There was no reason to tell my daughter that the thrill of the tickets paled in comparison to the very idea that my sixteen-year-old daughter was willingly, of her own accord, taking ME to a concert.
By Ellyn Gelman
I was in Hartford, Connecticut, but I was dressed for Nashville. The country music fans appeared to grow exponentially as the concert start time drew near. Unusually warm for May, spring had finally pushed out winter and was showing off with vibrant yellows and greens. A light breeze carried with it the smell of beer and hotdogs. The concert tickets folded in the back pocket of my jeans were a gift from my teenage daughter, Dayna. I remembered back to a week ago…
The hastily made card had been crafted from a single piece of white paper, folded in half, the scent of sharpie ink still fresh. The card was signed, “Happy Mother’s Day!!!! Love you too much, Dayna.” Tucked inside were two concert tickets.
“Lady Antebellum Mom, just you and me, Darius Rucker is the warm-up band; it’s in Hartford, so awesome right?” Her words spewed forth like a fountain of teenage joy as she danced around the family room.
“Road trip Mom, next Friday, can you believe it; aren’t you so excited?”
“Yes. So excited,” I said.
No reason to tell her that the thrill of the tickets paled in comparison to the very idea that my sixteen-year-old daughter was willingly, of her own accord, taking ME to a concert.
We waited for the gates to open.
“Is it almost time to go in?” Dayna said, her smile full of the metal braces she couldn’t wait to get and now hated with a passion. She was five feet, five inches of beautiful with tight ripped jeans tucked into Frye boot knock-offs. Her small white T-shirt, tied at the waist, showed a only whisper of belly when she moved.
I scanned the crowd. Cowboy hats and denim, short skirts and cowboy boots. Lawn chairs lazily tucked under arms or slung over shoulders. Wait, lawn chairs? I reached into my back pocket for our tickets. No row, no seat numbers.
“Dayna, do we have seats?”
“Uh, um, I don’t think so,” she said. She kicked at a pebble on the ground.
“Do we need lawn chairs?” I said.
“No Mom, these tickets are for the pit.”
“Yeah, up front, at the stage, you know, you stand in the pit. The tickets were twenty-five dollars each on Stub Hub.”
“I know what the pit is,” I said.
I had been to a few concerts in my fifty years. Foreigner, Cars, Grateful Dead, to name a few, but I had always had a seat. The pit had always been that “place down there” where bodies that were too close moved wildly.
“Are you bummed?” She said. The truth was, I was bummed. Five hours of standing? I looked down at my feet. My toes had already begun to protest their confinement in the points of my brown leather and suede cowboy boots. I had purchased them years ago on a trip in Colorado. They were authentic, hand-made, and spent most of their time in the back of my closet. Don’t blow this. You’re at a concert with your daughter, in cool boots. When I looked up, Dayna’s dark brown, thickly lined eyes wore a veil of worried hope.
“No, I’m not bummed, really. I’m just surprised, in a good way. I’ve never been in the pit before.”
“You’ll love it,” She said.
She wrapped her arms around my waist and laid her head on my shoulder. Her soft brown hair smelled like grapefruit and possibility.
We were among the first to enter with our neon yellow “pit access” wristbands. The theater was shaped like a giant fan. The seats spread out behind the pit, and then fully opened to a green uncovered lawn. Dayna grabbed my hand and pulled me right up to the stage where, like prospectors, we claimed a front-row spot. My chin rose just above the stage. There were x marks on the floor where Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum would eventually stand. A maze of electric cords taped to the floor resembled arteries and veins that would carry the force of sounds and light to the stage. Tiny specks of dust swirled in the light cast off from a hundred theater lights above.
The pit filled slowly with teens and young adults. A slight teenage girl in skinny red jeans and a black Lady Antebellum t-shirt stood next to me with her dad. I was relieved to see another parent in the pit—even better, he looked older than me. We smiled a bit awkwardly at each other. An alert young security guard, whose sole purpose was to scan the crowd in the pit, stood to our left. Behind us, two stocky young women in their early twenties posed repeatedly for “selfies” with cell phone and beers held high. One wore a baseball cap backwards.
The start time approached and brought with it an anxious sense of ‘ready,’ and the crowd grew tighter. Darius Rucker took the stage amidst bright lights and loud cheers. Everyone danced in a tight collective, jumping up and down. There, next to the speakers, it was as if the music made its way through me before it was released into the rest of the theater. I felt connected to everything: my daughter, the music, the crowd, all of it. Dayna was right; this was “so great.”
