Swaying in the sacred crowd

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You know those moments that are frozen in time? Moments when your heart surges and you forget yourself and slip into eternity? Moments of arresting beauty, surpassing joy, otherworldly peace? I sure hope you do. I had one of them myself the other evening, nestled in a quiet crowd of concertgoers. We stood there in the dark, looking up at Gregory Alan Isakov and his band, drinking in the music sweet as honey. Days later, I’m still feeling the glow.

I don’t go to concerts often. Considering how much I (claim to) love live music, and how many venues there are near me, and how many people I know with similar tastes, it’s a wonder I don’t. It was NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts that first opened my eyes to the richness of live music. There I was, watching YouTube videos on an old laptop with subpar speakers, feeling a growing appreciation for the sheer artistry of it all. I love that live music is raw and messy. I love the stories and quips between songs. I love seeing how the members of a band interact, their knowing smiles and seemingly telepathic glances. I love watching the faces of musicians as they sing or strum or pluck or play, closed eyes and furrowed brows conveying just as much as words and notes, if not more. The songs are “stripped here to their essence,” wrote NPR of one band’s performance. Of another performer, they said, “he sings every word as if it’s the last time he’ll get the chance.” There’s a depth and a goodness to live music that I’d been missing for years.

Of course, actually attending a concert far surpasses my YouTube video-watching of performances. There I was, straining to glimpse Isakov’s silhouetted head through tall men in the crowd, occasionally looking over to smile at my friends, singing along to the (few) words I knew, closing my eyes to listen more intently, swaying to the soft beat. This wasn’t a head-banging, fist-pumping kind of concert. There was a sense among us of quiet wonder, even reverence, at the beauty of the music. Once in a while, I’d see a phone rise above the crowd to capture the scene, but mostly, they were kept away. It’s strange to say, but we were there. Really, truly, there.

I’ve been thinking since of what made this such an extraordinary experience, one that has lingered in a way most others don’t. It strikes me that it both drew me out of myself and felt deeply personal. There was a sense of intimacy among the crowd, all those people hemming one another in, rubbing shoulders and swaying into each other and holding our breaths for the last note. And there was a sense of individuality, too, in the way that my hidden heart was taking it all in, and that I stood there anonymously in the dark, and that I heard the words that struck chords in my own memory and imagination. The hundreds of us were both together and apart.

There was a sacredness to that night, a clear unrepeatability. 8 pm at Union Transfer on Wednesday, November 14 will never happen again. Of course, that is true of each hour that passes, no matter where I find myself, but this was a night that reminded me of that truth. It reminded me of that mysterious eternal now, the universality of human emotion and complexity, the capacity of my heart and mind and soul to be deeply touched and moved and inspired. It pointed me to God.

You know, I think I’ll start going to concerts more often.




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