In the spring of last year, I decided I would see at least one concert a month for a full year. I was standing amid a hushed crowd at a favorite Philly venue, the intimacy of the prismatic vocals of Penny and Sparrow — whose music I’d only discovered weeks before — washing over me. And as I fell deeper into the quiet, minimalist majesty of their songs, I realized it had been almost six months since I’d been to a concert. That not only made me sad, it made me realize that, once again, in the busy churn of my life I was neglecting to make time for the things that feed my spirit — that enchant and interest me beyond the everyday beauty I seek.
Live music has always been one of my greatest loves. Living in such a vibrant music town, I am constantly surrounded by opportunities to catch a show (I often think I could be out every single night of the week doing just that if I really wanted to). And yet, those dates are the ones I seem to let slip by, after-thoughts on a calendar page, the maybe tucked into the “musts.”
So I threw myself into my commitment with zeal. From small shows with local artists and outdoor summer concerts to more mainstream venues and even a trek to Ocean City, Md., to keep an annual tradition of seeing Michael Franti with my brother, I mapped my musical way both deliberately and spontaneously. There were shows I anticipated for months with the dearest of friends — Amos Lee, Glen Hansard, the XPoNentional Music Festival among them — and then there were nights I simply got in my car, a last-minute decision and the flush of sweet expectancy steering the way. That’s how I discovered the captivating, emotionally charged performances of Foy Vance and what propelled me to Princeton after work one weeknight, where I managed to snag a front-row seat to see one of my favorites, Josh Ritter. It was the week of the presidential election and I needed his music as much as the brimming joy he always brings to the stage.
I held fast to my pledge for seven months. And then the holidays rolled around and I scratched the artists I wanted to see off my calendar in the crush of Christmas activity. Then winter came, and it was easy to linger indoors. And though a good friend and I had the amazing fortune of seeing Sting in March, that remained the only concert I would attend for months.
I was right back where I started. I was also tempted to beat myself up, for quitting, for cycling through the familiar excuses, for crowding my life with too much that felt more constricting than expansive.
Yet when I looked back at how many shows I’d actually seen in a year, the number was a surprising 14. I may not have gone to a concert a month but there were some months in which I’d seen two or three.
I had to remind myself that my intention had never been about maintaining a well-orchestrated plan or reaching a goal.
I simply wished to carve out time for something that made me happy. I wanted, on a regular basis, to lose myself in a space that demanded so little yet enfolded me in a beauty that I know absolutely supports my well-being. To marvel, to be moved, to be part of that transfusion of energy between performer and audience.
Whether I’m dancing with unabashed ardor, singing along to an eloquent lyric or being carried by the music to some sheltered part of myself, the aliveness I feel in those moments is completely unique to musical performance.
And we all need more of what brings us alive: the dates with ourselves, or loved ones, that lift out us out of routine and sometimes even into transcendence; that spark or nurture our creativity; that bless us with the generosity of another’s gifts and aptitude. Sometimes to gather in community with kindred spirits who love what we love is all we need to enliven us, to open us up to a remembered way of being, the brightness of what shapes our world.
Now that summer is here, I have one concert behind me and another in the near future. Having recently been selected as a Barrymore nominator for Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Awards recognizing excellent in regional theater — going to the theater is another deep passion of mine — I’ll be balancing that commitment with my affinity for live music.
Both tap into a vital creativity, a pure, essential joy. And making time for that kind of inspiration, sustenance and play is always worth it when tending the fullness of our lives. For that’s how they become not just busy but big, beautiful reflections of who we know ourselves to be.