Have you ever noticed when religious gatherings seem the most unified is when they begin to sing? Music is something that speaks to us in a deep, tribal, primal kind of way. There is a magic in music that is unlike any other.
Back in *consults concert spreadsheet* 1995, I saw Melissa Etheridge for the “Yes I Am” tour at what was then known as Great Woods – it’s had several identity crisises since then and is now known as the Xfinity Center. During one of the songs, I wish I could remember which, I got completely overwhelmed by some drama in my life. I sat down and I broke down. A lesbian couple in the next row saw my upset. They both turned towards me and gently told me that no one should make me feel like it wasn’t right to be who I was. Things would be OK.
I often tell this story as a funny ancedote because the drama I was crying about had nothing to do with my romantic life or my sexuality, as I’m sure they assumed. But, even though the drama wasn’t what they may have thought, their loving affirmative gesture was still soothing in the moment.
More recently, October 10th to be precise, I had a similarly emotional concert experience. This time I didn’t have any particular drama or trauma on my mind. The lead singer of Blue October, Justin Furstenfeld, opened himself up to us and told authentic story about the isolation he felt due to COVID. Being unable to tour and connect with his audience. He was vulnerable and spoke to the painful disconnect that so many of us have been living in since the start of the pandemic. Especially those of us who thrive with live music. My eyes welled up and I nodded along as he described his joy at being back on the road.
Later, he told another personal story at the start of a song. This one didn’t resonate with me personally, but again, his vulnerability struck a chord with me. The tears went from welling up to spilling over. I could feel my face wearing that strained smile that comes from not wanting to cry, not feeling entirely sad, but feeling too moved to hold back. Heartbreak for his painful experience. Happiness for his eventual triumph.
As he began to sing, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked over and saw it was a beautiful black woman. I had noticed her earlier not only because she was beautiful but because she seemed to be radiating the same joy I felt at the return of live music. Nodding my thanks, I smiled back as I wiped away the tears. She left her hand there on my shoulder for most of the song. Gently squeezing or rubbing it every so often while she sang along with her other arm around her friends and we traded a few more glances. I felt uplifted by the simple gesture, especially in a time where phsyical contact has been so limited.
Different but the Same
In both stories, the women who offered me these sweet gestures were very different from me. Different sexuality, different race. But there was a sameness too. Their compassion, kindness – their human-ness – touched me in a moment when I felt raw and exposed.
Dave Grohl said it well, in his article The Day Live Music Returns in the Atlantic. “And with that simple gesture, we were reminded that we are all indeed just people. People that need to connect with one another.”
As I write this, COVID-19 is surging once again. Live music events are being canceled or postponed left and right. I hate that we are losing that magic once again, that point of connection. The prospect of trudging through the rest of a cold winter without it is depressing to consider. I just hope that in spring, like the dormant grass and bare trees, live music has a chance to flourish – and perhaps next year, return to being an evergreen fixture in my life.