The Greatest Show on Earth

I was probably working on some now long-forgotten statistical analysis in the computer lab at the University of Maine on September 18th when I tried my luck on Ticketmaster and pulled a front row seat to Fleetwood Mac in Bridgeport, CT on September 27th, 2003.  I pounced on that ticket—the drive would be only six hours.  Thus it was that I stood front and center for the entire show, soaking in the atmosphere of unconditional positive regard of the audience members for each other, the band for the audience, and, possibly, the band members for each other.  Not every concert creates a unitedly caring and engaged audience, but those people were golden.  These are the best experiences, the sense that we’re all in this together.

A woman to my right had thoughtfully penned and displayed a series of handwritten signs for Lindsey Buckingham to read.  The signs listed the number of shows she and her friends had already attended, which shows they were, and which shows were upcoming in their itinerary.  The woman displayed her signs at times when reading wasn’t obtrusive to the performance, so Lindsey would read a card and nod that he had finished that card, and the woman would switch to the next card.  I liked this.  It was a small story inside the larger story.  After the concert, someone remarked on the woman’s zeal for Fleetwood Mac concerts.  She let him know that she did not attend sporting events, but instead toured with Fleetwood Mac, as though they were her team.  I like that, too.

In between songs, I daresay in between “Landslide” and “Say Goodbye,” (for the possible reader that might be familiar with both titles), a little girl gave Stevie a teddy bear, which Stevie then had to hold behind her back when she and Lindsey immediately started the next song.  “Say Goodbye” was such an intensely personal and quiet song—really not much levity—that the sight of Stevie trying to conceal a stuffed animal behind her back to preserve the mood of the song had the effect of lightening the mood of the song.  I suppose the performance would have been wrecked had she held the bear outstretched in front of her as they sang of the past and lost love.  I remember lamenting at the time that I hadn’t thought to bring a gift, not necessarily an animal, but a little something thoughtful.  I recalled that I had a travel alarm clock in my purse that I could spare, but then reasoned that neither Stevie nor anyone else needed to be handed a travel alarm clock.  Later, after Australia, I continued my friend Vicki’s custom of writing cards, which is probably more reasonable than even the thought of rummaging through my purse for a memento.

This was my fifth Fleetwood Mac concert.  At the start of the show, I though about how familiar they (the band) seemed to me; much more familiar than, say, my elusive academic advisor at that time.  Part of the sense of familiarity at the start was thinking, “I’ve seen this before.” I would be driving to a wedding in Richmond the following weekend, and I had the inkling of an idea to swing by the concert in Washington, DC on my way.  At the beginning of this Bridgeport show, I mused that I might have had my fill.  By the end of the concert, the familiarity transformed into such feelings of joy and wonder that my thought became, “I must see this again as soon as possible!”

The music and live performance is always primary, but they are interesting people to observe, too.  I wonder not how they travel and perform together night after night, but how they go back to leading normal lives after a long time on the road.  Three years earlier, I had developed a time-limited fascination with watching episodes of “MASH.”  After viewing the final episode of the series, I became overly concerned for a distressingly long time with the idea that this group of people had lived together in such an extreme circumstance for so many years (fewer in the actual war than in the tv series), yet in one two-hour finale, all but one of them returned to the regular lives they had been leading before their time in Korea.  Wouldn’t they always question which was the real life, the day-to-day life to which they had returned, or the briefer, more intense life they had together in the war?

Clearly, the split between lives isn’t as great for traveling musicians as for wartime comrades, but isn’t the nature of life somewhat different for people whose passion and livelihood requires that they travel from city to city than for those that work and live in one place and step out for an evening to see the traveling shows?  The Fleetwood Mac people have been doing this for quite a number of years, too.  At what point does a certain way of being become the nature of your life, and am I perhaps thinking about this a little more than is reasonable?  For whatever reason, the Bridgeport show really brought these questions to my mind.  I have since met people that have gone to see Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks since the dawn of time, or at least since the late seventies and early eighties, respectively.  Obviously, I can’t compare experiences across as great an expanse of concert time, but I like seeing them now as older people; I see more of life in them, more story.

