and local musicans, including my wife and her family, all of whom happen to be musically gifted.

To every musician who has created music that I have enjoyed over the first 30+ years of my life, I say thank you. In good times and bad, music has been a constant companion throughout my life. From cathartic breakup music to celebratory bonfire music, my ears, my heart, and my soul have been treated well by by talented musicians, specifically the 30 musical artists and groups who form this list of my all-time favorites.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this process of compiling these 30 discs from my 30 favorite musical artists, counting them down, writing and reflecting upon them. If you enjoy any of the artists on this list, I’d invite you to read through my article about him/her/them and comment with your own personal favorite tracks. If you’re looking to discover something new or rediscover a band you haven’t listened to in a while, I’d invite you to do that as well. Links to each of my 30 musical artist articles are included below. Here’s to the next 30 years of music!

30. Oasis
29. The Fray
28. Ben Lee
27. The Decemberists
26. Sufjan Stevens
25. Jill Scott
24. Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie / The Postal Service)
23. Howie Day
22. Gavin DeGraw
21. The Farewell Drifters
20. Eminem
19. Coldplay
18. Ryan Adams
17. Jack Johnson
16. The Beatles
15. Iron & Wine
14. Alicia Keys
13. Jay-Z
12. Beyoncé
11. John Legend
10. Jamie Cullum
9. Jason Mraz
8. Wyclef Jean
7. Dashboard Confessional
6. Ben Folds / Ben Folds Five
5. Ingrid Michaelson
4. Kanye West
3. John Mayer
2. Dave Matthews Band
1. Counting Crows


1. Counting Crows

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 1 is Counting Crows.


Counting Crows had a profound influence on me as an adolescent and young adult. Although I first heard Counting Crows on the radio in the early 90s when I was a preteen, I rediscovered the band and their music during my senior year of high school.

The number one reason I connected with Counting Crows was the lyrics of lead singer Adam Duritz. Despite being 20 years my elder, Duritz’s lyrical poetry resonated with me on a deep, spiritual level. The combination of his artfully crafted words and his passionate, vulnerable vocal performances made me relate to Duritz as a soul brother.

Counting Crows released their fourth studio album, Hard Candy, on July 8, 2002, midway through the summer before my senior year of high school. I probably listened to that album 100 times that summer while also immersing myself in the previous Counting Crows releases. I attempted to compile a “Best of” Counting Crows CD and ended up making a three-disc set that nearly included every song from their catalog. Every time I listened through an album it seemed like a different line from a different song caught my attention and fit my mood.

The welcome letter I received upon joining Cloudkookooland, the official fan club of Counting Crows.
The welcome letter I received upon joining Cloudkookooland, the official fan club of Counting Crows.

By the time the spring of 2003 rolled around, I was an unabashed Counting Crows fanatic. I joined the band’s official fan club at the time, Cloudkookooland. As the letter reads, the name “comes from Aristophanes’ play, ‘The Birds’, and was the name for the city, built by birds, suspended halfway between heaven and earth where the impossible was possible.” I also spent evenings reading and posting on Counting Crows message boards, which is how I discovered the burgeoning subculture of online bootleg music trading. Although the Internet connection speed of the early 2000s made it difficult, I slowly built a sizable collection of Counting Crows concert bootleg recordings, which the band did not discourage so long as they were not being sold by anyone for profit.  Unfortunately, I lost most of those recordings in an apartment fire in 2009. However, the time I spent listening to recorded versions of live Counting Crows performances opened my ears to a whole new world of Counting Crows music that I never had experienced before. Two things stuck out from the live shows: Adam’s innate ability  as a storyteller on stage and first-rate musicianship of the individual band members, especially Charlie (Gillingham), Dave (Bryson), Dan (Vickrey), and Immy (David Immerglück).

