My first time in the balcony at the Ryman. Milk Carton Kids opened; telling jokes that made the pew-seated people laugh. I laughed too. I went to the bathroom and asked the usher if I could get back in without my ticket. The signs said “Ticket needed for re-entry”. The usher smiled and waved me through as if to say, “Of course sweetie. Don’t waste your time following silly rules.” I came back in and waited for their song to finish before returning to my seat. I stood with most of the balcony for a standing ovation—not because I loved them, but because I imagined what a feeling it would be to get a standing ovation at The Ryman.
Then a 30-minute intermission. Rebekah spotted our former neighbor Daniel and we hugged in the aisle. Big, real hugs. He’s a friend I’ve laughed, wrestled, and sobbed with. We met his lady friend of a month and I wondered how long their lives would run parallel. Then I introduced Rebekah to Paul as he passed by. We first met in 2015 on the sun-covered fields of Shelby Park playing ultimate frisbee. He was recovering from chemo then. He was one of the best players, but could only run in short spurts. The rounds had rung his body dry. I was drawn to the energy he had to show up, fight, and be all-in with what he had; that same kind of tenacity Darleen had, too. Paul’s cancer has come back. He’s bald and fighting again. And still showing up. Rebekah and I sat back down.
As Isakov stood backlight beneath the blue-purple spotlight; his circle-brim hat left his face in complete darkness. Shining. Humble. Mysterious. All at the same time. His band joined mid-song; he later called them his best friends. The cone-shaped spotlights illuminated the swirling smoke and made me want to snap an iPhone photo but I made a commitment to stay in the moment. No photos for me during the show. And that’s when I began writing this prose piece in my head.
The backdrop was tall grass under a starry night sky. In the center of the backdrop was a huge satellite dish. It reminded me of Gregory’s life. He works a farm in Colorado most the year; growing, harvesting and selling. But then this odd bus-and-plane music tour in the winter. A satellite tower in the middle of a field; communicating with technology orbiting Mother Earth. I think many of us gathered for his music because we can relate to this tension of life and work in the modern world. There were two globes filled with light on the stage—the kind I would spin in elementary school. I wished there were three of them. I liked the multiple worldview theme, but duality is problematic. Religion or no religion. Republican or Democrat. Male or Female. Dark or light. There is always a third way.
A few folks across the balcony had their flash on while taking a photo and quickly lowered their phones in embarrassment. Two men and one woman in front of me recorded videos of 6 or 7 of the songs. They were in their 60’s (Not millennials— back-off with your assumptions, boomers). At first I thought, “Really? You’re filming this on your phone? You’re here. Be here.” I was annoyed that they couldn’t be present how I wanted them to be. But then I thought of Paul (who don’t worry, was not filming on his phone) and the fragility of life. I thought of moments being meaningful because we share them with others. I imagined the older man uploading the video to Facebook or showing his son or daughter. I embraced their way-of-being in the world, even though I judged it to be more fragmented.
They played “Liars”, a favorite of mine. The multi-colored lights strobed as the music swelled. I felt the drum vibrations bounce off my chest. I stopped thinking about writing and focused on my breath. I felt alive. I was alive. I am alive.
It’s not about resisting taking smartphone photos. It’s about sharing. We all want to share. I talked to myself in my head 30 minutes of the set because I had the idea to write about it; all sparked because I knew I wasn’t going to have a photo-of-my-own on my phone to share. Words are not my thing. I like visuals. I like to touch. I do not reflect often with language. But damn, talk about not being present. I was wandering in my mind, holding moments, concepts and anecdotes up to the light. Re-ordering them. Because the night was happening and I wanted to be a part of sharing it. I wanted others to know how the smoke curled in magic circles somehow. I wanted people to see the banjo and wonder if it was a third globe: like time viewed from the 4th dimension (shout out to True Detective Season 1). I wanted people to know that Gregory was the only one wearing a hat and that acoustic-front-of-the-stage songs at the Ryman do not get old. I never intended to write about following rules, The Milk Carton set, hugging Daniel, or talking to Paul. But these things passed through me too. If the 17 year-old Orion was writing this, he’d end with a packaged message tied to some-kind-of bigger purpose; an answer for what this writing was all about. But I’m different now and trust voices that do not have themselves figured out.
It’s 1:24am and I’m tapping these last words on my light-blaring laptop while Rebekah sleeps beside me. I can hear Isakov’s repeating lyrics from “Caves” in my head.
“Put out the smoke in your mind
Let’s put all these words away
Let’s put all these words away
Let’s put all these words away”.