Brave Enough to Sing Our Song?


Old 97s at The Pageant
The Loop, St. Louis, MO

I went to a concert tonight. The headliner was a kick-ass country, alternative band called The Old 97s. Most of them hail from Texas, ‘nuff said. The Old 97s, and their touring manager Mike, had graciously allowed me and my scrappy band of videographers (a.k.a. my stellar son Nathan, some sweet guys at Bad Dog Video, who loaned me gear, and both sons Nate and Pat, plus a film school buddy Phil who edited) the chance to shoot a pilot for a reality TV show which I’d cooked up called, All Access at the Pageant. It was a hell of a good idea; a weekly behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a red-hot concert nightclub, the core cast being the venue and the people who work there, night-after-night, week-after-week, taking care of the boys in the band. I love these people at The Pageant, it’s inexplicable, like some kind of past-life bond or something. I was a pitchin’ fool, but the pilot did not get picked up. I ran out of money and got sucked back into the vortex of corporate video producing. Fast forward four years later and I’ve long ditched the full-time corporate gig, took the wild-ass road trip across America, am now a published, but struggling author, freelancing as a video producer to make ends meet. And, I had a favor to repay.

I took my friends at The Pageant and the Old 97s a copy of the TV-show pilot tonight. The gig was good. The band was tight. I got comped, a backstage pass and I didn’t pay for a single drink while I was in the house. This my friends, is hospitality.

More than that perhaps, it might represent an esprit de corps among those of us whose blood has been charged with an electrical current to perform, to express, to sing, to shout, to cry out loud, throwing up our souls with harrowing recklessness, laying bare our offering, whether in the spotlight or frenetically facilitating at the edge of darkness, those who possess that extra measure of bravery. We choose our respective roles. We do it because we thrive on the show. We thrive on the performance, that moment of anticipation when the house lights go down, it’s what we live for.

Rhett Miller
The Old 97s, The Pageant, October 16, 2012

Like love. Or the advent of it. It’s much the same, you know. Love is biggest show of all. It is the single most thrilling, dangerous, breathtaking, harrowing act (or in my case, dramatic series) of all. Driving home tonight,  I was reminded of a story I wrote in my first blog, A Woman With a Past: The Post-Apocalyptic Approach to Men.  It was inspired by my privileged vantage point at The Pageant and my love and admiration for the brave musicians who stride with confidence towards the light, giving it up, night-after-night compared to the woman, who watches them from the shadows, measuring her fear of standing alone in the spotlight, wearing nothing but her heart.

I am like the lead guitar, backstage, waiting in the wings. The front of the house fills with expectant fans, the noise, the heat, the smoke, clinking glasses, laughter, metal bar stools scrape the concrete floor as concert goers take their seats. It’s safe backstage in the dark. The gun metal gray matte stage floor, marked off with glow-in-the-dark tape, provides a safe pathway around the cables, weights and pulleys, and the heavy black curtains. The blue light of the sound board a beacon, your bearings in the dark, comforting, familiar, throwing soft light up into your wise, road-weary face, resigned, comfortable with the drill, the solo performance, repeated night after night. You know this. Your friends are here, they know the set list, they’ve got your back, they know the fills, the beats and baselines. The pre-show rituals are predictable, familiar, well rehearsed. But then, you’re alone, guitar neck down by your knees, a spotlight catches the dull metal sheen of the haywire of new strings and you’ve been spotted, a whistle goes up in the crowd. They’re waiting. Your friends have moved off to take their places and it’s just you and your voice, your instrument, your audience. Nobody can tell you how to do this. Nobody knows the longing in your heart, the yearning for some magic solarium, a sunny cove next to a window sill, where the perfect lover resides, no more performing, no risk, no fear. He plays for you, an acoustic guitar cross his lap, the mere sound of fingers sliding over the frets, soothes and stirs your soul, like a healing rain, where one song, one song, for as long as it lasts, washes away every pain, every disappointment, every heartache, shame and fear, even for just a few short measures. Who could possibly know that song? You tighten the guitar strap and walk toward the spotlight.

Thanks for a great night,  K.B, Gina, Walter, Rhett Miller and The Old 97s.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Jean, this was awesome! It’s so fun learning even more about you……but damn, when I read the title of this post, I thought I was going to see a video of YOU singing!!

  2. And a videographer to boot. Wow, I would never imagined something like that from a a gritty, raw, soulful, compassionate person as yourself. (Just kidding.)

  3. Hey Jean! Who’s to say we can’t be the next The Rock Bottoms, the band with writers Mitch Albom, Stephen King, Ridley Pearson and Amy Tan? Unfortunately, I don’t play an instrument, but I can sing. The band gig – as a writer – is on my bucket list! Got to sing one time at the Elliot Chapel Coffee House and it rocked! Keep on keeping on!

    • You’re a woman after my own heart. The only place I ever sang in public was a duet, “She Thinks I Still Care,” with Ronnie Milsap at the Holiday Inn next to King’s Dominion in Richmond, VA. Too bad I had NOT been invited to hop up on the stage to join in with the band. To this day, however, he’d never be able to pick me out in a crowd.