The first concert I ever attended was Elton John at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, California. I was in sixth grade, and I went with my best friend Emily and her mom. I was invited along because Emily’s older sister couldn’t go, and so they had an extra ticket. Why Emily’s mom had been planning to bring her young daughters to an Elton John concert, I will never know, but her decision allowed me to go.
I remember the concert being loud, and stressful – so many people, so many lights, and most of all, so much sound. I clung to Emily’s mom, and she gave my earplugs because I was genuinely uncomfortable. I didn’t think that I would ever enjoy going to more of these loud, sweaty, chaotic occasions.
And I definitely didn’t think I would ever enjoy going to them alone.
But the second month of my freshman year at Emerson College found me on the Web Staff of WERS, the school's radio station. I was suddenly tasked with writing content for the website, which included concert reviews.
And then I was at my first concert in Boston, seeing The Mountain Goats at House of Blues. Alone. I was bewildered and a little scared, even. Where should I stand? How do I get the spot I want? How long until the opening act? I scrolled through Twitter to pass the time until I ran into the Tweets I had already read that morning, and then I pulled out flashcards for an upcoming midterm. I glanced around to see if anyone was looking at me, but they all were preoccupied with either someone else or their alcohol. I spent the evening very alone, and very lonely, because I didn’t know how to act. I would like to say going alone to the concert was an eye opening experience for me, but it wasn’t. Neither was the second show I attended alone. Only by the third solo adventure did I finally wake up to a reality: Going to concerts by yourself is a good thing.
I think there is so much value in going to a show by yourself, and I wish more people realized this, instead of viewing it as sad and pathetic, just like I did at first. In our culture today, there is unfortunately a stigma that comes with doing things alone. You’re judged as “antisocial” or, even worse, you’re treated with pity, as if no one would ever do things alone by choice. Well, screw that.
Self-help and relationship articles talk about “dating yourself.” They suggest coffee dates, dinner dates, “romantic walks," all by yourself to help strengthen your identity (note: these are usually written for single women). Yet sometimes being physically alone is not enough – it is too self-aware. You know you’re doing it to prove a point - that you can be alone and not lonely. This is why I believe that there is value in being completely anonymous in a crowd of people. What better place demonstrates this than a concert, where there are hundreds or even thousands of people milling about, waiting to see the same band that you are?
Going to a concert with your friends or a significant other means showing up at a predetermined time, grabbing a drink, and finding your seats (if assigned) or your spot to stand (if it is General Admission). The perk of going alone is that you and you alone get to decide when you arrive at the venue. If you get pre-concert jitters like I do, you can leave early to make sure you get there before doors open without feeling like you’re inconveniencing anyone. Getting there early also assures that you’ll get to choose where you want to stand. Yeah, you’ll have longer to wait, but take this as an opportunity to do several things. Examine the stage set up: your favorite band will be standing there soon. Watch the crew assemble/detangle/plug in/work their magic on the sound equipment and appreciate their work. Forget all of the stress of the day that followed you here: stop making lists or playing that mistake you made over and over again in your head. Focus on the venue. You’re here now – right where you want to be.
Going alone also means you can stand wherever you want. No more trying to be “cool” and hanging out further back from the stage. If this is your favorite band, get right the hell up there. You have every right to be in the front, and you have no one to impress. Conversely, if you’re always the friend who goes with people like this, and you enjoy hanging back, do that instead. You don’t have anyone to hassle with, and again, nobody to impress. Moral of the story: you can do what you want.
During the concert, you get to reflect on the music as it relates to you. Again, focus on your anonymity in a public space. It’s exciting to know that you are inside your own little bubble of interpretation. If you want, you can also focus on other people who seem to connect with the music. It isn’t creepy – it’s enjoyable to watch a smile spread across a stranger’s face as they hear a song that means a lot to them. Sometimes their smiles can last the entire concert – these are the best.
If people-watching makes you uncomfortable, you have another option: talk to them instead. When you’re by yourself, you can talk to anyone. Often, when you attend a show with a friend or a significant other, the purpose is to spend time together. This means that conversations with strangers are at a minimum. However consider this: everyone at that concert is there to see the same band as you are. This means you have more in common with these “strangers” than you would with most people you pass on the street.
By my third solo concert venture, I finally had this realization. It was mid-October, and I was seeing Milo Greene at Brighton Music Hall. I was most excited about this show than any other; I had had tickets since August and had impatiently watched a countdown set on my phone. I was pumped. So pumped, in fact, that I showed up so far before doors opened that I was second in line to enter the venue. At first I wasn’t even sure if I was in the right spot, so I asked the only person I saw in front of me – tentatively - if she was waiting for the Milo Greene concert. She assured me that yes, I was in the right place. After a brief chat with her, I learned that her name was Bree and she was a high school teacher, but in her spare time she blogged about music (whatbreesees.com). She told me that in 2011, she had attended 52 concerts – pretty much the pace of one concert per week. As we talked, we discussed live music and my new job at WERS. We decided to stick together during the show (grabbing spots at the front) and afterwards, we exchanged contact information. We’re still in touch, six months after meeting. She actually just saw Milo Greene again in Maine, and she mentioned me in both of her write-ups of the shows.
At this same concert, while I was bonding in line with Bree, I recognized one of the band members, Andrew Heringer, walking in and out of the venue. Before I knew it, I was calling his name. He turned around, surprised, looking for the source. I waved, identifying myself as the owner of the shrill female voice that had probably just startled him. To my terror, instead of just waving, he came over to me. Suddenly, Andrew, Bree and I were deep into a conversation that lasted for about 10-15 minutes. I was in fangirl heaven. God only knows how I was able to keep my cool.
I consider this concert experience as the one that removed the stigma in my mind from going to shows solo. Since then I’ve attended many more concerts alone. At these, I’ve met Robin from Sacramento, California, who just moved to Boston (we’re friends on Facebook now), and another lady who’s soon moving to Germany to teach Kindergarten. At a recent Jukebox the Ghost concert, I met a father and daughter who couldn’t actually count how many times they had seen the band live – but they at least knew they were willing to drive several hours in order to go to the next show. “We just popped on over to Maryland to go see the last one,” the father had said at one point. How do you “pop” over from Boston to Maryland? I didn’t ask.
When jazz artist Grace Kelly came to the WERS studio and put me on the guest list for her concert that evening, it didn’t bother me that no one else could come to this sold out show with me. I headed to Cambridge, slid through the dark doorway of Club Passim, said my name to the hostess, ordered a soda, and enjoyed the show. After it was over, I didn’t have anybody to convince to stay by my side while I waited for Grace to come out so I could thank her.
This is also important: when you’re by yourself, you can leave whenever you want. You can stay as long as you want in order to meet the band afterwards, or you can leave early if you’re not feeling well. No one can stop you. You can grab your iPhone and catch a T back home. If you screw up and miss the last train of the night, that’s your fault. There’s no discussion, no arguing, no blaming.
However you get home, the trip is a time for reflection. This is valuable. When you go to a concert with someone, there is definitely a joy in discussing the experience afterwards with them. But for me, discussion is a way of putting that concert in the past. It’s already a memory, whereas when you're walking by yourself to the T late at night with your ears still buzzing from music that was probably way too loud but amazing nonetheless, that memory is still in your head. Once you put it into words, however, it becomes a story, one to tell again and again as the details fade. When you're by yourself, though, in the confines of your own mind, you can savor each and every piece of the experience.
Madelyn Reese is a Freshman at Emerson College, majoring in Writing, Literature and Publishing. Her loves include her family, golden retriever, two cats, writing about and listening to music, coffee, tea, and writing lists.