Two days ago I went to a gig! A real live music gig! A real person was singing songs on a real stage and real people were listening (and singing along) in real time on site instead of watching it through a screen! And it was wonderful. Tim Vantol, who I discovered through my love for Frank Turner has been playing a few small ‘for free’ (aka: passing around a hat) gigs in pub gardens and similar outdoors locations here in Germany. He played in a town between my place of work and where I live, which was a clear sign, that I was supposed to go. Right?
And I’m so glad that I did. Because I like Tim and his music! Because it felt good to be out and about and to listen to songs I enjoy. To amiably chat with the – more or less properly social distanced – people around me. Like I would at a real gig in the huddled crowd at the barrier. To move to the rhythm as good as I could sitting on a bench and to sing along. It felt wonderful and almost normal. As ‘normal’ as it ever will or can be in times of a pandemic. Because there were still more than enough moments when it didn’t feel ‘normal’ in the way it used to and I don’t know if it ever will again.
#1 of the ‘not normal’ experience was, that I was very aware of the physical distance between me and the other three people at my table. At first it was only me and another person at a large table and we kept the six feet apart easily. Then two more asked if they could sit down, so we moved a bit closer together, at which point I had to consider if that still felt ok for me – I’m part of the risk group after all, or if I needed to find another space to enjoy the gig. There would have been time and I could have just gotten up and move to the edge of the square and stand in very safe distance from any table to watch the gig. I made the conscious choice not to, based on the still about 3 feet I sat apart from the person closest to me, the fact that we weren’t face to face and that it was outdoors. But all in all those were parameters that wouldn’t have been part of any (sub)conscious decision – making process before. Not at a gig! There is no space for distance in the crowd at the barrier and I usually like it like that!
#2 The next even more jarring ‘not normal’ moment came during the singalong parts. Singalongs are such an essential part of any gig for me, because it’s one of the thing the artist(s) and the crowd do together as a communal experience. Or as Frank put it so spot on in his blog about his first gig since lock down was eased:
Getting the crowd involved in the performance is at the heart of what I do on stage, and the shows I play work towards a moment of unification, where the barrier between performer and audience breaks down.
On Tuesday I started singing along automatically and very happily, but in the next moment caught myself thinking in rapid succession: There is proof, that singing emits more aerosols into the air than speaking. Should I really be singing? What about all the people singing around me and exhaling aerosols into the air? How many people in my immediate vicinity are singing along? Where are those people sitting in relation to me? There is a steady breeze going; will that be enough to disperse those aerosols quickly enough? ‘Should I stay or should I go?’
I obviously stayed sitting where I was and kept singing after my mind decided it was safe to do in that instance. But that I automatically assessed these facts one after another still blows my mind. Not in a good way. I know we act in a similar way each day about many risks / decisions, often very subconsciously. And it was pretty sobering, that my mind automatically went into ‘risk assessment mode’ during a singalong, which pre-pandemic used to be solely a carefree and most of all very joyful moment. I’m afraid it might be like this for a long time and it will take joy out of doing joyful things for a long time. I might get used to it and my mind might run the COVID risk assessment on autopilot after a while just like it does with similar situations like traffic and such. But the whole moment still made me a bit sad to be honest.
#3 The last ‘not quite normal’ experience was at the merch after the gig. Tim and his wife are expecting a baby in a few weeks and I brought a present for them so I handed that over and chatted a bit with Tim.
Just like in every other everyday situation I very much disliked that masks don’t let the other person see your smile, when you’re talking to each other. Tim and I both made sure to keep physical distance from each other. And it’s not like I’m usually ‘all over’ the artists, when I’m talking to them at the merch table. But I handed over a present, I gave him by best wishes, we both mourned the cancelled Lost Evenings IV and still neither of us did give the other a quick hug or even only an appreciative pat on the arm or even leaned closer and it just felt wrong. The same way it felt wrong to not hug / touch my friends on the rare occasions I even saw them in the past few months. I think because I was in such a happy and hyped mood I was a bit more aware that the friendly, warm, tactile interaction was missing. And it sucked!
Lets end this with some more random thoughts about that day. Tuesday was the first time for me back on a high street / in a shopping area since early March. In a big city to boot. I even went to the hair dresser inside a department store to get my hair cut! Except for regular trips to the supermarket, a few trips to a DIY store or IKEA to get specific items and the occasional stops at the book shop or bakery during my lunch break now that I’m back at work, I have been avoiding… people. To get from the hair dresser to the gig I had to walk down a high street full of shops, cafes and thus strangers, which I haven’t done in over four months now. In all this time I’ve only been out to meet a friend for a walk and some lunch in an outdoor restaurant once (two weeks ago). It went alright on Tuesday and the situation didn’t freak me out too much, possibly because it was later in the afternoon and it’s still school holidays and people might be away. The space didn’t feel too crowed for me. It’s not something I feel the need to repeat any time soon though.
The contact tracing system in the section of the square I sat down could have been better. As this was only my second time out I wasn’t sure if they really needed to get the contact details (is this a pub or an event ? And it’s clearly outdoors…). And because I’m
always often afraid to ask stupid questions and because I didn’t want to be a bother or a spoilsport or whatever, I didn’t inquire about it. Until I read up on the regulations when I got home and sent them a mail the morning after. It went back and forth a bit, about whose responsibility it is to make sure the contact details are recorded properly. I guess we’re all still navigating through this unprecedented times and I hope my complaint / suggestions for improvement were seen that way. I’ve also hopefully learned from it for the future to just speak out and inquire sooner.
But all in all that’s a minor quibble. Because I’ve been to see a real live music gig and I loved it. It’s been too long. Sadly I also think it will probably be even longer till I’m going to do that again, because I can’t see myself at any kind of indoor gig until *this all* is over. But…
“One day it will all get better… ”
*Lyrics: “If We Go Down, We Will Go Together!” , Tim Vantol, 2014