What I didn’t know was that listening to all of those live recordings was priming me for one of my the most meaningful experiences of my life. As fate would have it, Counting Crows’ spring tour brought them to the Warner Theatre in Erie, Pennsylvania, on April 23, 2003. It was my favorite band in my hometown less than two months before graduating from high school. Oh yeah, and it was also the first concert I ever attended. My buddy Ryan Colvin and I had great seats up front on the left side near the stage, and we were treated to an unforgettable performance. Fortunately for me, the show was recorded and I was able to obtain a copy through the online Counting Crows community that I was a part of. That live recording remains a treasured piece of my collection to this day, and that concert cemented Counting Crows’ legacy in my own mind as my all-time favorite band.

CC_bedroomAfter coming home from the concert I was insatiable. No amount of Counting Crows seemed to be enough. Impulsively, I decided then and there to redecorate my bedroom wall, which had previously been adorned exclusively with sports posters. I cleared the area of the wall above my bed. Centered above the bed was a poster of the band I had purchased at the concert. Meticulously, I surrounded the poster with printed copies of the lyrics from every song as well as the album artwork from each of the band’s four studio albums on coordinated colored paper. Obsessed? Perhaps. Dedicated? Undoubtably. I was no longer just a member of the fan club Cloudkookooland, I was living in it.

Counting Crows concert tickets
My Counting Crows concert history:
1. April 23, 2003, at the Warner Theatre in Erie, PA 
2. August 12, 2003, at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien Center, NY
3. July 11, 2004, at the Jerome Duncan Ford Theatre in Sterling Heights, MI
4. July 15, 2006, at the Post-Gazette Pavillion, in Burgettstown, PA 
5. July 31, 2007, at Jerry Uht Park in Erie, PA 
6. August 20, 2009, at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC
7. December 6, 2014, at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, OH.

In all, I have seen Counting Crows live in concert on seven occasions. I’ve seen them in five different states. I’ve seen them perform at inside at concert halls and outside in a baseball stadium. I’ve seen them perform in spring, summer, and winter. To me, asking me to compare shows is like comparing children. They are all special and unique, and I wouldn’t trade away the experience of attending any of them.

There's us and there's the stage.
There’s us and there’s the stage.
Posing for a photo with Adam at the close of the Counting Crows show in Warren, Ohio, in December of 2014.
Posing for a photo with Adam at the close of the Counting Crows show in Warren, Ohio, in December of 2014.

Having said that, my most recent Counting Crows live experience understandably stands out freshest in my mind. It was the first time seeing the band live since I got married in 2011 and the first time Jessie and I had seen them together since all the way back in 2006, so I knew it was going to be a memorable event. The icing on the cake was that we had front row seats! Plus, the band had just released its latest album Somewhere Under Wonderland in September, five days before my 30th birthday. Hearing many tracks from that album live for the first time that night was among the many highlights, including a rocking rendition of “Miami” and the seasonally appropriate “A Long December“.

“Mr. Jones”—the one Counting Crows song that everyone has heard—was first released as a single in December of 1993. Twenty-one years later, the band didn’t even play it at the Warren, Ohio, show, and it didn’t lessen my appreciation of the performance. If anything, I enjoyed it more because that meant I got to hear something rarer, a non-canon track like “Richard Manuel is Dead” or “Washington Square.”

I wholeheartedly disagree with one of the regular criticisms of Counting Crows concerts. If your goal for a concert is for the band to play a carbon copy of the album you listened to on the way to the concert, Counting Crows is probably not the band for you. Adam is bound to change the words, wander in and out of songs with storytelling snippets, slightly alter a melody here or there, or add in an alternate verse to your favorite song. They might play that fast song you like slow or turn that acoustic ballad you love into an electric rocker. Sure, singing along at a Counting Crows concert often becomes difficult because Adam zigs when you expect him to zag, but while Duritz may pump fake the audience better than Michael Jordan with his lyrical alterations, the rest of the band remains in sync with their lead singer, and there is never a question of whether the band is feeling it or not. These guys were born to rock. With Adam as the eccentric, sometimes brooding leader, the band puts on a show night after night, year after year. It’s clear that they’re having the time of their lives, improvising riffs and solos, playing off one another, and creating something special in the moment for that particular audience on that specific night. I’ve been privileged to be part of that audience seven times, and hopefully number eight isn’t too far off in the future.

Continue reading 1. Counting Crows