In an unguarded moment, Dayna and I were shoved to the side and the girls, who had stood behind us waiting for the past hour, displaced us. They danced as if our spot had always been theirs.
“What? That’s so not fair?” My daughter said, pointing at them.
“I know,” I said. Thinking, fair?
“They can’t do that,” she said in the full outrage of a naÃ¯ve teen.
“Well, they just did,” I said. I had no intention of confronting them there, in the pit, or anywhere.
“No way. Come on.” Dayna grabbed my hand to pull me forward.
Instinctively, I pulled my hand out of hers and stayed put. I simply watched as she slipped around the women and reclaimed her spot. She turned back to look for me. I motioned for her to come back to me where we would be safe. She shook her head.
“Mom, come on, this is our spot,” she said.
I was taken aback by her nerve—or was it confidence? I no longer felt connected. I was hot and sweaty, trapped between my daughter’s boldness and my timidity. Left up to me, I would have done nothing (go ahead, take our spot), drowning all potential for a good time in a pool of resentment. That would have been my story, but I didn’t want that to be my daughter’s story. There she stood in her reclaimed spot, a lone soldier fighting for “fair.”
I pushed my way gently, somewhat apologetically, between those women and stood next to my daughter. I was forced to hold on to the stage for balance with my back slightly bent backwards like the letter C. I waited for something to happen, like a beer can to the head, yelling, something. Nothing. I looked over at my daughter. That is when I saw one of the women jab Dayna in the back with her elbow. The other pushed her from behind. Dayna kept her eyes forward, jaw clenched. She refused to acknowledge their aggression. They pushed her again and laughed. I knew that laugh. Suddenly I was thirteen again, a new girl in a new school.
The lunch lady handed me my change. As I made my way to an empty table, three girls approached me. “Give us your money new girl, we know you got money.” They were like seagulls on the beach and I was a single scrap of food. They pushed me and grabbed at my clenched fist. It only took a couple of hits to my back before I handed over the quarters. The girls laughed as they walked away. It was my first and last hot lunch in eighth grade.
I turned to the two women.
“Hey, stop that. Don’t touch her again,” I said.
“This is the pit, man, everyone gets touched in the pit,” the one with the baseball cap sneered.
“Yeah, if you’re in the pit, you’re gonna get touched. Get over yourself,” the other chimed in. She waved the back of her hand in my face.
Dayna grabbed my arm.
“Mom, if this is going to ruin the concert for you, we can just move back” she said.
“No,” I said.
I turned and grabbed the security guard’s arm.
I explained the situation to him as I frantically pointed out the aggressors. He made his way over and spoke with them. They pointed at me. I stared hard at them. The guard pointed to the exit. Yes that’s good make them leave. Behind me, Darius Rucker continued to sing and the crowd around me danced. I waited for the next move. They did not leave, but they backed up. I turned back to the stage, shaky, still on guard, but no longer afraid.
Darius Rucker sang his last song and yelled goodnight to the crowd. He reached down and touched all the out stretched hands as he made his way off stage. In a sudden move, he stopped in front of Dayna, bent down, and placed his guitar pick in her hand. The crowd roared.
“Mom, that did not just happen,” she said. She jumped up and down, her fist clenched around the guitar pick held high in the air. I jumped up and down, too. Her joy was my joy.
Lady Antebellum was up next. Before the night ended, Dayna was the recipient of three more guitar picks, each one handed to her, none thrown. She gave one to the girl next to me in the red jeans. A teenage boy ran up to her at the end of the concert.
“Oh my god, you are the luckiest girl on earth,” he said.
Dayna gave him a pick, too.
It was after midnight as we made our way slowly to the car.
“Wasn’t it all so great mom?”
“It was perfect, Dayna.”
Author’s Note: Two summers have come and gone since Dayna and I saw Lady Anetebellum in concert. We learned a lot about each other and ourselves that night. This summer, I went to see Chicago in concert at the same venue with my husband and friends. We sat in our own chairs in the upper lawn section. I could barely see the band and I felt disconnected and uncool. I spent the entire concert longing to be in the pit.
Ellyn Gelman is a freelance writer living in Wilton, CT. She has been published on National Public Radio “This I Believe” and in Brain, Child.