This week, I attended my first live music concert since the 80’s Cruise in March 2020, as covid brought the curtain down on such activities for a long nearly-18 months. The event had been rescheduled twice, most recently from this past January, and was slated to take place at the Berglund Center in Roanoke, VA.

Jackson Browne opened for James Taylor. Two legends, one stage, one magical night. One really scary night that left me restless for a good two weeks leading up to it, praying every day to get an email saying that the show would be rescheduled for a third time. I followed the news of Stevie Nicks canceling all of her 2021 dates, as the concerns about the covid delta variant rose, especially in the South. Surely these two gentlemen would follow suit. After all, Jackson Browne had suffered through covid in 2020; surely he wouldn’t want fans putting themselves in danger…

But the show didn’t get postponed. It was a sellout, at least on paper. The parking lot permits sold out, too. Fortunately, back in 2019, or whenever I originally purchased my tickets, I had the forethought to get a parking permit, too. So, a sellout at this venue equals 9,000-10,000 people. How exciting! How horrifyingly exciting!

As with my second beach trip (see my blog entry for Surfside Beach Revisited), I had basically talked myself out of going to this event. Russ’ advice – “Mask up and social distance” — didn’t seem to hold much water in a sellout crowd in Roanoke, VA. How do you social distance in a concert line with that many people? Seriously. How do you do that? How do you social distance in an arena with fixed seating? I honestly couldn’t see myself going to this show. The entertainment of such thoughts seemed absolutely ludicrous. Dangerous. Reckless. I had invested about $150 into this show. My health was surely worth more than that amount to me, right?

The answer was yes. The answer is yes.

One friend encouraged me to go. “You can’t live your life in fear.” Well, yes, I can, and often do, when it comes to dealing with covid. It’s fear-worthy, in my book.

Another friend, who also had tickets to the show, reported that she was masking up and going.

I’ve gotten really lax about masking up when I go out. Here in Tennessee, things are all-out. That’s not my personal attitude towards covid, but I realize that I have adopted more relaxed ideologies about covid than I maybe should have. We have been eating out for way over a year. I got vaccinated back in February and was ready to take the world by storm. Only the delta variant was standing by to do the same, even if we’d been vaccinated. For about three months, the world seemed full of promise and certainty again. We were lulled into a sort of false security, I think.

I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable three hours of continuous mask-wearing in a concert was going to be. But I was certain that it would be excruciating. I wasn’t certain that it was doable. For me. Remember, I work from home; there has been no point in the past 17 months when I’ve needed to be masked for more than 90 minutes-2 hours, and that only once, during our Christmas 2020 trip to the movies to see It’s A Wonderful Life. Three hours seemed interminable.

Everything pointed to me needing to miss this show. Everything.

Yet, I ultimately chose to go. I still can’t explain my decision. Except to say that my husband, whose opinion I value highly, encouraged me to go. Although it was still unsettling, something rang true for me when he told me, “You’ve been vaccinated. You have to trust your antibodies will do what they’re supposed to do. Wear your mask. Social distance as much as you can. Use your head.”

Beforehand, I met my friend Lynne at the McDonald’s across the road from the Berglund Center, after arriving at approximately 4:30 for the 7:30 show. I didn’t realize that there was a 30-minute time limit in the restaurant; fortunately, they didn’t enforce it. We sat talking for about two hours, catching up, making future plans. Lynne had invited me to spend the night with her after the show, but I’d been wavering on that front all week, too. We talked about it more at dinner and I decided to drive back to Bristol after the show that night. Lynne has an elderly mother. I didn’t want to track anything into Lynne that might get tracked into her mother. They’ve both been vaccinated, but why take the chance? As I pointed out to Lynne, “YOU didn’t sign on to go to a concert with 9,000 people.”

We watched the line across the street seem to stand in place. At about 7:10, I reluctantly decided to go take in that line, still fearful of standing in the midst of all those people. I headed back to Rupert, my SUV, to return my umbrella, as the skies had cleared. At that point, I realized how short the line was on the right-hand side of the building. It turned out to be the “Will Call” line, but was open to those who already had tickets, too. What a stroke of luck!

I got inside and took my seat literally as the lights went down and Jackson Browne took the stage, precisely at 7:30 p.m. With the mask on, I felt like I would hyperventilate. I tried to concentrate on the stage, but I couldn’t help but focus on my surroundings. I was in one of the eight “boxes” that sit along the sides of the Berglund Center, above the floor seats, but before you get into the more crowded “bleacher” seats. Normally, I would have hated not being on the floor. But there was breathing room in the boxes. Only five rows in mine, with 13 seats per row. I was on the second row. No one immediately in front of me; no one to the right of me. Most of the row in front of me didn’t even file in until after Jackson Browne finished his set. (The lines were crazy on the left side of the building and many people missed most of his set, my friend I mentioned earlier, included.)

In fact, the crowd, for a sellout on paper, was surprisingly thin. Or maybe not so surprisingly. My guesstimate is that only about 2/3 of the ticket holders were actually in attendance. That’s still a lot of people, don’t get me wrong. Many were masked. Many kept food and/or drink in hand so they didn’t technically “have to” mask throughout the show. Masking wasn’t mandated. It was “respectfully requested” at all times, except for when eating and drinking.

The first half of Jackson Browne’s set, I was simply overwhelmed by emotions. Still that sense of fear, being in the middle of it all. A sense of urgent excitement at actually being able to be back in the presence of live music. Fear of being excited: knowing that there would be a lot of people judging my decision to go to the show and trying to decide how public to make any announcements of my presence there. But I decided to own that decision. For good or bad. Judgment or no. I found myself in tears by the time he finished “Running On Empty.” I felt like I had been running on empty for so long, and had finally been infused again.

James Taylor took the stage at 9 p.m., after a 30-minute intermission. (He still hits all the notes, high and low.) He sang so many classics, so many favorites. He had joined Jackson Browne during his set for “The Contender,” and then, during his curtain call for the show, asked Jackson Browne to come back out and join him — they performed “Take It Easy,” written by Jackson Browne and made popular by The Eagles, another one of my favorite bands. He ended the evening with fan-favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” written by Carole King. And it felt like seeing a long-lost friend that night, once I got past the fears I’d been mired in for so much of the time leading up to the concert. Did the anxiety disappear altogether? I can’t lie; it didn’t. And I’m still not sure if I did the “right” thing. But I did what I did, and it is done. I have maintained distance from others in the days following the event and feel like I have done so responsibly. My fervent hope is that I can enjoy live music again soon, without pangs of guilt and fear. But I suspect that it will be a while longer before I learn once again to “Take It Easy” in large public crowds.