For whatever reason (I wasn’t consciously generating these thoughts during the concert), I came out of this show with a sense of peace about unsolved problems and good fortune about life in general.  I thought about moving through time and understanding my own temperament and life, my own way of being in the world.  I had a sweeping feeling about how to accept irreconcilable sadness within the context of happiness, even joy.  I have *no* idea what it was in particular about this concert that allowed me to receive these ideas, but whatever it is has never left me.  I think a lot of what C.S. Lewis said about living in the Shadowlands, that we see a real world only briefly and veiled.  Something about these shows and their aftermaths reveals something genuine that is usually concealed in the rest of life.

My feeling of fortune to be in the world expanded, and it made several days of neck pain due to craning my head at odd angles to look up at Stevie and Lindsey a mere triviality.  Spanning both sides of the chasm bridging triviality and meaning was my post-concert destination.  The morning after the concert, I decided to continue with “The Greatest Show on Earth” theme by visiting the P.T. Barnum museum, a legacy of P.T. Barnum’s Renaissance-esque showmanship, citizenship, and entrepreneurialism.  It was a magnificent spectacle, showing a world of intrigue and excitement that had streaks of both sideshow bizarreness and genuine life.  I could not have been more pleased with a roadside attraction to close my Bridgeport Fleetwood Mac weekend.

The P.T. Barnum Museum, Chang and Eng exhibit

Chang and Eng

Lost in Translation in Sydney

On December 8, 2009, I disembarked from the last in a series of flights that left south Florida several days before and stepped into Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport.  Harry and Maz were waiting for me when I cleared customs.  They had a new Australian cell phone for me.

During the Sydney portion of the Fleetwood Mac tour, I was to stay at Vicki’s house in Epping, a suburb outside of Sydney.  Vicki was still in Europe, finishing the medical certification program that so conveniently placed her in England during the European Fleetwood Mac tour earlier in the year.  Vicki’s husband, Rob, was expecting my arrival, but he was working at his office when I turned up on the doorstep that morning.  The scene developed into Harry, Maz, me, and all of my luggage—large backpack and supplementary carry-on backpack—arriving to be greeted by Vicki and Rob’s Asian housekeeper, a man to whom Harry and Maz gave the affectionate and perhaps slightly politically incorrect nickname “Mr. Miyagi.”

Mr. Miyagi was not a native English speaker.  Although Rob had presumably explained to him that I would be alighting at the house to stay for a while, Harry, Maz, and I detected that something had been lost in the translation.  We three, in our variants of the English language, tried to explain the purpose for our arrival, and encouraged Mr. Miyagi to call Rob at his office to confirm our story.  Mr. Miyagi called Rob, said, in his own accent, “There are three people here that want to come in the house.”  Pause.  Mr. Miyagi reports, “He said no.”  I have been on airplanes for over 20 hours, across my country and the entire Pacific Ocean, to get to this house.  When the moment of absurdity passed and our stunned faces regained some expression, Harry foraged through his cell phone directory and called Rob himself.  The slightly truncated version of what could become a protracted explanation is that Vicki, still in Europe, had hired a yard service to work on some trees in the yard.  When Rob heard Mr. Miyagi report that three people at the door wanted to come into the house, what he heard was, “There are *tree* people here, and they want to come into the house.”  Harry, Maz, and I, unlike the tree people, were most welcome.

Harry and Maz deposited me for a nap, planning to return that evening to collect me for the show.  I had a second nap, standing up, in the middle of the concert during one of Lindsey (Buckingham)’s chronically extended speeches about how they are all working to overcome their emotional history and learn to just have *fun.*  This might have been the show in which Stevie and John (McVie) attended to the activities of the lighting crew, up in the rafters, while Lindsey spoke.  The show when Stevie, out of the spotlight, propped her leg on the drum kit and stretched out her calves during Lindsey’s first speech of the night was a classic episode from earlier on the American tour.  Moving along in Sydney, I had quite a nice experience mildly hallucinating due to exhaustion and mesmerization during “Gold Dust Woman” but otherwise managed to remain conscious for the remainder of the concert.

