“Enchanted—Well, I hope you make it!”

In my concert-going life, I have been late to three concerts, and all three have been in Florida.  My most recent tardy appearance occurred on September 25, 2012 in St. Augustine.  The telling of the story begins with another long drive, an unprinted concert ticket, and my hair.

I had not printed my ticket before packing my printer in Colorado, had procrastinated printing it due to the one million other concerns on my mind, and left for my drive from South Carolina to Florida on the day of the show with the ticket only in its virtual PDF form.  As for my hair, I was certain that, in the Florida humidity, which I was newly reexperiencing, my hair would not straighten properly for my preferred, well-groomed Stevie-concert look.  Once at my Priceline value motel, I decided to forego probabilistically futile hair efforts in favor of spending that time searching for a local Staples Office Supply to print my ticket.  By the time I had found both Staples and someone in Staples that could print the PDF ticket file, the 7:30 concert start time had arrived, and with it, the early symptoms of a panic attack.  I hoped beyond reason that Stevie would have an opening act to soak up some of the time it would take me to drive to the venue, park, and reach my seat, and I once more lamented that I am physically unable to propel myself from location to location through flight, apparation, or some other form of cosmic transport.

Once in the car with the engine running, “Gypsy” came on the radio.  “Gypsy” is my significant song that mystically plays on a radio near me in times of turmoil or despair, so I slowed my thoughts and did not panic.  As I approached the amphitheater, I rolled down the window and heard not an opening act, but Stevie, singing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” the current first song in her set.  The venue parking lot was full.  I steered my car down a street, veered it into an overgrown grass lot, possibly someone’s yard, vaulted out, and sprinted in my concert clothes and boots down the highway (on the sidewalk), across the street, and through the amphitheater grounds—easily a half a mile.  By this time, we were into the second song of the set, “Enchanted,” and I vaguely noted the irony of Stevie singing, “My destiny says that I’m destined to run” as I ran.  I noticed that none of the other late comers were running; I was going flat out.

As I raced through the amphitheater gates, Stevie sang, “Enchanted—-Well, I hope you make it!”  This almost compensated for my tardiness.  The security guard at the gate took a small eternity rummaging through my purse, and then calmly informed me  that I could not take my bottle of water into the venue.  “Take it!”  I cried.  The ticket scanner told me that Stevie had just started, and I thanked her quickly as I lunged up the stairs to the strains of “Wo wo wo—I hope you make it!”  and then down the stairs to the stage as security miraculously waved me by rather than spending their usual five to ten minutes scrutinizing each attendee’s ticket.  When I arrived at the stage area with my hair even more of a humid wreck and my otherwise carefully-groomed appearance a thing of the past, I noticed immediately that Stevie had made a similar hair choice—to not straighten—for the evening, and that, A. Her hair looked better overall than mine, and, B. She was probably on time, not making a time crunch hair decision.

This was the show I needed.  Every part of it mattered, but the moment that made all of the effort—the driving time, the running, the internal near-combustion when the ticket wouldn’t print—worthwhile was a ten-second comment Stevie made in her introduction to the last song.  Her nutshell explanation that night was that “Love Is” is about wanting something, having it, not being able to keep it, and accepting that.”  Something about the way she said this, especially the resoluteness of her saying “accepting that,” was so striking to me.  I learn so much about impermanence from Stevie and from her shows.  With this introduction and this particular performance of this song, I remembered both Buddhist teachings of impermanence, attachment, and craving, and Christian examples of loss, suffering, and acceptance.  Did I mention that I have a now-distant background in comparative religion?  That helps.  Anyway, I forget what I think I should already know and I forget how cravingly I can become attached to things I want or to things that I think should be a certain way, even to ideas and conceptions that aren’t good for me, until I hear Stevie say something about accepting loss or until I have a moment that I try too hard to hold onto.  The big idea of “Love Is” for me now is trying to be happy with reality after our expectations and attachments are torn away.  With hesitation, I would like to add that this was my 17th exposure to a “Love Is” live performance.  Sometimes I require multiple experiences to get the point.

On my more leisurely exit after the show, I realized that I didn’t recognize any part of the venue through which I had spirited myself in my race to the show.  I also realized that my calves and hamstrings were indeed sore after my unanticipated pre-concert workout, that my hair was and will always be irredeemable in the Florida heat, and that I had, through some manifestation of good fortune, managed to turn my car off and take my keys with me, permitting me to spend the remainder of my night in happy contemplation of a concert well lived rather than waiting in someone’s back yard for triple A to show up and let me into my car.  For this and all other graces of the evening, I am grateful.

