Wednesday night I got to share an experience with my oldest son which he will never forget. As my two regular readers will already know, both my sons are on the autism spectrum. The oldest one has Asperger’s Syndrome. Unlike his little brother, he is in regular classes, and if you were to encounter him in public or on the street, depending on the setting, it might take a few minutes for you to figure out that he doesn’t see the world the way you and I do. And like me, he is an Eric Church fan.
When we learned Chief was coming to Seattle this spring, my wife got on-line and we bought two tickets, so he and I could go and see one of our favorite singers in concert.
While I have been to many “big” concerts over the years, mostly at Michigan venues like Meadowbrook, the Pontiac Silverdome, The Palace at Auburn Hills, The Saginaw Civic Center, and Pine Knob, I have never been to any major Washington venue other than McCaw Hall.
We left in the early afternoon, so to avoid any traffic issues, and arrived in plenty of time to enjoy a spring afternoon at Seattle Center, and found a line forming already, with hard-core fans outside. I wish I could say that I was impressed with the venue’s handling of guests outside the building, I can’t. Conflicting information and instructions given by the venue’s workers made the wait frustrating and disappointing, especially for a young man who has a need to clearly understand what he is expected to do and participate in. However, once we finally got to the entry, the credit card/ticketless entry system seemed to work very well. The lines for souvenirs were long, but moved quickly, and soon my son had his first concert t-shirt with the image of his hero on the front and a list of concert venues on the back. We went to the concession stand to get a snack and some drinks and went to find our seats.
Let me say that for a concert, I don’t think there can be a bad seat in the Key Arena. We both spent a fair amount of time looking around and watching people file in, and looked at the stage at the south end of the arena.
The Brothers Osborne took the stage at 7:30 pm, and played a great show for about 45 minutes to a half-filled arena. I had heard them before, and knew they could play well, but judging from some of the reactions around us, several people were hearing them for the first time…and liking it. They played songs from their EP, including “Let’s Go There”, and “Rum”, and connected well with the audience when they spoke about knowing that you don’t have to be from the south to be country, before launching into a blistering rendition of “Down Home”. But my moment of great surprise and wonder came when they admitted to being great fans of The Band, then started playing an ambitious take on “The Shape I’m In.” While my son wasn’t familiar with the songs, he still enjoyed the performance, as did the concertgoers there to see it.
After the Brothers Osborne left the stage, the workers came to clear everything off, and soon a slide show started playing on the jumbotron above the stage as the arena filled over the next hour and fifteen minutes.
When the lights darkened and the opening strains of “The Outsiders” started, my son’s eyes got wide and he turned to give me a high-five as the crowd erupted. By now the woman next to me had figured out that my son isn’t “normal”, and that it was his first concert. At different points she tried to engage him, asking him what his favorite song was, high-fiving him when he appeared to be excited about a particular song, and urging him to wave his arms and cheer like everyone else in the arena, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.
Eric and the band played an excellent show on a stage meant to allow them to play to the front, the sides, and the back. His energy was undeniable, and he reminded the crowd of his many visits to Seattle. The drum kit came down from the ceiling and turned during the show, and lights lowered and raised from the ceiling and from the back of the stage throughout the show. Eric drew on his vast catalog of songs, getting some of the strongest crowd reactions to favorites like “Sinners Like Me” and “Pledge Allegience to the Hag”. As the top-fueled 2+ hour performance drew to a close, he and the band played a poignant version of “Springsteen”, and before he wrapped it up, he talked to the audience about the line “Funny how a melody sounds like a memory”, and how he wanted us all to form a memory of that special Wednesday night, before he invited the audience to sing along with him to the “Whoa-oh-oh-oh, Whoa-oh-oh-oh,Whoa-oh-oh-oh”.
I was glad for that. For that evening, my son was part of an arena full of family, united in their love of a performer’s music, and of the performance itself, which was one of the best I’ve ever witnessed, and he got to just belong, and enjoy the irony of not being an outsider. I saw his shoulders droop just a little as the band left the stage at the completion of the song, and then I saw them raise back up a bit when Chief walked back out alone, and stood in the spotlight as he played “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”. It was a good ending to a great concert. And we got to enjoy a day of good conversations, before and after the concert, and one of the best performances he’ll ever see by a guy who sings songs that will be permanently embedded in the soundtrack of our lives, and those melodies will always be memories.
Thank you, Chief.