At the end of the show, someone in the audience wanted to give Stevie flowers.  Lindsey saw this and retrieved the flowers for her.  She seemed pleasantly surprised and thanked him sincerely, which prompted him to cast around for more flowers to retrieve and present to her.  Upon receiving the second bundle of flowers, courtesy of Lindsey, Stevie offered the first batch back to Lindsey, presumably so that he would have flowers, too.  Watching this scene was like watching school children try to get along.  I found it endearing and added it to my mental list of amusing moments, another episode in the continuing character play.

After the concert, Maz declared that I looked “shattered” (exhausted), and she and Harry drove me home, feeding me Tim Tams on the way.  I was in better shape for the second Sydney concert the following night, and we learned from Maz’s friends what comedy and drama we had missed the night before because of our early departure from the scene.

Maz’s friends had met Stevie.  They had been idling in the back of the arena when Stevie’s car drove out, backed up, and stopped so that Stevie could get out and talk to a wheelchair-bound boy that had been at the show.  Stevie then talked to the friends.  All is well in this story thus far.  After a happy conversation, one of the friends, the one with a larger bosom, shyly held her concert ticket to her chest and asked Stevie to sign her ticket.  In the heavier Australian accents, “ticket” can sound like “teekt.”  Therefore, what to an Australian sounds like, “Stevie, will you sign my ticket?” to Stevie, an American, sounded like, “Stevie, will you sign my t***?”  They say Stevie’s expression dropped; she went from smiling to a look of disbelief and confusion, perhaps quickly devising an exit strategy.  The woman understood what had happened and annunciated more clearly while holding out her ticket.  Stevie reportedly said something like, “Oh!  Your ticket!  Of course.”  I imagine she experienced perplexity similar to our incident in Vicki and Rob’s driveway that morning when informed that we, the tree people, could not enter the house.  Maz, meanwhile, found the story of the boy in the wheelchair inspirational, and announced her idea to beat Harry up a bit and wheel him around after the second night’s show.

By this time in the year, I had an excellent attendance record at the Fleetwood Mac shows.  I do not doubt that other people would best me on an attendance roster, if such a roster were to be made, which would be ridiculous, because this business of concert-going is never about the numbers.  I do doubt that anyone could have a finer time with more interesting people, however.  Near the end of the second Sydney show, Lindsey, long accustomed to my presence, asked me, “Are you coming to Perth?”  I didn’t see how I could avoid going at that point.  The offer of a ride would have been welcomed, but I was pleased enough to continue the journey by my own transportation schemes.

First, however, I enjoyed a day trip to the Blue Mountains with Harry, Maz, and Maz’s nephew Cory.  Somewhere in the Blue Mountains, among the scenic overlooks, is Landslide Lookout, marked by a classic wooden sign that I am fairly certain was public domain.  Maz was busy giving Harry and Cory instruction on how to detach the sign from its post and maneuver it into their rental car as I asked, “Isn’t that your nation’s property?”  “It’s rightful place is in my home,” Maz replied.  I helped push the back seat down and volunteered that if we all hunched over for the ride home, the sign would, in fact, fit into the car.

This sign remains in its original location.

It would not satisfactorily fit into the car.

A Visit at the Ritz

July 28, 2007

My friends and I stood on a street corner outside the Dodge Theater in Phoenix, AZ.  Many other happy concert attendees waited nearby.  Our friends Michael and Joe had departed  after a brief post-concert review.  During the show, Michael had given Stevie a laurel wreath for her hair, which she wore for the remainder of the song and then removed offstage.  Michael assumed this would be the final fate for his wreath.  My little cadre was told that  some of the band would be visiting at the Ritz Carlton, and that we should come by.  “Okay!”  We didn’t need to be asked twice.  We presumed Stevie would not attend the Ritz gathering, so we waited to see her come out of the theater, which she did with her mom and with Michael’s laurel wreath again fastened on her head.  We were so pleased for Michael in absentia as we made haste to the parking garage to get the car and figure out how to direct ourselves to the Ritz Carlton.  On our power hike up the parking garage stairs, we were slightly winded.  “We have to train for events like this,” I said, “not for road races or competition, but hurdling over chairs in front of us in a venue, flying up stairs to get a car, or hightailing it to a post-party.”

