Nostalgia: My First Concert
Nostalgia and wistfulness are probably some of the most inconvenient feelings that reside in your heart during times of uncertainty . . .
Nostalgia(n): a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. We feel nostalgia when something interacts with our senses and acts as a recall point for a memory bathed in the rosy glow of happiness. When we smell something that reminds us of happy times, see a visual or even hear an old song or movie associated with that memory. It is not uncommon for nostalgia to hit people at any moment during the course of your life.
Right about now . . . I think people are looking back at the past in a lot of different ways. Perhaps reminiscing on simpler times, or thinking about more bitter events, maybe recalling outings that were unimpeded by a serious worldwide health situation and the subsequent public safety rules. There are many reasons to want to mull over the past.
For me, the memory is just so wonderful to me. I think about it a lot, and had a lot of plans to continue on with it this year if not for the sudden turn 2020 took. Now with my attendance to the HellaMega Tour in question I look back at this memory even more dearly. I'm talking about my first concert actually. It was Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch at the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheater in Tampa in August of . . . 2018. God I remember how utterly excited I was. Now I didn't care about FFDP, but I love Breaking Benjamin, and had since I was in middle school with the first ever song I heard "Diary of Jane." From then on I was hooked and utterly devastated about their long break until 2015. I may have teared up a little when I pre-ordered Dark Before Dawn on Apple Music.
I knew that I needed to go to this concert. I had been a child that never really wanted to go to many places, and was mortified at the thought of making my parents chaperone me to see music they disliked. I was never too upset about that but I always held some regret for never seeing My Chemical Romance before they retired, or never seeing Paramore . . . Linkin Park before Chester Bennington left us . . . I reasoned with myself that with these sorts of regrets for bands I truly enjoyed I would most likely feel twice as bad for missing Breaking Benjamin when I hardly ever heard about them coming to Florida. There was a lot I was unhappy with in my life during that year, and a lot of things I regretted about some decisions, so I truly needed to make a good decision that would give me a strong and positive memory in a year that was mostly hopeless for me.
I did a lot of research on ticket options and what would be best. Living with a roommate at the time and working in the hospitality industry, I was very aware of my limited budget and what I was hoping to get from the experience. I remember those tickets being expensive- and I wasn't upset about it, Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch are long standing bands with some heavy fan bases. Plus they had some good opening acts, No More and Bad Wolves. Eventually, on the basis that I was really hoping to buy a band t-shirt and hopefully a drink or something at the venue, I purchased a ticket for the green figuring that the screens would be large enough for me to see the band properly and I wasn't interested in being stuck in a large crowd with sweating people (Florida in August is . . . just outright disrespectful, with how hot it is).
From there I was on mission in the couple weeks leading up to the big day. Painstakingly creating pro/con arguments for chair vs blanket since you were allowed to bring one of the two as a seating possibility for the green. I got a blanket, liked the idea of stretching out because I weirdly thought more people would pay for seats than green far out (can't believe I was that stupid in retrospect but, hey). A soft, pretty checkered picnic blanket in pinks and greens and blues. I decided upon an outfit, some long jeans to avoid any problems with bugs or some such and a white tank top because I sadly had no time to buy a band tee. I was so, so excited leading up to the day; babbling to my work friends, continuously reminding my roommate, trying to decide a proper time to leave to get to the venue in good time to walk around and such. I debated on putting makeup, I debated on shoes, I was just so eager to make this the perfect first concert experience. I was never able to get the time off request approved but I sure did have a lot of attendance points to use up for just this occasion. Considering I hated my job passionately at the time, I had no remorse calling out and even did so with relish, in fact the person who took my call was a dear friend of mine and we giggled about my approaching trip to the next town as she congratulated me.
The actual day I left, ended up not being as perfectly punctual as I would have ideally liked. I always end up cutting it close for some reason, it's a bad habit of mine. I washed and dressed quickly enough, but it's the makeup that always ends up dragging me down. Perhaps its because I so rarely use it and thus never learned all the great time-saving tips and tricks, but I end up always spending a lot more time than I expect on makeup even though I never do anything complicated. A tinted moisturizer ( I'm still a bit miffed about it because it was awful), black eyeshadow, eyeliner, and a nice purple lipstick. Looking back I don't know why I even bothered with the makeup but I was sure it was essential to creating the atmosphere I wanted to get the true hard rock concert experience. Put on my boots, run out the door with my blanket and a wild grin, and navigate driving my Camry in heeled boots while blasting some old albums from Breaking Benjamin. A two hour drive gave me a lot of time to go over the older section of the discography and warm up my vocal chords for the screaming I anticipated doing later on through the evening.
