The wind farms are the first sign we’re getting close. The strange white objects protruding from the ground and breaking the still of the cloudless summer sky. They come first, then the brown hills, unfolded like a map, then around the corner and the Columbia, that deep blue I haven’t seen in a body of water in a long time—can’t remember when—stretches out before us like the last landmark on a long journey. It’s not that long of a journey, but when you want to get somewhere so badly an hour feels like eternity and every line we have to wait in to get to the concert—the line in the parking lot, the line to get through security, the line to pick up tickets, the line to show our IDs in exchange for a paper hospital bracelet showing we’re over twenty-one—all these lines are as bad as the heat, the ninety degrees plus that thickens the air outside the air-conditioned car.
The heat makes the crowds cranky, like the lines and the disorganized ticketing and the price for alcohol. Most of the crowd has drank enough to last two concerts—why would they want to drink themselves past oblivion, and then go to the concert? We choose a slower approach, margaritas that come out of slushy machines while the opening acts play.
When the band plays, when they walk on stage and first pick up instruments and test out microphones, the crowd is a ball of nervous energy spilling over. This is a band we love. We came here because we love their music, because we heard them on the radio because we deemed a song “our song” because we found something in the lyrics in the music that we identify with. We find that big raspy mumbling voice that comes out of the lead singer’s mouth sexy in the way art is sexy. Not always understood, but always felt.
I want to push past the five rows in front of us, want to ignore the thousands of people on the grassy hill behind us, want this moment to exist for me, him, and them. Why should the drunk girls in swimsuits and denim mini skirts get to hear this? Why the frat guys looking to score with the drunk girls after they realize that no, Kings of Leon don’t care about you groupie, go home? Why the couples that are only here because they think “Sex on Fire” is about them and their screwing? The sad thing about art: the way so many ignorant people can ruin it just by touching it, breathing on it with their hot air. Don’t they know that “California Waiting” is our song? Don’t they know that this song was written to play as we drive by the ocean with the windows down, hands floating on a highway breeze? Don’t they know this is the song that makes me love him, that makes me love us as an idea and a reality? It’s funny, but I can’t recall the lyrics, just the feeling.
Let the hippies stay. They are warm and swaying and they dig the music, man, not the notion of it. I wish the band would play more from their first album, wish they’d sing all my favorite songs like a dedication, close the show with our song. And even though they don’t and we miss out on a couple of his favorite songs to go the bar and pay ten dollars for a single shot, it’s probably better this way. Let’s keep it between us, like art.
The view over the river is the kind of picturesque that makes people stupid, like lovers. But we take it in, and the wind, and that tequila, and we are floating on top of this music like it will carry us all the way home. And everyone is so polite when we walk through the aisle back to our seats. Even the guy with the big head in front of me isn’t that bad; it’s funny how he tries to sing along but doesn’t really know the lyrics. He moves his lips and occasionally they match up.
I’m feeling in love with everything about this night, don’t even care that you smoked that cigarette, that the weeds scrape my legs on the way back to the car. I want to sing too, even if I don’t know all the lyrics. The lead singer asks us to sing along, and we do—this is what brought us all together, isn’t it? We want to spend a night forgetting who we are back home, a hundred miles away or maybe more. We want to become faceless, to lose our bodies to the wind, let it carry everything away but our voices.
When this night ends—in a week, in a year—I won’t remember the set list or the cost of the overpriced concert t-shirt. Memories are smells, are feelings, are blurred around the edges like frayed photographs. The way that shot of tequila burns my chest. The way sunscreen mixes with pot and fills the air with something sweet, yet pungent.
Music is something collective, something that unites us all, like the great story of mankind. Tell us another story. Sing me to sleep. The stars are a blanket. God you’re perfect.