I made it to my rental car and had it backing out of the garage while someone else called information for directions to the Ritz.  Let me pause a moment here and admit that had I been an early iPhone adopter, our navigational process would have been far smoother.  As it were, we had to memorize or scribble down (I don’t remember which) a verbal set of directions and follow these directions through road construction sites, attendant with potholes, barricades, and detours, through the dark Phoenix night.  I have seldom been so resolute of my direction when driving a car.  We careened into valet by the lobby and bell desk.  I took a half moment to reflect that this may not look normal when a wonderful man greeted us, asked if we were staying at the hotel or just visiting in the lounge, and spirited our car away to who-cares-where for us.

We walked as an anxious group dressed in formal yet festive black through the lobby toward the lounge.  The first person looked in, stopped, and said, “She’s here.”  I said, “I *really* have to go to the bathroom.”  I was having a problem that could not be postponed.  I wish not to be graphic, but I will take this moment to mention that this was neither my first nor my last difficulty while on concert tour with bathrooms and other facilities intended for either clearing or dispensing materials undesired on one’s person.  Why, as recently as last October 2011, I, after a long drive, arrived at a nice hotel in Las Vegas coated in gasoline and other debris.  I have learned that trouble that presents itself due to absurd circumstance before a momentous occasion is usually a portent of magical and decidedly cleaner experiences to follow.

I will spare you the state of my consciousness as I improved myself in haste and made my way, now solo, back to the lounge, *except* to say that I mused with angst that it would be just my luck to bolt out of my stall and bump into Stevie in the midst of a restroom run.  This did not happen.  Clearing the lobby and skidding into the lounge, my first sight was Stevie, by way of the laurel wreath now a familiar fixture in her hair.  I rejoiced again briefly and silently for Michael, bless him, somewhere in a club oblivious to our situation, noted that Stevie was at a table visiting with her friends and that I wouldn’t have interjected myself even had their been an open seat, and found the others talking to (guitarist) Carlos.

Carlos is delightful, and he seemed as interested in our impressions as audience members as we are interested in them as performers.  He agreed with my sentiment that no two shows are alike.  I presented for my example the two Atlanta concerts I had attended earlier that summer.  The first show had been very good musically and entertaining, and Stevie was engaged and gracious, but it was just a great show.  The second night was stunning, the band mindbogglingly in sync, and Stevie in such a spellbinding state of flow that the core audience was so mesmerized as to have to sit a spell afterwards before attempting to find cars and drive home.  What makes this difference?  Carlos wasn’t aware that fans notice when the band is “on” or in a flow state, and everything comes together. I found this interesting.  He said they can never know in advance exactly what will happen, or if telling friends to come to one show of a two-night engagement, which show will stand out.  Fascinating.  Carlos also noted that Stevie was talking more than she had in recent years, and that he liked hearing the stories behind her music.  We all could have burst forth with the true declaration, “I could never tire of hearing her talk!” but we held composure with the more measured, “Oh yes.  Those stories are interesting and fun.”  We have since remarked that, for all our love of the music, the lyrics, and Stevie’s soaring vocal expression, we would pay to see her talk for two hours.  I digress.

I ordered one glass of red wine at the bar, and by some stretch of conversational coincidence, struck up a dialogue about tequila, cactuses, and running with a member of the road crew that was enjoying Patron shots.  What I found most silently interesting and perhaps subversive of the dominant paradigm of this scenario is that the discussion really took off with the topic of running.  I had told him about running into a cactus in Sedona the previous year, and he asked, “You run, too?”  He had started running a few years previous, and reported that he tried to run whenever he had the opportunity while working on the tour.  I received my glass of wine and walked back to my little enclave, really pleased to have met another engaging, normal, and above-board person in the Ritz lounge.

Around this time, someone whose back was to the main table in the center of the room, announced her wish to grow eyes in the back of her head.  I, sitting perpendicular, reported what I could see out of the eye I had cranked around to monitor the scene to my left.  “They’re all talking and laughing together, like normal people.”  Those might not have been my precise words, but that is what was happening.  One of the people at that table was a young drummer for the musician that opened for Stevie, Trevor Hall.  We had spoken to Trevor Hall himself after the concert.  At that time, we politely limited our part of the conversation to comments about his show, but he told us about meeting Stevie, saying that she was very cool telling them stories, and that she has no ego.  He then said, with a note of awe, “She’s like a wise grandmother.”  “You didn’t use that term, ‘wise grandmother,’ when speaking with her, did you?”  we asked.  Fortunately, he had not.

