Aerin It OutColumnsNightlife

Returning To Live Shows Is Like Reconnecting With a Lost Love

Live from the therapist’s office

Back in time, post pandemic social scene, Optimist Hall, Waffle House
Aerin Spruill

At the risk of sounding like a B-minus high school student searching for an overused quote to meet the word or page count for a term paper, I find that Bob Marley’s, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain,” is genuinely the only way for me to describe how I’ve felt over the past couple months as I’ve reignited my flame for live shows. 

At the first gig I attended post-shutdown, I felt as anxious as I would feel secretly meeting with an ex-lover that I vowed to never stir up emotions for again. And I didn’t know why I felt this way as I stood in the lobby of Charlotte’s Belk Theater across from my love (my true love, as I am not planning on meeting an ex-lovers, it’s just an analogy), guzzling a plastic cup of overpriced whiskey and cola before rushing to our seats.

It was my boyfriend who led me back to this star-crossed lover before and watching him gaze at live music brought me alive; not because of the music itself, but because of the intimacy of the experience — of standing next to him waiting for his glance or his arm around my back when the darkness fell around us like a warm blanket. 

You’d think I’d invite our third wheel in with open arms, but instead, I fumbled through the emotions as if live shows and I were making love for the very first time. As we took our seats, I couldn’t figure out why I was so nervous. Then the lights dimmed and my breath trembled at the first notes, unbeknownst to my sweet love, and I became overwhelmed with the eerie, the hypnotizing, the enchanted crowd, and the movement of it all. 

But it wasn’t the band. It wasn’t the performers that time nor at any of the shows that followed. None were my choice, none were even my genre. It was the simple fact that I’d forgotten in those moments that when the lights dimmed, and the music began, nothing else mattered. The metaphorical cloud of sadness that seems to follow me everywhere I go, that creeps in when I’m smiling the hardest, goes away. 

During our string of breakups, I loathed live music shows. The outrageous drink prices. The sitting in the back seat of a long Uber ride. The standing in line waiting patiently to be stopped, frisked and wanded. And most importantly, every single person seemingly having “too much fun” sent me into a frenzy of “what ifs,” convinced that I’d experience the worst-case scenario of having to claw my way to the top of a human stampede. 

It wasn’t until after a pandemic and four deaths in the family that I realized how much I genuinely loved the chaos and beauty of it all. 

A plethora of screenshots and pics proving my vaccination status are scattered about in my phone, now lost in a sea of food, drink, dogs, and the memes I save in between shows. The crotchety staff scanning IDs, securing wristbands, and triple-checking said vaccine pics. The shock of buying a tallboy and a whiskey cola knowing that I’d hear, “That’ll be $28.50.” The often unpleasant smell of the bathroom that’s surely situated far enough away that you’ll miss at least one song if you “break the seal.” The entitled but excited showgoer that asks ever-so-politely, “Can you pull your beanie down so I can see over your head?” as if magically your head can shrink. And of course, the sweat beneath a mask that can’t wait for the reprieve of not-so-fresh air. 

 At each show, I took a deep breath to appreciate the aroma of secondhand smoke and alcohol that hung in the air. Then I breathed out as if settling into downward-facing dog in a yoga class releasing every negative emotion and thought into the air.

The first sounds of the set pour into the room like the squeal of a teapot that’s been brewing quietly on the stove for quite some time, as the light show creeps in — laser beams cast into a dark room spreading across the stage. That’s when the trauma ends and my renewed faith in hour-long therapy sessions sans the $350 out-of-network fee begins. Oh, how I missed you. 

After so long a distance between this world and my own reality, it’s now that I fear that this love affair stuck in the cycle of on-again, off-again will come to a familiar abrupt end. That I’ll forget how much we missed one another, or I’ll follow my eating habits and overindulge, both paths leading to my outgrowing the pure, simple and childlike nature of these moments in the dark, encapsulated by live shows once more.

Read more of Aerin It Out here.

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