Before October, I’d never been to a real concert. There I said it. I’m lame. Sure, I’ve piled into a church bus to see Steven Curtis Chapman as a kid*, joyfully attended Rockapella’s Christmas special last year, and saw Hamilton with Rob in Chicago, but I’d never had to slip plugs into my ear holes and rock out in a large venue.
I’ve also been a big fan of CHVRCHES lately. I gained an interest in the band through the Rebel FM podcast, the Forza Horizon soundtrack, and their stellar remix of MS MR’s Hurricane. They were one of the first bands I binged heavily when I first adopted Spotify, and their Every Open Eye album dropped into my life with a bang.
One day this Summer I noticed their upcoming tour dates on Spotify. I’d missed them in Orlando around my birthday a few years back (chickened out on going alone) so I clicked through. One jumped out at me: Asheville, 10/9. We would be in Blowing Rock (a couple hours north) the week prior…maybe this could work? But no—we planned to drive back the Saturday prior to this Tuesday night concert. Drat. On a whim, I checked Kayak for flights to Asheville and was surprised to see extremely cheap seats from Sanford and back surrounding the exact time of the concert: departing at 5pm and returning the next morning at 9:30am. Could this work?
If you know me well enough, you know what happened next: risk mitigation. I confirmed that hotels near the airport had cheap vacancy, that Uber/Lyft operated in Asheville, that traffic from the airport to the venue was typically low at night, even that the venue would allow me to show up late and with a backpack if I didn’t have enough time to check into my room prior. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t find any blockers. Only opportunity.
So I took it. I booked the flights and a room, blocked off work for the second half of Tuesday and the first half of Wednesday, and spent an afternoon agonizing over the perfect seats to purchase, looking up images and reviews of the venue. We even dropped by both the airport area and the venue downtown on our Blue Ridge trip the week prior. I was prepared.
And I was a nervous wreck the day of. My mind was a distracted blur at work. I was doing this alone and didn’t have a lot of room for error. I’d never flown Allegiant before, never stayed in a hotel alone, never been to a concert. And that’s exactly why I was doing it.
The Sanford airport is charming! Security was a cinch, the terminal was clean and sparse, Allegiant was a dream, and the trip was on time and a breeze. I traveled with only a backpack and a little otter friend, and as soon as I deplaned I ran at a slow jog about half a mile from the airport, across the street, and to my hotel.
I actually ran into the wrong hotel first and had a minor heart attack at being told my reservation was not on file, but I quickly rerouted. The clerk was super helpful at speeding me through check-in and was genuinely interested in my trip and the band. I quickly dropped off my stuff, took a few deep breaths and summoned a Lyft.
About 30 minutes and a lovely conversation about moving to a new city later, I was dropped off at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville five minutes before showtime. I skipped in with my mobile pass, bought a T-shirt and some earplugs, and took my seat.
Lo Moon was playing an opening set and their sublime, atmospheric sound shook the sparse audience with a lovely force. I’d listened through their album a few times and was really impressed, both by their killer sound and their live stage presence. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away but I can’t think of a better lead-in for CHVRCHES.
In the space between acts I took a look around the venue. I’d picked a seat on the front row of the Mezzanine having seen that it was a few feet taller than the rows in front, and sure enough it gave me a fantastic, unobstructed view of the action and a direct line to the booming sound. A small family shuffled in behind me and I timidly asked them if they planned to stand and dance as I didn’t want to obstruct their view. The mother shot me a smirk and thanked me for asking but yes, of course they were there to party. Excellent.
The show kicked off in earnest at 9:15 on the dot and was wave after wave of synth-pop bliss. It took a little courage to shake off the hesitation in my step, but before long I was swaying, skipping, and eventually fist-pumping in place (Clearest Blue‘s drop, good lord what a good one). The setlist was a healthy 18 songs with the encore and happily I got to enjoy most of my favorites and even some that blew me away live (I’m looking at you God’s Plan and Under the Tide). I’m sitting here trying to distill a concert experience into words and I guess my point is that you can’t. It’s louder, it’s a light show, it’s in your face…it’s the music you love inside and out delivered live and through your body. It wasn’t quite the fever dream of my fantasies, but it was surprising and satisfying in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s to be experienced! And I’m glad I was able to.
After the show I broke down and purchased a poster that I had to physically roll and carry outside of my baggage all the way home (it survived!). I was sad it was over seemingly so quickly, but a nice Lyft ride back to the hotel smoothed that over. I caught a late dinner at McDonald’s after the clerks questioned me about the concert and the group. Excitement kept me up a bit too late for an 8am flight, but before I knew it my alarm was beeping. My morning routine was quick, packing was quicker, and I was down at the continental breakfast in a flash. Both clerks said hello and let me know happily they’d looked the band up overnight and were impressed. Delighted, a scarfed a danish and coffee while waiting on my Lyft to save my poster from the light drizzle in the crisp morning air (3/3 on delightful rides).
I arrived in Orlando on time and successful and treated myself to cheese and bacon goodness at Dunkin. Mission accomplished, I was tired in all the best ways as I drove back to work in my new (first!) concert shirt. 🦝
* I ran into him again at the Clay County Fair in 2017 of all places. Listened to him warm up to an empty rodeo stage to tunes I still remember. Pretty neat!