Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Randall's Island 2: The Friday Show

(image courtesy of Ephemeral New York)

The walk in was surprisingly bucolic, despite the gritty, under-the-overpass lot. Large deciduous trees lined the small festival bowl, and it was apparent that we would be dancing on grass. Yes! The lines were minimal, and the staff seemed half amused and half pleased by the easy going crowd. No hassles. Perhaps our favorite touch was the sign, “Welcome to Our Joy,” which hung above the entrance. A wave of contentment washed over us, and we sauntered in search of the day’s poster.

Let me just stop for a moment to emphasize that I prefer a summer festival site over most any other concert venue.  Spaces are wide and open, allowing for people to mix and mingle. While waiting for a tasty selection of Sixpoint beers, we chatted it up with our latest edition of the occasional community. Drabinski would have been pleased to see the late-40s early-50s guys that we are chatting with our newfound 20-something compatriots. Rather than the repressed, one-dimensional subway rides of hours before, we were open, wide open, to new community.  As Drabinski writes, “Occasional communities open this one-dimensional space with the human voice.”

Amazingly, we didn’t even complain that we were in line for beer from the opening chords of “Moma Dance” all the way through the “555.”  It was opening day, and the island needed to adjust.  We alternately chatted and danced.  The “Bathtub Gin,” aside from being a scorcher, was an occasion for everyone waiting on line to boogie, shimmy, shake hands and nod with understanding.  There was no anxiety or over eagerness: most of us were in for the three day gamut.  What a nice way to take the pressure off of a single show.

Once loaded for bear, we ambled our way toward the stage.  The crowd was loose and free flowing.  We were able to see the East River and the buildings beyond from any point, really, and the stage was accessible.  We settled on a piece of land by the Mike’s side delay towers, the ones closer in.  There would be no one obstructing us, and we could stash accoutrements in the penned area around the electronics.  Not only that, but the sound was great, and there was plenty of room to dance.

My first deep elation of the night came not from a particular song. Instead, it came from that moment during “Rift” when we found our spot, began grooving loosely, looking around at the sights and the facing blue of the humid sky. I had come in with no expectations, and the setting was sweeping me away, the totality of it all.  No, it was not the Gorge or Red Rocks.  Yes, it was an island, transformed.  Flanked on one side by Hell’s Gate and the entrance to the Long Island Sound, it was the site of some of the gnarliest sailing I’d ever done on one of my life’s big adventures. In my head, despite “Sample” and “The Wedge,” I was singing, “It’s TODAY!”

What happened next took me by total surprise.  For the second time, I heard Mike Gordon riff the opening lines to “Waiting All Night.”  It is a song with which I have a complicated, almost reluctant, relationship.  It is pop the way Marvin Gaye is pop.  Staring at the river, the skyline of upper Manhattan, the puffs of cloud deepening the summer evening hue, I experienced a shudder of chills. It reminded me of the first time I ever heard “Dirt.”  Something deeply familiar and yet displacing swirled through me.  As quickly as it came, it went, leaving me elated and open to the rest of the show.

Was this an experience of the sublime?  I should probably not even give this much thought, but I can’t help but consider it to be a moment of deep recognition (re + cognizant).  As Jeanette Bicknell writes in Why Music Moves Us, “Sublime or emotionally strong responses can be arranged along a continuum, ranging from momentary chills or thrills to longer-duration, transcendent, even ‘out-of-body’ experiences.  They also may include feelings of deep yet quiet awe” (58).  Interestingly, I had been in a deep and quiet awe mode, taking in the whole scene, when “Waiting All Night” elicited the chills.  It hit my sweet spot, so to speak.

From that moment forward, the night was pure celebration.  I was elated to groove on my first “Steam,” and the song fit the sticky, NYC night.  “DWD”-> “Golden Age” resonated with me because for days I had been thinking, This is the golden age.  Nietzsche was right: the longing for a golden past is inherently a fallacy.  “The only time is now!”  We inched forward, FOB.  A woman, concerned for her mother’s blanket space, tried to shoo us away.  Later, she came back to apologize after noticing how we took up less room than stick puppets lifting their arms in an even line.

Even the walk home, back over the 103rd St. bridge, seemed somehow celebratory.  By the time we found the Dive Bar on 96th and Amsterdam, we were already sated.  There were two more shows to come.

(Thanks to fromtheaquarium for the excellent recording!)

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