Chris, the drummer for Trevor Hall, recognized us from the past two nights of shows and came to out table to visit.  Chris, who was all of 20, seemed eager to tell us about the stories Stevie was recounting not 20 feet away.  We remained our composed selves, not pressing for detail.  We mentioned that a friend of ours had made the laurel wreath for Stevie.  They had, only moments before, talked about that very thing at their table!  It’s as though our tables had been in conversation, except not verbally projecting to one another across the distance.  Anyway, Chris told us that Stevie told her conversational partners that she put the laurel wreath back on her head after the show, looked in the mirror, and, with a thumbs-up gesture, said, “I look goooood!”  This is a second or second-and-a-half hand report, but verifiable in that I had only to cast my eyes to my left to see confirmatory evidence.  I called Michael the next morning, or rather later that morning, to tell him the happy fate of his creation.

We were given an explanation of laurel wreaths in Greek history and I was informed that, with my religion background, I should know these details.  I hadn’t thought to study ancient Greek history and religious philosophy for this tour.  Next time.

Two A.M. was growing nigh with spirits and conversations running high.  A young waitress announced to our table that the lounge would close soon.  A few people doubted that the hotel would close the lounge for the night on Stevie Nicks and her crew, but when that little waitress announced to one and all that we would have to leave soon so that they could clean, Stevie and everyone else promptly stood up, said quick farewells, and made tracks for the exit.  Over the years since, our little group has reminded each other of Stevie’s prompt and gracious departure from the Ritz lounge that night.  When one of us reads a story about a famous person treating another person with disregard or encounters non-famous people in everyday life behaving as though each wish and assumption is theirs by title and design, we write to each other, “Remember how Stevie sprang from her chair *immediately* when the waitress announced closing time?”

We referred at the time to this evening as the “icing,” I presume on the concert cake, which for me was the inadvertent meaningful constant in my life for the previous few years.  Much earlier in the night, an obviously drunk patron on his way out of the theater asked us if we were in the band. “No,” we said, “We just think we are.”

For Michael, who got this particular party started.
Photo by me, Marlene.

Strangers on a Train

Imagine traversing the English countryside by train with your Australian friend (or if you are Australian, with your American friend), enjoying beer and conversation, eager in anticipation for the evening’s Fleetwood Mac concert.  Such was the state of my affairs on October 27, 2009, when aboard a Virgin Blue train bound from London to Manchester, Vicki and I shared a seating quadrant comprised of two ample seats per side with a convenient table in between.  I faced the forward direction of the train, and Vicki the rear.  At the start of our journey, the steward for our car, an elderly and affable English gentleman, tottered down the aisle asking after meal requests from interested passengers.  As the English gent passed us and inquired at the section of a mother and son that had boarded shortly after we were seated, I overheard the mother ask the child if he would like the smoked salmon sandwich.  My understanding is that culinary interest in smoked salmon indicates advanced age in a child, even an English child.

Let us fast-forward further into our journey.  Vicki and I are catching up on the various day-to-day stories in our respective lives, enjoying a pint of Guinness (me) and Stella Artois (Vicki), when I see Vicki’s eyes go wide.  I hadn’t said anything extraordinary.  In fact, I recall being in the throws of a rather mundane description of my living situation in South Florida.  I mentally bookmarked Vicki’s reaction to ask her later.  I didn’t have to ask her, because a few minutes later, following a scheduled stop and the disembarkment of passengers seated behind me, Vicki exhaled, rolled her eyes, and shook her head—all one fluid behavior—and told me what she had witnessed that I had missed as I drank Guinness and chattered away unawares.  The mother of the son who was a fan of smoked salmon had proceeded, after giving the boy’s lunch order, to breastfeed the child for their entire ride with us.  This she had done without apparent concern for concealment.  Vicki reported that the woman had summoned our elderly Englishman conductor to her side to retrieve for her a bag from the overhead storage, gesturing vigorously with an arm that extended unabashedly from her fully exposed bosom.  I don’t know, having been oblivious to this entire display, if the woman wrapped her top in any covering before leaving our train.

