music in the park san jose

.The Brief, Glorious Reign of Swiftie Clara

Ex-Mayor Taylor Swift held Levi’s Stadium in thrall on Saturday night

music in the park san jose

Midway through Taylor Swift’s set at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday night actual fireworks began to explode overhead, part of nearby Great America’s nightly display. 

When the song was finished, Taylor acknowledged the fireworks with a laugh: “Do you know why they’re doing that? It’s because I’m the mayor,” she quipped, and although she was clearly making a joke about the fact that the city of Santa Clara had granted her that honorary title, it could almost have been true. For a brief moment last weekend, it seemed as if Taylor Swift was in charge of the entire Bay Area: its traffic patterns, its weather, its crime conditions…even its economy had been bent entirely to her individual will.

As everyone who hasn’t been in a coma this month knows, Swift played two sold out shows at Levi’s over the weekend. 140,000 people attended, and it still wasn’t enough to fulfill the demand for tickets, as hundreds more stood outside the stadium in front of the Convention Center and watched the reverse image of her on the video panel at the back of the arena. Indeed, the scarcity of tickets was an object lesson in macro-economics. At the time of the show, the cheapest seat available was going for $900.

Swift played for 3.5 hours and everyone in attendance was rapt for the entirety of the 45-song set. From the moment she took the stage at 8pm, after two opening acts, the bathrooms and bars remained almost empty. There weren’t people circling the arena or flirting or drinking in the nooks and crannies like at a normal concert or football game, either. Everyone was glued to their seat—albeit on their feet—singing and dancing to each and every number. 

OK, so there were a few people who weren’t into it. They were all dads who were accompanying their children. You could tell because a) most of them wore t-shirts that said, “I’m a Swiftie Dad,” and b) by the end, many were nodding off.

Still, these men made up maybe 0.001% of a crowd that otherwise acted as if it had been enchanted by a sorceress who had decreed that, like the girl in the fairy story, they must dance and shout until their feet fell off. To make that happen, Swift played songs from every era of her 17 year/10 album career (hence the tour’s title, Eras). From the opening song “Mrs. Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” to the finale of “Karma,” and taking in such hits as “Cruel Summer,” “Love Story” “Shake It Off” “Blank Space,” to name only a handful. 

(Swift’s set at the 131 shows she will be playing is so highly choreographed it cannot bear deviations, so you can take a look at the nightly setlist here.

At each show, she also plays two surprise songs. On Friday night, these were “Right Where You Left Me,” from Evermore, accompanied by Aaron Dressner of the National, and “Castles Crumbling,” from the 2023 re-recording of Speak Now. On Saturday, they were “Stay Stay Stay,” from Red, and “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before,” an outtake from Lover.

Additionally, she was accompanied on the song “No Body No Crime” by openers Haim, in what was one of the show’s more exciting and authentic-sounding set pieces. 

As befits a show of this size, scope, and cost, every aspect of it was infinitely larger than life. Ms. Swift was backed by a ten-piece band and 14 dancers who enhance her songs by acting out many of the iconic moments from the videos, or else flanked her in formation as she strode up and down the seventy-five-yard catwalk that went from one end of the field to the other, so that everyone on the floor could be somewhat near her at some point. 

All that activity meant that from every point of the arena, the show looked great: from the floor, where the high payers screamed “TAYLOR” and made hand-shaped hearts whenever she approached, to the mid-level side-seats where people clutched one another in ecstasy at the sight of each song-announcing tableau, and all the way on up to the tippy-top tiers colloquially known as the nosebleeds, where the show still made its mark so powerfully that the stadium shook beneath our feet as if a never-ending earthquake was upon us. Literally.

In other words, if you were a Swiftie, you got what you paid for, no matter what that amount that was. And even if you were not, you could still bathe in the intense rays of love that enveloped the Levi’s bubble. 

It’s hard to convey just how special the scene was, but suffice to say that every person there, young and old, male or female, was dressed up in a way that bespoke their devotion: in fringe, sequins and cowboy boots, with glitter in their hair and sparkly eye makeup on their faces, and because the concert started in broad daylight, the sun setting on the arena caught up the light in all the sequins and made them flash and glint across the entire football field. For a while, before the sun went entirely down and the LED lights on everyone’s wrist bands took over the job of lighting up the night, it was as if the arena was covered in a mist of colored sprinkles. 

That more than anything else made me feel truly privileged to be there. It was just so nice to see everyone so dressed up like Christmas and candy and kittens all rolled into one big squeal-inducing hug. Any other questions you may have about the Taylor Swift phenomenon however—questions like, why her, why now, and what does it all mean—are going to have to remain unanswered for the time being. The short answer is just that Taylor Swift’s show is a fun, safe and private romp in an often-hideous world, and that is indeed a valuable commodity for her to be purveying. 

The longer answer demands a PhD dissertation or a nonfiction book, both of which I reserve the right to write at a later date. 

Gina Arnold
Gina Arnold is an American author, music critic, and academic. A lecturer at Stanford University and an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, she is the author of four books, including the 33⅓ book on Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville.


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