You know, in all the researching and preparing I had done, I neglected to really research the venue. Not to say there was anything wrong with MIDFLORIDA, but I had always thought a concert venue would be more like what I was used to in Miami . . . lots and lots of stalls and cement walks with plants; don't ask me why that was my default idea of concert venues. Instead, I tentatively parked my car in a field with lots of floating dust stirred up by the cars, and a long walk up ahead to a place that looked a lot more open air than I was expecting. Walking up the way and seeing that I was sort of conservatively dressed compared to all the people in fishnets and torn shirts with their buddies decked out in studded metal belts and band tees. More FFDP fans than Breaking Benjamin I was a little put out to see, but whatever. There were plenty of people my age which soothed me a bit, and I happily followed the stream of people to the entrance where I was checked out, ticket scanned, and then cheerily let in. From there I knew I had only a short amount of time to do what I wanted- the goal isn't just to get to a show on time but to get there with enough time to find the BEST spot to lay out my blanket that would leave me with a great view of the stage and screens with enough space from others to give a chance to relax comfortably.
So I walked around, looking at the three or four food stalls and quickly skittering away. I was a little shocked at how much they charged for food and drinks, even bottles of water were about six dollars but luckily I had bought some drinks of my own in a small bag underneath the blankets. Then I had run over to the band merchandise booth and was eagerly looking over the shirts. Oh, I had wanted one so bad! Those long sleeve tees looked so comfortable and like they would drape just right over my frame . . . alas, no shirt would ever sit comfortably that I had to cough up $60 for. Jesus Bass Shredding Christ.
My small little dream of owning a band tee crushed by the strict budget I had made myself set up to be able to afford gas next week, I sulked for a little while on the walk up to the actual green but ultimately shook it off when I realized I still needed to find the perfect spot. It took me about ten minutes but I was quite happy to roll out the blanket and smooth it out, placing my bag underneath my head as I laid down and scrolled voraciously through some piece of fanfiction I had found on Archive of Our Own. The sun bore down viciously in the December afternoon, sweating off the tinted moisturizer and chipping little flakes off the pitch black pigment on my eyelids. I knew we were getting closer to showtime as more bodies started to fill the space that had once been gracious. The thick scent of weed starts to permeate the air and I grin a little. The sun gets a little lower as we start to hear a voice ring out over the field.
The show is about to begin.
Some radio DJ's announce the show, rambling on about some memories of getting this show ready and advertised . . . talking about beer . . . I hardly remember what it was but I remember then that they finally, oh finally, announced the first opening act. Bad Wolves.
Which. Okay. They were good (except for their rendition of Zombies, they should have never tried to step up to the Cranberries) but . . . it may sound rude but, I was glad to get them out of the way first. The next opening act I was more familir with, and they played my favorites of theirs, "Jenny" and "Go To War".
Then . . .
I was on the green, so from afar I watched the members of Breaking Benjamin file onto stage, set up their equipment. The screens were bold and colorful as the lighting technicians changed the colors of the lights into something beautiful and striking, resembling the fiery cover of Ember. The sun was low on the horizon, and dusk was fast approaching in a way that emboldened the beautiful lighting choices. It would only add to the mysticism of the moment for me. I'm getting ahead of myself though.
The first song they started with was the single from the new album, "Red Cold River." It was, and still is, a good song and a great opening choice. I won't lie I was kind of hoping for an older song like "Dance With The Devil" or something. I could only wait, which was absolutely no problem while I let myself be swept away in the rasps and screams converging yet clashing so wonderfully in the air around me. "I Will Not Bow" was a fun song to jump around to as I remembered being a young teenager feeling the defiant rage of the chorus fill my hormone addled body when I really didn't need any more rage inside me. Then it moved into a slightly softer "Never Again" that I never learned the words to, and "Breath" that seems to fall in and out of my favor by any which turn of the season.
They blow me away with their freestyle intermission though. The instrumental Imperial March that pounds through so powerfully with each heavy hit to a drum and each shred of a note- night had already fallen so the stage glowed a vengeful orange that enticed me to give ever more of myself when I might have grown tired in any other situation. I hung onto each nonchalant word and joke, enjoyed the small bite of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that was a little odd for me in Ben's bitterly growling vocals. Shaun's drum solo was utterly amazing and paraded underneath my skin in a mashup of percussion and heartbeat.
The whole show had been enchanting, and mesmerizing, everything I had ever dreamed. Yet . . . something about the way the goosebumps on my arms rose almost painfully as the first solemn chords to "So Cold" came on was almost baffling to me; I think it was the second song I listened to from them after tearing myself away from "Diary of Jane." The solemnity of the song was at complete odds with the elation I felt finally getting to hear Ben Burnley's rasping roars into a mic directly, and not corrected or smoothed down onto a digital format. We seemed to open our mouths as one, the crowd, and belted out those lyrics with far less finesse than Ben and Keith (but maybe with more enthusiasm?)- half of us were three sheets to the wind already from various means so whatever. I can remember distinctly how the roar of "It's Alright!" nearly deafened me, and I remember keeping my voice low despite the exhilaration that was being shared and amplified through us all . . . that song had always been more of a folktale to me than anything. I can always see the music video when I hear the song, the broken man and the townspeople who vilify and murder him. It was always a sort of painful song . . . one I could never scream to. I kept low and saved my voice for other songs, ones I knew I could let my heart fly on.