Sweet Dreams are Made of This, Part 1

On March 15th, 2005, I had an unexpected day off from work. With the normal structure of my day collapsed, I had to figure out something else to do with myself. I drove to a park to run, and on the drive, listened to (Fleetwood Mac album) “Say You Will.” It sounded new. I had the same sense of impending possibility that I had when I first listened to “Say You Will” two years earlier in my apartment in Maine, sitting on the edge of my futon with a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, hosting my own private listening party. The feeling was like an emotional flashback, a very clear nostalgia.

I had felt bored recently, and I had begun having dreams of Fleetwood Mac concerts. In one dream, Fleetwood Mac opened their set with “Edelweiss,” to say the least, a unique selection for them, even in the dream world. This is the song that my mom requested to have played at her funeral. At the start of the dream concert, I was in the front and unconcerned. Whenever Dream Me became conscious of where I was or worried about maintaining my position, I was immediately transported to the back of the audience, by myself and away from my place of meaning.

Real-life me had thought frequently of Las Vegas because I had spent time there the previous two Marches with my parents, talking and gambling with my mom. This time of year always reminds me of Las Vegas. I associatively worked my way from these thoughts to thoughts of my mom’s birthday, which was May 10. One of her friends had mentioned having some kind of celebration or merriment that year. My daytime, reality- constrained self reasoned that a journey of some sort, possibly to a concert, possibly to Las Vegas, would snap me out of ennui. No travel was on the horizon, however, so my journeys seemed to remain mental travel into the past.

The question of the moment remained: What to do with my unexpected free day? My first plan, a lunch date with a friend, didn’t take wing because of his schedule. This friend did inquire about my graduate school application, something that I had made into a focal point of self-crucifictory angst and mislaid hope. I had applied at the end of fall to graduate school in the thin and ludicrous belief that this was my only chance to get out of my current life. I frequently characterize my life during those years with a quote from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, spoken by Clark Griswold when he learns that Cousin Eddy and family will be spending the holidays in their home, complete with their RV in the driveway: “If I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.” Getting back into a graduate program seemed a reasonable way to keep my head from metaphorically being sewn to the carpet and to circumvent all related lunacies.

No, I hadn’t heard from the program. I established the new afternoon plan of inquiring after the fate of my graduate application, vowing to email the graduate director as soon as I hung up the phone. First, however, I decided to check for pertinent updates on the Stevie Nicks websites, hoping for news of upcoming interviews, concerts to be shown on television, and other off-season pleasantries.

What do my wondering eyes behold?

“Stevie in Vegas!” The headline accompanied a press release from Caesar’s Palace describing Stevie’s four-night engagement at the Colosseum Theater. The show is titled “Dreams,” and it opens on May 10. Stevie, Las Vegas, dreams, May 10. What more encouragement could I need?

My phone rang. My friend Melinda called to tell me that the surf camp we had planned to attend was changed from late May to early June, at a time when I couldn’t go. Had the call come five minutes earlier, I would have been disappointed. Timed as it was, it meant I could channel the money I had saved for surf camp to Stevie in Vegas.

I went to work, fervently looking for ticket information. My dad walked in with the mail, which, as my ironic life dictated, included a letter from the Emory University Neuroscience grad program. I tossed the distracting parcel aside and continued my frenzied research. My dad flabbergastedly exclaimed, ” You’re not going to open it?!” I opened the letter, skimmed it, called out, “I didn’t get in,” and threw the letter away from the keyboard so that it would not intrude upon my ticket mission.

My dad proceeded to mutter and curse, coming back into the room to tell me to not be too disappointed. “Okay!” I said. I was already to the refrain of “Rhiannon,” so we had a picture of him grumbling overlaid with “All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the sky…!” I think I disappointed him by not being disappointed. I tried to appease him by saying I would probably be disappointed later, although I knew this would never come to pass. I was too elated to worry. Several months earlier, I was convinced that my life’s progress out of that house and back into life hinged on getting into that program at Emory. Sitting on the edge of my seat, warbling “Rhiannon” lyrics, I thought, “C’est la vie. You win some, you lose some.”

What I learned from this unexpected day and the concerts to follow is to pay attention: The thing that you think is your last and only hope probably isn’t, and the thing you least expect might well be.

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

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.