It’s not a strange thing for a guy to have a collection of ticket stubs to concerts he’s been to, especially not a guy who has worked in radio for as long as I have. Concerts are just part of the gig – from small intimate songwriters circles to packed arenas with thousands of cheering fans waiting to belt out every word along with the band.
My time in radio has been marked by all the concerts I’ve missed. I don’t have a stack of stubs. I have a stack of tickets to all the shows I bailed on. Each ticket comes with a frustrating memory – of friends I abandoned, or professional opportunities I missed.
There is no greater feeling than standing in a crowd at a concert with each thump of the bass vibrating through you. Every kick of the drum beats your heart and you share this strange connection with the whole crowd. There’s an energy at a live show unlike anything else. Whether you’re standing in a bar facing a tiny corner stage or in a wide open field with thousands of others there is a bizarre intimacy to experiencing something that by its very nature can exist only once. The band might play this song 200 nights a year in cities all over the world for decades- but never before and never again will it happen like it’s happening here, at this show, with this crowd. If you let it – it feels kind of magical.
I didn’t really go to a concert for almost ten years. If the station was involved I’d stop by the show. I’d stay for a song. If I absolutely had to I’d hop on stage, introduce the band, and bolt out the back door. The idea of being in a crowd kept me away.
For years my office was in the basement of a national treasure – The Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. I listened to show after show through the stage floor, the muzzled sound of some amazing talent heard through the cinder block walls of my office.
Put a mic in my hand and send me out on stage – no problem. When I’m on stage, everyone is supposed to be looking at me. My anxiety came in moments where all I wanted to do was blend in and share a normal experience as a part of the audience. It was impossible.
It wasn’t just about anxiety. I couldn’t fit in the seats, and if I jammed myself in I was ruining the night for whoever was stuck next to me. If it was an arena show I knew I couldn’t stand for the length of the whole show. If it was an outdoor festival I knew I couldn’t walk from the parking area let alone spend a couple of days dancing and drinking in a field. That’s how I’ve come to have a box of untorn tickets to dozens of shows.
It wasn’t until a friend invited me to a festival this summer that I realized I can enjoy live shows again. Years from now, when I think back on this summer, it’s those nights of music I’ll remember most. Not because they were spectacular performances (some were!) but because they were such normal experiences for me.
We’d get a drink and stand in the crowd. As more people came they’d stand behind us – and I didn’t care. I wasn’t at the very back. I wasn’t leaning against a side wall. I wasn’t worried I was in the way, or taking up more space than I should. I wasn’t planning my early exit. All the fear was gone because I felt like I belonged there; I was just another guy in the crowd. Some nights I wasn’t even the biggest guy there. That never used to happen.
This is what I work for everyday. This is why I try to make better choices. It’s not because I want to live some superior life. I’m not a journey to anything special. I’m working my ass off just to be normal and experience normal things.
That’s what it’s about; standing there in a crowd, with a drink in one hand, a beautiful woman dancing in front of me, friends belting out every word all around me, and having a rare moment when I feel like a part of something. I’m not outside of this. I’m right in the middle of it. Living it up, because that’s the whole goddamn point.