More than music

July 22, 2008

Being there is everything. Not just attending small venue concerts to hear musicians I’m enthralled with but making sure I’m pressed next to the stage.

I want to see what’s written on their faces, to witness the up-close interplay with their band mates, to judge how they play off the audience. I want to imagine how they feel as they peer into the bright lights and hear the adoring cheers. How much do they reveal of themselves, and how much is a mask of repetitive showmanship played out over and over from one city to the next? How much do they genuinely give besides music?

It’s an in-the-moment experience that can’t be recreated. We can’t adequately recall emotions, and what I’m trying to describe is fraught with emotion.

As I write this, Andrew Bird’s “Armchair Apocrypha” plays. It helps conjure what I experienced last night in Boise, Idaho, at The Knitting Factory. I see the frayed hairs of his violin bow dancing on the air. I see him removing his shoes to reveal brightly striped socks. I see him moving frantically, putting down the violin and swinging his guitar into place in a matter of a few seconds, closing his eyes as he whistles in between falsetto notes that drift out across the dark.

But I can’t replay what it felt like.

It was no different when Josh Ritter later took the stage. Is there a lesser known musician in America whose every lyric is sung simultaneously by the audience? How does hearing the same songs in person that I’ve heard dozens of times make them so much more poignant? It’s not the sweat I saw dripping from his wrist, although I felt — quite irrationally — as if in some small way the sweat was for me. But remembering that detail isn’t like how it felt when I made the observation, enveloped in a song and the heat and the crush of fans behind me.

One can’t fake joy. And in the end, that’s what they gave. Even if they themselves didn’t feel joy, they enabled me to — joy in the music they wrote, in the stories they told, and in the performances they delivered that transcend contractual obligations. They carried me not away but deeper into those few hours, enveloped and immersed in that one place.

At one point, I turned to my son Zack on my right (my wife Suzame and daughter Erin were on my left) and said you have to revel in what’s happening -– all of it, not just the sounds and the sights but the experience of the moment, the way you feel now.

At nearly twenty-two, he is appropriately skeptical of all things that his father utters. This time he nodded and smiled. I saw in his eyes a light.