Whether it’s a television show, movie, book, underground cultural phenomenon, or beauty product, there are certain seemingly small things that have actually changed the course of our lives. In our Life Changer series, we’re sharing the things that helped us become who we are today, and hopefully, inspire you to try them out for yourselves.
My heart was racing. I felt like I was going to throw up. Every inch of my body was pumping with adrenaline, as hundreds of strangers and I waited for a day that I truly thought would never come: seeing Envy on the Coast perform live. But then it happened; the drum slithered in slowly, then the guitar. And suddenly my fantasy was actually a reality. A band that I had been obsessed with for years that had broken up before I started listening to them was back together, performing, it felt like, just for me. And as soon as I heard the first whisper of a lyric, my body started to dance in a way I had never known. I felt free.
My freedom was in part because I didn’t have anyone else to worry about; I didn’t need to make sure my elbows weren’t hitting my friend beside me or that someone behind me couldn't see. It didn’t even matter that I was dancing like I was alone in my room with no one watching; I was alone at this show, and it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life.
I am in the camp of doing things alone—going to lunch alone, traveling alone, and, most definitely, going to shows alone. And I've become quite an evangelist about it. As someone who grew up going to the Masquerade in Atlanta (RIP) almost every weekend, I have been to my fair share of shows, from emo and punk and metal shows to dance parties and indie jams. And truthfully, there are some shows that feel more comfortable to be alone at than others. But regardless, I believe that everyone who can safely go to a show alone absolutely should, especially if it’s for a band you really love.
Why? First off, music is evocative and emotional. It makes you feel. And no matter if your best friend of 13 years also loves the same band as you, your relationship with that music is going to be different than theirs; it’s going to feel different, and it’s going to look different. You should get to experience your experience at a show without worrying about what anyone else’s experience looks or feels like. You have a right to dance and move and cry and sing at your own pace, in your own way, on your own beat. Sometimes it’s easier to not have to explain yourself to someone else. And this isn’t to say you shouldn’t share these experiences with your loved ones, but it is to say that your experience should not be dependent on theirs.
The first time I went to a show alone, I was a freshman in college at the University of South Carolina. I missed going to as many shows as I did in high school and decided to go to the local venue in Columbia for an indie/folk show I'd read about in our school paper. I didn’t know any of the bands, not to mention I didn’t know anyone there. I spent most of my time sitting on a stool watching from side stage. It was very awkward. Eventually, I got up to dance and then shortly after snuck off to my car since I had an 8am class the next day. Still, though, I knew that I had gone through an important initiation of sorts; yes, my first solo concert was weird, but at least I was sure that next time it would be better. And guess what? It was. Now, four years later, seeing Envy on the Coast alone was exponentially easier than going to my first solo show, and I know the next show will be even easier.
The key is to remember that doing anything outside of your comfort zone is bound to feel uncomfortable at first. But that’s how you grow! Obviously, if you feel truly scared or uncomfortable to go to a show by yourself, then don’t. Or maybe find another show that you’d feel comfortable going to. The experience is going to look different for everyone.
And as festival season really kicks into gear, there is also the opportunity to put your pedal to the metal and go to a festival solo. I spoke with Corrine Dodenhoff, who recently went to When We Were Young festival in Santa Ana, California, by herself, and even traveled across the country to do just that. And although she was nervous and felt anxious, by remembering a few things, she was able to really enjoy herself. She says, “If you're going to a festival alone out of necessity, find a reason to make it resonate with you. I brought my camera, and at moments when I was a bit nervous, or if there wasn't a band I liked playing, I would walk around and take photos of the crowd. It's totally okay to have those safety blankets!" This is an important thing to remember: You can still find something to occupy yourself with that isn't just staring down at your phone. Interact with the crowd so that you feel more a part of it.
Dodenhoff adds, "Make sure you're really connecting with the music, too; my favorite moments were the ones where I just closed my eyes and listened to everyone else around me singing along with a band I've loved for over half my life. I felt like a part of something bigger than myself, as trite as that comes across. And, make friends! People are way more friendly than we give them credit for, I think. I made so many friends at the fest, who I'll never see again probably, but shout-outs to them for being incredible and warm!”
To make sure you have the most fun (and safe) experience at a show or fest there are a few things to remember:
- Check out the location beforehand. If you’re going to a sketchy area, consider having a friend or an Uber drop you off (and waiting near people until it comes), so you don’t have to walk alone to your car.
- Drop a pin or send your address to a friend or family member, or multiple, so they know where you are. Let them know around what time you expect to leave the show. Text them updates about when you’re leaving.
- Keep your wits about you. You can totally enjoy that gin and tonic, but it’s probably more reasonable to have one than five. You want to be aware of your surroundings.
- Make sure you know where the fire escape and exits are (just in case!).
- Talk to someone new. The people around you are probably just as excited for the night as you are. Compliment someone, dance with someone, and enjoy the fact that, if they’re weird, you can walk away.
- Get there a little bit before the band you want to see. My cheat is getting up to the very front on one side, and as the opening band finishes up and people move away, I move closer and claim my spot.
- If you’re going to a festival alone, bring a camera or journal to use in your down time. Take photos of people who are cool, write down any anxious feelings you have, and do your best to remember that you’re okay! Being present is hard, but most of the time we have nothing to worry about in the moment itself.
- Bring a portable charger for your phone, so you have extra juice. You can also bring a charger and if necessary can ask the bar to charge your phone or call you a taxi if yours dies and you’re stranded.
- If you’re at a packed stage at a fest, leave before the mad rush of people does; you probably won’t want to get caught in that.
More than anything, going to a show by yourself should be empowering. It should remind you of why you love music so much, and it should feel good. Trust your gut, prepare in advance, and dance your heart away; it’s never as scary as you think it will be.