Vicki noted that the group seated directly across from the breastfeeding duo would have been in a particularly awkward and visually inescapable position.  One of the men in that station had to leave his seat at one point, edging around the woman seated next to him and then around the breastfeeding section. Naturally, Vicki and I discussed the entire scenario for the remainder of the train ride to Manchester as well as on our journey to our hotel, when we should have been reviewing details from past shows to prepare ourselves for the night’s concert.  Vicki pointedly wondered what the group directly next to the breastfeeding area thought, and we acknowledged that their experience was likely to remain a mystery to us.  That discussion got us to our hotel (which was quite lovely), where we forgot about the train incident and proceeded with our concert preparation: nap, champagne, decisions on attire and makeup application.  The show was outstanding; Stevie was radiant.  As though walking lightly on a cloud of joy, Vicki and I floated from the venue and around the street corner, coming upon the Manchester Hard Rock Cafe, where we happily repaired for dinner and discussion.

Seated as we were, across from each other with Vicki facing the interior of the restaurant, I was perfectly positioned to see Vicki’s second wide-eyed expression of the day when, nary a fraction into our post-concert analysis, she exclaimed, “Those are the breastfeeding people from the train.”  Vicki qualified her exclamation by telling me that she recognized these witnesses because they were seated in the same formation, because the man on the inside of the seat made his way out in the same way as he had on the train, and because she subconsciously noted the similarity in motion.  She sped to their table to make introductions.  The group visited our table for further discussion.  In their nostalgic recapture of the events on the train, one of the men asked Vicki, “Did you see the part where he (the child) sat up and drank from a cup before diving back in?”  We then revisited my favorite topic, the smoked salmon sandwich and the age of a child that would request a smoked salmon sandwich.  Following, Vicki and I ate, reflected, marveled, and laughed ourselves into a doubled-over stupor all the way back to the hotel.

Introduction to Concert Travel

On July 10, 2012, at approximately 6:15 in the morning, I dined in the breakfast room at the Ramada Inn south of Boston, MA.  I associate sitting in a mid-level motel eating reconstituted eggs with the start of my Fleetwood Mac adventures in 2003.  Driving from my then-home of Bangor, ME to Worcester, MA and to Bridgeport, CT for individual episodes on the Say You Will tour required overnight stays in public accommodation, which at the time I thought extravagant.  For this, my second concert venture, I rerouted a drive from Bangor to the Portland, ME airport to include an overnight concert stopover in Worcester.  Reading my notes from the time, I apparently concerned myself with my mental stability at such an act as going out of one’s way to attend a concert.  Looking into the bathroom mirror in the Red Roof Inn of Southbourough, MA on May 27, 2003, I wrote, “Is this out of hand?  My trip [the previous week] to Philadelphia hits the stability meter at whimsical and spontaneous.  I’m a bit concerned that this one has crossed to the other side.”  I was happy!  That state of being was rather unrecognizable in me at the time.  I had a card that read “Leap and the Net Will Appear” by my desk at home, and I tried to abide that advice when Ticketmaster churned out the 10th row seat to the show at the Worcester Centrum Center.  My self of a year prior might cast a skeptical eye upon my pursuits, but my self sitting with the reconstituted eggs at the Boston Ramada over nine years later, recuperating from an overnight flight for a concert the coming evening, shan’t bat an eyelash.

I’ve traveled around the world, and while my Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks concert travels certainly haven’t exhausted the possibilities of world travel (I don’t think I will see, for example, Siberia or an Arctic outpost on tour) or even of U.S. travel, the journeys have been varied and storied, as have the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen.  Some of these stories are from the shows themselves: nuances dissected with great enthusiasm in the wonderful conversational company of the folks I’ve met along the way.  Other stories speak to the trials and travails, whimsey, and occasionally outright outlandishness of a fan’s life on the road during tour time.  These stories and reflections obviously happened in linear time, and I wrote many things in my journals as they happened (or directly afterward).  My memory is not so linear (less so than ever before, in fact), so my recollections will very likely go back and forth in time.  I have to expect that this will all make sense in the end.