I went to my first concert when I was 13 years old. My friend’s dad took four of us to the Webster Theatre in Hartford to see Papa Roach (yup). He had bought himself a ticket even though he had no interest in whatever music he was about to endure. He waited in a long line in an 18+ area to get us autographs from the band since we weren’t old enough to do it ourselves. And he watched, us and the band, from afar while we teenagers took in our first experience with live music from whatever distance we felt was most comfortable.
I remember where we stood to watch the show. I remember the T-shirt I bought. I remember the opening bands, one of which couldn’t perform because of an equipment mishap (odd that one of the other bands wouldn’t let them borrow some equipment, right?). I remember who I went to the show with, even though for the most part we haven’t spoken or seen each other in many, many years.
Most of all, I remember my friend’s dad and what he did for us that night. I knew at the time that there weren’t too many kids our age going to rock n’ roll shows in downtown Hartford. And if it wasn’t for him, our first concert-going experience would have been completely different.
I’m not a religious person; for as long as I can remember, music has been my religion. Which would make concert venues my place of worship. And when you’re in the crowd, you’re there for one of two reasons: 1) You’re a big fan of the artist, or one of the artists, playing that night or 2) You’re an awesome parent who just wants to give your kid(s) a near-religious experience. For three to four hours, you’re sitting or standing in a room with hundreds to thousands of strangers and despite all the differences that may potentially exist between you, you have this one incredible thing in common. It doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your race, your background–you are united. Or at least you should be.
Which brings me to the tragedy in Manchester late last month. A heartbreaking event in every sense of the word. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said; it completely shattered me. But I want to focus on a different aspect of this tragedy for a moment. If somehow you haven’t caught wind of the outpouring of support that came in the hours immediately following the incident, it was incredible. Mothers who were at the show calling parents who had only dropped their kids off. Young adults taking in kids to their hotel rooms or apartments to keep them safe until they could be picked up. People all over social media trying to help others track down missing persons. Strangers helping strangers. That’s not just what a concert should be about, that’s what LIFE should be about.
Last year, I took my daughter and her friend to her first concert. She was 8 years old. We found the band’s tour bus so they could take a picture in front of it. Just as I did when I was 13. She went home with a T-shirt and a poster to commemorate her first concert. Just as I did when I was 13. And I sat there with her as she danced and sang and screamed with a huge smile on her face until it was way past her bedtime, just as my friend’s Dad did when I was 13. Going to your first concert is a rite of passage. To have that ruined in any way, let alone in a way as horrific as what happened in Manchester the other night, is unacceptable. Take a moment to remember your first show and what that felt like. How it paved the way for every show you’ve seen since. Then, at your next show, take a look around and see if you can spot someone who might be at their first one. And if nothing else, look out for them. If they fall down, pick them up. If someone’s making them uncomfortable, say something. Strike up a conversation if you feel so inclined. Let them know that a concert venue is a safe place. A place of acceptance, of respect, of worship.