down in the weeds, where the crowd lifts you up

For all my visits to the Edgefield, all the time I’ve spent wandering the grounds, I’d never been to the amphitheater or seen a show there.

So much work clearly goes into putting on a summer concert series here. It’s treated like a music festival, but for just a couple bands.

June 18th we saw Bright Eyes, one of my all time favorite bands. At this point in my life I have been listening to them longer than I haven’t.

This is probably the fourth time I’ve seen Bright Eyes live. And I gotta say, every time is somewhat harrowing bc Conor always seems on the brink of collapse. For anyone who listens to his music, his lyrics, I don’t think this is really a surprise.

Conor came out, waved half heartedly to the crowd and began playing. For the first three songs, he seemed to not be able to recall the words. Which…was disappointing?

Fans around me began to wonder aloud “are we going to get a full set?”

“Is he going to make it through another song?”

Concern amplified by the recent articles circulating about a show where he muddled through two songs and then walked off, leaving the band on stage, where they began to invite fans on stage to sing Bright Eyes songs, karaoke style while they played. They tried?

I’m not writing any of this to bag on someone clearly going through it on stage. We all love these words and melodies, poured right from his soul since he was 13 in his basement. It might lead us all to feel like we know him in some deep and intimate way, but we don’t. We know the poetry that he constructed of his life and chose to share with us, arranged beautifully.

This isn’t the first show i have been to where the singer doesn’t stick to the lyrics, In fact, Spencer Moody of The Murder City Devils often ad libs to the tune of their tracks. It’s a weird experience for anyone who likes to sing a long, but if you just lean in and embrace artistic license, its still a hell of a show.
During those first three songs, something really lovely, and frankly unexpected, was happening in the crowd. He may not have known the words, but we all did. The voice of the crowd rose up and carried him through the chorus, and the bridge, and sometimes the whole damn song. Between songs, minimal banter. Just an awkward pause and “thankyouverymuch”

But in that quiet space, periodically there would be a voice somewhere in the crowd that shouted “WE LOVE YOU CONOR!” Which prompted others to shout out a WOOOOOOO! in agreement. Or to declare their own love of the man on stage before them.

At some point he apologized, but took it back, awkwardly

And again the audience cheered and shouted words of adoration. He started to talk more, warming up, getting back into the music, the words coming more naturally. His face slowly blooming with light, and an eventually grin.

A woman behind me, who never really shut up, said “there he is! He’s Conor now!”

As if lifted by the love of the audience, he transformed into someone who knew the songs, wanted to be there, wanted to share this space.

I couldn’t help but think of Peter Pan, Tinkerbell specifically.
“Fervent belief, accompanied by vigorous clapping, brings a dying fairy called Tinker Bell back to life.”

It was like that, but with a sad drunk musician.

At the end of the show he said there was a song he was never sure if he was going to end the night with or not, because his voice is sometimes so strained. He was going to try and do it for us anyway. He choked on words periodically, but still forcing them into the mic.

When he was finished, the band exited while the crowd cheered for more. Despite the show being off to a really rough start.
We still wanted more. Especially now the some sort of fog had visibly lifted from around him.
He came back, grateful, almost teary eyed, that the crowd had been kind to him, and not a real life version of the music video for Four Winds, which it so easily could have been. We got three more clear, well performed songs, with the energy we all came for.

Days later there is an article about his impeccable performance of Falling Out of Love at This Volume and how incredible it was on television.
And another punning about the “Bright side” while still laying out the litany of messy performances that proceeded it.
Which concluded with nearly the same sentiment i am attempting to express here:

” It’s the sort of directness an audience goes to a concert hoping to witness; on this night, more than most, it felt, also, like a true rekindling.”

Shawn Brackbill

I’ve seen him on stage with track marks under blue lights, I’ve seen him climb a drumkit in slick soled cowboy boots and nearly impale himself on the high hat. I’ve seen him in Golden Gate Park, enchanting a vast crowd of bluegrass fans at sunset while i cried and drank whiskey from a strange hippie’s flask. I will keep seeing him, I will keep crying in the crowd that loves him so much we’ll basically perform for ourselves.

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