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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

It was a bucket-list moment for sure.

You know, the recent movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman where two friends make a list of things they want to do before they "kick the bucket." In the flick, the two men are terminally ill and decide to do things like skydiving and race-car driving. My moment was a bit more pedestrian but, God willing, I've got a bit more than a half-year of sand left in my hourglass.

The item I checked off was to watch a rock concert from the front row. I estimate I've seen nearly 100 live concerts and never sat closer than the 12th row (Neil Young at the old Aud in 1984).

The last gig I saw was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at HSBC in March. Great show, but I watched most of it from our seats in the 100 Section on the big screen set up on the left side of the stage. The Boss looked about three inches tall. You'd think a $130 ticket would get you a better view.

I've often envied the people in the front row from my bleacher seats. Sometimes the performer will acknowledge them with a hand slap, other times a guitar pick will be flicked out. Being in the front row is almost like being in the band. You can hear the singer call out the key changes, read the set list taped to the side of the guitarist's Fender and see what's really in that water bottle the drummer keeps tapping after each song.

I might not ever have had the pleasure of a front row seat were it not for Lee Beaupre. A big man with a bigger heart, Lee is an old friend I've only just met. I hired Lee as a concierge a few months back and immediately felt as if I'd known him for decades.

Lee is well-read and has a plethora of interests. He's a walking encyclopedia of rock music and can pull a lyric or song title out of the clear air faster than you can say "Alex Trebek." Lee lives life cruising at 100 mph. Single with no kids, he's a social butterfly who's always going to one shindig or another.

"Hey, want to go see Ringo with me?" Lee asked one day as we were dealing with an influx of tourists to the Falls.

My initial reaction was to decline the offer, because I've seen Ringo Starr twice. Plus the tourism season is off to one of the flattest starts in years and money is a bit tighter than it normally is this time of year.

"They're front row, Seats 2 and 3," was his response to my thumbs down, and suddenly it was a whole different ballgame.

How someone gets front-row seats to anything, I'll never know. Back in the day, you had to camp out in front of Jerry D'Amico's overnight to even have a shot. Today's Internet world has made the use of a sleeping bag unnecessary in the ticket-buying process, but with ticket scalping now legal and big business, it seems as if getting prime seats is more difficult than ever.

Lee has more connections than a Manhattan bus line and is a bit of a David Copperfield when it comes to choice seating. He pulls them out of a hat, and with a wave of his wand, it's goodbye balcony, hello front row.

Like any dutiful husband, I checked with the wife before I bit on Beaupre's hook. She's a big Beatles fan and we saw Ringo together in Syracuse a few years back. Lee only had one ticket available, and premium seating or not, it wasn't going to be worth it if she gave me the cold shoulder for a week or two afterward. My wife is an Irish lass through and through, and can carry a grudge the way most women might carry a Gucci bag -- effortlessly and with a certain sense of satisfaction over the guilty pleasure.

She gave her blessing and I coughed up the three-digit face-value price of the ticket. I knew a Ringo Starr show was going to be loads of fun. Ringo has perfected a formula that, surprisingly, other performers haven't mimicked.

The show is billed as "Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band." The All-Stars are a bunch of guys who have seen a few years, in some cases decades, go by since their last foray onto the Billboard Top 100. It's a great scheme, because the entire show is comprised of nothing but hit songs. Ringo does his solo stuff -- he had a lot of chart-toppers in the early '70s -- along with the handful of Beatles songs he sung. The other members do their two or three top hits, and the end result is a show filled with 20-plus songs everyone in attendance can sing along with from memory.

I'd never been to a show at the Fallsview before. The theater is called the Avalon and it's about as intimate a venue as you are likely to find in this post-Melody Fair world. The seats are bathed in velvety red and have more cushion than I've ever experienced in a concert hall.

Lee and I decided to bring in a camera, despite the fact that they are verboten at the Avalon. Security was tighter than Edgar Winter's keyboard playing. You'd have thought we were paparazzi trying to get an upskirt photo of Paris Hilton the way the men and women in red coats reacted when the cameras came out.

Lee got a shot of Billy Squier at the microphone, and before he could get the camera back in his lap a security member told him that his camera would be confiscated if he clicked the shutter again. I told the man -- "gentle" would be an inappropriate prefix -- that I needed a shot for the paper. He responded that I could buy a stock photo in the lobby.

The kicker was when a gaggle of gorgeous blondes got up to dance during "It Don't Come Easy." They were immediately swarmed by security and told to keep their fannies in their seats. God forbid that beautiful women get up and shake it at a rock concert, right?

Despite the militant nature of the security force -- the Hell's Angels were kinder when they policed Altamont -- the show was phenomenal. The highlight had to be when Edgar Winter strapped on a mobile Moog synthesizer and took center stage to deliver one of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded.

"Wow, 'Frankenstein' live, unbelievable," Lee remarked when the song and the resulting standing ovation were over.

All in all, the front row was all I'd imagined it to be. From our vantage point, I could read the lettering on Squier's "Delancy Pool Hall" T-shirt. I could see that most members of the band sported wedding bands. At one point, Ringo was standing in front of me and I flashed him the peace sign, He responded in kind with a "right back at you" thrown in for good measure.

The show concluded with everyone allowed to stand at the stage while the band ripped through "With a Little Help From My Friends." It was most appropriate, because with the help of my friend, my bucket list is one item shorter than it used to be.

Frank Thomas Croisdale is a contributing editor at the Niagara Falls Reporter and author of "Buffalo Soul Lifters." He has worked in the local tourism industry for many years. You can write him at nfreporter@roadrunner.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 1 2008