They played a song from the previous album Dark Before Dawn that had come out three years prior . . . not my favorite song on the album but I was content to let this be a water break for me and a chance to sit down on the blanket. I could see others in the crowd wildly waving their arms for the man walking around selling beers and waters. The smell of weed that had abated grew stronger again as the night was only reaching its peak. "Angels Fall" faded out but the silence was given no chance to grow as they poured themselves into the next song: "Psycho"
Now, on Ember there are a lot of great hits. I adamantly believe though, that whoever decided that "Tourniquet" and "Psycho" would be back to back hits was a freaking genius. Ugh, just to hear the way "Tourniquet" creates this wave of music starting off with Benjamin's lilting coo and building into the roaring crescendo, I just--
And then you follow that right up with "Pyscho"? Sir I happily embrace the hellfire that song conjures. Yeah, the setlist regretfully left out this artful pairing but just to play "Pyscho" was amazing for me. It's one of those songs I lose myself in, heart flying nearly and voice threatening to break from the strain. Hearing dark, vengeful growls spit out the lyrics in their defiance with that sort of raging vengeance the band captures so wonderfully. I was definitely up, and maybe looking a little stupid twirling around and around my small little blanket but guess what I didn't and still don't care.
I considered the next song, "Failure" to be a little cooldown period just like "Angels Fall", not that I didn't enjoy the song but it wasn't on the same level for me as the "Psycho"; it didn't make my heart pound like before, didn't absolutely rattle my bones like before. I was incapable of standing still though, needing to work through the adrenaline the last song had sent coursing through my veins like a poison. I'm not going to lie though, the next two songs were sort of a disappointment for me. They weren't favorites and I was content to just nod along, throw some peace signs up, and chug my last bottle of water. "Until the End" and "Believe" went past with screams, cheers, and of course an amazing performance even if I didn't know/like the songs as much as the others they played.
But then. Oh, then . . .
"Torn in Two." This song, along with my previously discussed favorite pairing, are my absolute favorites on the album. They make my top five of their whole discography honestly. There's just something about "Torn in Two" that makes my heart feel like its floating. Something so liberating about it; a fierce rush through my heart yet simultaneously soothing, like running cool water over a burn. I just . . . the way Benjamin Burly's voice soars high on the chorus when he sings the titular words, and in other parts of the song! Absolutely beautiful. It's a joy to hear it through my car's audio system on car rides, and to hear it live is an experience that I'll never forget. A voice already properly worked through by the previous thirteen songs and yet still so smooth on those exact parts of the song was incredible to witness in person.
The haunting way that song trailed off with those last calls of "Hold on!" was incredible and turned the notch up on my goosebumps, a weird thing to experience in 80+ degree weather. The song faded out and we were all given thanks and praise for making it into the show as they started to gear up the last song. And there was so something poetic about it, I think, that my first concert with my favorite band would have their last song of the night be the first song I ever heard from them. "The Diary of Jane".
It just hit me then, as I stood there and swayed in place, that I was somewhere I had never really imagined myself to be. I'd spent years listening to this band (in its different formations), never expecting to ever see them in concert because of what looked like a permanent hiatus from their internal issues . . . I was a broke post-graduate with a minimum wage job who was always afraid to make big purchases because I never knew if anything would happen to compromise my obligations like bills and such. I was at a point in my life where I didn't believe I deserved happy luxuries like this, or to lose myself in the experience of living a life with wild times and exciting adventures. I was unsure of the future and whether or not I had the right to experience times of elation in times of strife. That concert was the first chink in that nonsensical reasoning. It wasn't the great big wakeup call I sure needed back then, but it was a welcome respite and a reminder that there was as whole world waiting for me to experience it if I could remove myself from my own ridiculous self-made quagmire.
The band left to thunderous applause, and it was announced Five Finger Death Punch would be coming on to end the night. I smiled to myself and started to pack away my blanket, folding it carefully but as quickly as I could since the crowd was really starting to pick up now. Face half-melted and lipstick all but gone, hair frizzy beyond belief, I walked along by myself under the glare of lights set up along the pathway back to the entrance. There were still stalls open, and I gave a last lingering look to the merchandise counter before turning resolutely away. The desire for physical proof of my presence here suddenly seemed paltry in comparison to the vivid memories I knew I would carry for a long time. My gait was a little unsteady, from post-show fatigue and a sort of giddiness that nearly resembled being drunk on the walk back. Taking deep breaths to recenter myself I got back to my dearly loved car (noting with relief no new scratches or "accidents" happened even when she was parked in a makeshift parking lot), and dropped heavily into my seat. Even with the car started and still very much warmed up from sitting under the hot sun for a few hours, I didn't make a move. Just sat there and absorbed what I had just done. Chuckling, I eyed my Ember CD before deciding 'what the hell' and putting it on from "Feed The Wolf." There's no such thing as too much Breaking Benjamin right?