Nashville, TN: When you're on the brink of getting sick, you'll take precautionary measures in order not to let it turn into a full-blown cold. Vitamins, a steroid shot, sometimes even cough medicine with codeine (if you're lucky enough to get some from Canada).
I recently had been feeling on the edge of another type of sickness; a lack of a type of vitamin that feeds my heart. I'd been craving a dose of soul-filled live music.
Since I hadn't been touring much, I wasn't regularly out of town for weekend gigs and being away from that environment was starting to dampen my spirits. I tried to supplement it, on one hand, by vacationing, and on another hand, by seeing friend's bands at small clubs in town, but the missing combination of both the music and the travel was causing a summer slump.
I decided to give myself a personal steroid shot of live music and found the nearest out-of-town show I could find with one of my all-time favorite performers.
There's something about going to see a concert at an amphitheater that is truly irreplaceable. It's taking all the elements of a proper concert, that is usually set in an air-controlled environment, and placing them in mother nature's hands, so she can finesse the evening. The lights, the video, the music -- they're all still there, but the elements of a summer breeze and a full moon act as additional set pieces.
Another special treat of a live show is having the opportunity to see the songs performed in a different light. Literally, since you're outside in the black of night (minus the stage lighting), but mentally since you don't have the luxury of changing the station or skipping a track if it's not the one you want to hear.
I've been a fan of JM's music for years. When I was lucky enough to work with him in '06 & '07, it was like listening to my iPod live each night. But that's not to say that I love every song. I have my favorites, naturally, but with his wide catalogue, and only two hours to play, I knew he couldn't give me everything I wanted to hear.
While he played many of the songs I could check off of my personal setlist, there were a few I wished he would have switched out for something else. But instead of hurrying up & waiting for the current song to finish so I could hear the next one, I started to really listen to some of those not-necessarily-at-the-top-of-my-list songs... in a new light.
Every night, John does an acoustic song, that is unknown to everyone, including the sound guys -- whose job it is to know what song is coming up next. While, again, there are so many great songs to choose from, he went back to where it all began and did a medley of My Stupid Mouth / Why Georgia / Your Body Is A Wonderland. Before he started, he said he was going to give "what I think each and everybody wants in one way or another."
The problem with going back -- wayyyyy back -- is that you can't help but go back down your own memory lane as the songs fill the air. And my memory lane is a bit bumpy and curvy, with far too many wrong turns taken, which is why I haven't listened to those songs in a long time.
Though I was trying my best to be fully present in the moment, eventually, with the help of the entire audience's chorus in unison, I allowed myself to slip back into the past, guided by his lyrics:
And if you want love
We'll make it
Swim in a deep sea
Take all your big plans
And break 'em
This is bound to be a while
|29th Birthday Cake on the Kenny Chesney Tour, 2004|
A Face To Call Home:
There was a time in the past (speaking of memory lane...) when I couldn't listen to music. Every song seemed to be about love or heartbreak. And while in heartbreak, the last thing you want to do is hear a song about either one. Gratefully, I discovered NPR (thus beginning my crush on Ira Glass) and when I eventually returned to listening to music again, I had built up a carefully constructed shell so that I could listen to love songs, but not give them any sort of practical credit. I reasoned: the lines romantics sing about just aren't realistic.
When I first heard A Face To Call Home off of Born & Raised, I could feel a small crack form on my shell. Which is why I tend to skip it when it comes on shuffle.
The lyrics are humble and honest:
So good you didn't see
The nervous wreck I used to be
You'd never know a man could feel so small
And you never look at me
Like I'm a liability
I bet you think I've never been at all
and they don't make lofty promises:
Little by little, inch by inch
We built a yard with a garden in the middle of it
And it ain't much, but it's a start
You got me swaying right along to the song in your heart
After swaying along to the song on the stage, it gave me a little flicker of hope that -- as much as I'm afraid to say it out loud -- perhaps honest and humble love could actually be a realistic possibility someday. Even for me.
At the end of the evening, he ended the set (prior to the encore) with Gravity. While I was still trying to stay present in the moment (this is harder than it seems, people!), I couldn't help but go back to my time on the Continuum tour. Every night, for almost an entire year, the show would end with Gravity. Eight minutes of Gravity. The song on the album is a little over four minutes but John & the boys would stretch it out and it would almost double it live. And that's a lot of gravity.
But this night, I let eight minutes of Gravity sweep me up in a blend of the past, present and future. And in the middle of the song, he incorporated a bit of Otis Redding's I Got Dreams To Remember, which was the perfect accompaniment to an already nostalgic evening.
For the future, I have discovered that the perfect concoction to an ailing musical soul is to seek out and fill up on that which you love and that which you remember... and, if you're lucky, that who remembers you.