On a whim, as I sometimes do when it comes to concerts, I bought tickets for myself and a friend to see The Milk Carton Kids at the Vic in Chicago. The exciting news was that it was a performance as part of a concert to raise funds for refugees and would also feature Emmylou Harris and friends. I could check Emmy off of my concert bucket list! Guests included Patti Griffin, Steve Earle, and Buddy Miller as well as Emmylou’s special guest, Ruby Amanfu.
As with anything I plan ahead, and especially if it involves travel, I commit myself while completely thrilled about the idea of it, and then the week of the event, I am desperate to get out of it. There are many times that I have actually become sick just beforehand and it’s almost like I manifest my illness in stubborn protest of my own plans. It is a terrible combination of grandiose ideas about what I would like to do, uncontrolled impulses to buy tickets or make plans with others, and then extreme anxiety about actually going–doing anything outside of my normal routine.
The week leading up to the concert, my anxiety was terrible. My friend wasn’t able to go and I used the excuse to bail. Dan couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go, especially when I had spent money on tickets. He offered up ideas for who I could take with me but I refused. I had made up my mind and relished the sense of relief I felt.
Days before the concert, it was announced that Patti Griffin would not be able to attend…and Robert Plant would be taking her place. I came home from work Wednesday to find out Dan had taken care of everything and was taking me no matter what. His plan was to drive up Thursday afternoon, deposit Raine with Jim and Char in Romeoville, drive into the city for the concert, drive back to the suburbs, move our sleeping son from his bed to the car seat, and drive home. We would be home at approximately 3 a.m. He insisted that he could do it, and drive, despite having had chemo 1 week prior. I thought he had found my manic kool-aid and drank the whole barrel.
Of course, we did it. The chance to be in the same room as Robert Plant can make you do crazy things. When Dan and I started dating, we bonded quickly over music and especially Led Zeppelin. Going to California always reminds me of when I took a trip to California with Amy. I had only been dating Dan for two months but I thought about him the entire time. Nothing became more clear to me so quickly as the realization while I was in California that I was falling in love with Dan. The feeling was mutual because he proposed five months later.
Plant performed Going to California.
Beyond that—I will always remember that concert for so many reasons. I really enjoyed every moment and took everything in–walking through our old Lakeview neighborhood and sharing memories, holding Dan’s hand and paying attention to his vertigo while we navigated the line outside in the dark night and then the stairs inside the venue, the satisfying taste of the Daisy Cutter pale ale by Chicago brewery Half Acre, the carved wooden architectural features in the theater, the intimate, warm room full of so much anticipation before the show started.
I enjoyed every song by The Milk Carton Kids. They have that Simon & Garfunkel quality that I enjoy in their guitar work and harmonies. They also provided most of the humor for the night as they made humble jokes about their unusual inclusion in such a grand line-up. Hearing Emmylou live was everything I hoped it could be. Much like hearing Karin Bergquist’s vocals in person–they strike a trustworthy chord deep inside me that I have relied on so many times throughout my life. The moment I found most poignant and stunning was Emmylou’s My Name is Emmitt Till, a staggeringly sad song about the boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered in 1955. The men who committed the hate crime were not held accountable, let alone punished. Emmylou spoke of the current times and how racial violence remains an unjust cycle of loss in our African American communities. Her audience was a room almost nearly full of white, probably wealthy, maybe middle aged or older folks, and I couldn’t help but feel like the song and her thoughtful introduction fell on sleeping ears. I wanted to see everyone rise up! I could not see a spark. But it was a contemplative song, not a rallying cry. I can only hope sparks were born and honestly felt within. I didn’t stand up and cheer, but I do think about Emmett all the time-especially with recent news about Till in the Tribune.
I think of all of our modern Emmett Tills. And I think about modern children like Ruby. She emigrated as a toddler with her family to Nashville from Accra, Ghana. I think about what she shares as her best advice: Invite an immigrant individual or their family for a meal. Love on them. They are afraid at every turn and every corner that their lives could change. Volunteer at soup kitchens, safe houses, missions. If anything, begin to care.
To make a long story short—I am so very grateful for my choice made on a whim AND for my sweet husband who pushed me out the door. Life surprises you and often you learn lessons you never expected.