Tuesday, August 26, 2008

my saturday night

Justin called me at 4pm on Saturday saying that he had found me a pass for Outside Lands, to get over there right away. An hour and a half later, I was at the entrance, meeting him, and walking into the festival. He had to go work for another one of his artists, so I wandered around, got an expensive but tasty vegan-hummas-wrap-thing, a good cup of coffee, and saw The Walkmen.  From there, I caught Matt Nathanson's set from sidestage and during the final song, crept out onto the polo field, and under the canopy of fast moving fog overhead, I set out to find a good spot for Tom Petty.

I had always been a casual fan of Petty's, but in the last few years, his album Wildflowers has become the piece of music that centers me when I'm off balance.  It has been playing in the background of so many different experiences now, has become associated with so many different moments come memories, that the feeling I get when I hear it is just a cross-section of the feeling of who I am, of all the things I'm made of.

I almost got to see him on my birthday in 2006 when we played the Austin City Limits festival, but we got booked on a cool show with Murder By Death in Oklahoma City on night he headlined.  I have been waiting for an opportunity since.

I ran into my friend Peter and walked with him into the VIP section, a nice triangle of space near the front of the big stage where people who had acquired a specific green wristband could watch the show from darn close.  The set began, and I started singing: You wreck me baby! Yes you do!  I didn't feel like I was near enough though, so I said goodbye and began pushing my way up through the crowd, towards the barrier, where the entire festival pressed with all its force.

I wriggled up to the front, with only a hundred or so people in front of me, with my head back, yelling along: Even the losers get lucky sometimes!

He started into Free Fallin' and I stood on my toes, twisting my head around looking back at the sea of singing faces behind me, then back up at the stage.  I could see everything.  It was a good spot, but I had this feeling, like an itch, that I could do better.  I turned around, and eased my way back toward the exit of the VIP section. Thousands and thousands of mouths moving: And I'm a bad boy, for breaking her heart...

My pass wasn't good to get me into the back of the main stage, but I figured I could reason with the security gaurd, tell her what a big moment this was for me, and maybe she'd listen. Approaching her, though, I found that she was already having that discussion with someone else.  I stopped a few feet away, not sure what to do.  All of a sudden, three people with passes around their necks that I had never even seen, rushed past us.  She waved them by, and as she turned back to the Petty fan that was hassling her, I slipped by with them.

When I was nineteen, I spent a summer out of college as a roadie for a friend's band on a festival tour, and I've played enough of them to know where to stand, to know how to keep my cool.  Security guards are people too.  If you look like you belong, then you do belong.

I was back and I felt like I was in the clear.  I looked up at the giant stage ahead of me. Generally there is a side of the stage for guitar techs and stage managers, for sound and lighting people, and a side of the stage for people to just watch.  I was on the technical side, but there was no security beside the stairs, so I walked with all the purpose I could, right on up.

Everyone was in the shadows on the side of the stage, but where it opened up to the festival, to the masses crowded on the grass of the polo field, it was lit as bright as it could get, and there was Mike Campbell, and behind him, at the mic, was Petty.

I slid into corner, and pulled out my phone, texting Justin that I was on stage, figuring that would make me look like I had better things to do than watch the show, so I must belong up there, but immediately, a stage manager approached me.

"You CANNOT be here!" he said, as I looked up at him blankly, "Let me show you where you can watch from..."

And he led me around the back curtain, to stage-right, where a few paces from Benmont Tench, I could lean on a barrier beside some folks that I recognized from... well... from them being classic songwriters and musicians and whatnot, and looked out at fifty, maybe sixty, maybe seventy thousand people, trying to seem as composed as I could,  while I drummed my hands on my chest, while I listened to the cheers rising from football fields away and stared out at all of the faces, red or green or blue in the concert lights, and felt the rush of it all while I sang along: Take it easy baby, make it last all night! And I didn't move until the band left the stage and piled into the waiting limos behind, which took off and disappeared as quickly as the band had taken the stage.

I walked off feeling as comfortable in my own skin as I ever have.  I was grounded, and reminded myself of something that I always tell people, but don't always tell myself - that if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to make it happen.  And as I said to Justin later, "I'm as big of a music fan as they come, so if you give me an inch, well..."