I grew up going to see bands. At the age of fourteen I saw my first show: the hardcore band Fugazi. For some reason, I had brought my backpack with me to the tiny venue where they were playing. I stashed it in the bathroom and spent the night in the mosh pit, jumping around with a bunch of sweaty, tattooed dudes.
A big part of my high school life was going to shows. Since not too many bands made a stop in my sleepy hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, my friends and I used to drive to Richmond and other nearby cities to see punk bands like Against All Authority, The Bouncing Souls, Anti-Flag, and our favorite: Less Than Jake.
In the summers, we headed to DC for the Warped Tour. We’d spend the long, hot day seeing our favorite bands and getting free samples of Yoohoo for sustenance.
I loved going to shows because it was a chance for me to jump up and down, scream really loud, and unleash my emotions in a way that I didn’t get to in my regular life of being a straight-A student. I crowd-surfed. I jumped on stage and screamed into the microphone. I threw my sixteen-year-old body into a sweaty sea of other sixteen-year-old bodies and let the tide take me over.
I always dressed the same way for shows: jeans, a t-shirt or tank top, and sneakers. Wearing anything else was stupid. My friends and I used to make fun of the girls who showed up at the Warped Tour wearing flip-flops or skirts or, for God’s sake, high heels. What were they thinking? You can’t crowd-surf in that. Your toes will get smashed in the pit. And purses? Forget about it. After the backpack incident, I never brought anything with me to shows except a few dollars tucked into my back pocket. What else could I need? All that mattered was the music.
Skip ahead to the present day. On Friday, my husband and some friends and I went to see Weezer and Panic at the Disco at an outdoor amphitheater in Northern Virginia. I was excited. I’d never seen Weezer before, and it had been a while since I’d been to an outdoor concert. I was imagining we’d picnic leisurely on the lawn in between bands then enjoy a big Weezer sing-along at the end of the night.
The day of the concert, my husband came home early from work and we got ready to go. The weather forecast was clearly calling for rain, so we packed two umbrellas and our raincoats. I stuffed a cooler bag with strawberries, cut-up watermelon, cheese, granola bars, and two leftover banana-walnut pancakes.
“Should I bring a book?” Paul asked.
“If you want.” I tossed some bug spray into my bag then went upstairs to find the foldable camp chairs. I considered my outfit. I was wearing a sundress and sparkly white sandals. Should I change into jeans and sneakers? It was hot outside. I decided what I was wearing was fine.
We loaded up the car and began the forty-mile-but-three-hours-because-of-traffic drive to Jiffy Lube Live.
As we drove through the parking lot, I was surprised to see so many teenagers. With Weezer as the headliner, I’d assumed it would be a bunch of thirty-somethings like us.
“What is that girl wearing?” Paul asked, nodding towards a girl in high-waisted shortie-shorts. “Her butt is hanging out. Do you think her parents let her out of the house dressed like that?”
I was more impressed with the fact that none of these teenagers were carrying anything with them. Where were their umbrellas? Weren’t they concerned about the impending rain? Most of the girls weren’t even carrying purses. They just had their cell phones tucked in the back pockets of their shortie-shorts.
We parked and got our stuff out of the car: two camp chairs, my purse, a tote bag, and a cooler bag. We looked like we were planning to live at Jiffy Lube Live for a week.
“We’re older,” I said as we walked towards the gate. “We require more stuff now.”
As we neared the entrance, a teenage boy in a neon green Jiffy Lube Live t-shirt stopped us. “You can’t bring those chairs in.”
“But the website said we could,” I protested.
“Sorry, that’s the rule for this show. No chairs. And they’re not going to let you bring all those bags in either. One bag per person.”
Annoyed, Paul and I rearranged everything into my purse and the cooler bag, and I trudged back to the car to put away our chairs.
As we neared the entrance for the second time, the same teenager stopped us again. “They’re not going to let you bring that cooler bag in.”
“It’s not a cooler bag, it’s my husband’s man purse,” I said.
“I don’t get it. Are we not allowed to bring in food?” Paul asked.
“You can bring in food,” the boy said. “Just not in a bag.”
“That makes no sense,” I said.
He shrugged. “I’m just telling you the rules. And you can’t bring those umbrellas in either.”
“What the heck? You know it’s supposed to rain, right?” I pointed at the black clouds above our heads.
Grunting with annoyance, we took all the food out of the cooler bag and shoved the cooler bag into my purse. Paul put on his raincoat and stuffed one of the umbrellas into his sleeve. I hid the other one at the bottom of my purse. Then, with our arms full of snacks, we made our way towards the front gates.
“Crap,” Paul said. “They’re waving people down with a metal detector. They’re going to think this is a weapon.” He pulled the umbrella out of his sleeve and took off his jacket. Then he balled up the jacket, hiding the umbrella inside it. We went into the line of an older security officer who looked like she didn’t really care about her job anymore. She poked half-heartedly at my purse then waved us through.
We found our friends, who luckily had a blanket for us to sit on, and staked out a spot at the top of the lawn. I had just opened my strawberries when the raindrops started to fall. Paul and I put on our raincoats, but I was hot in mine, and the raincoat didn’t stop my feet from getting wet and muddy. Suddenly, a drunk girl tripped and fell onto our blanket, smushing our strawberries. It started to rain even harder.
Panic at the Disco was playing, and all around us, teenagers were dancing in the rain, not caring about getting wet or muddy. And suddenly, I didn’t care either. I took off my raincoat and lifted my face to the sky.
By the time Weezer came on stage, our snacks were wet and smushed, the blanket was wet and dirty, and everything in my purse was slightly damp. I realized it was stupid to have brought all this stuff. I’d turned into someone my friends and I used to make fun of. I’d forgotten that all you should ever bring to a show is yourself. All that matters is the music. I felt old, and kind of lame.
But then Weezer started playing “Surf Wax USA.” It was the slow part at the very beginning, and no one else on the lawn was singing along, but I did, at the top of my lungs: “You take your car to work. I’ll take my board. And when you’re out of fuel, I’m still afloat…”
When the fast part started, I jumped around like I was a teenager in the mosh pit instead of a thirty-something in a sundress. “I never thought it would come to this,” I screamed, thrashing myself about, “now I can never go home!”
It was a far cry from the concerts of my youth, but for the briefest of moments, I felt like a kid again.