Last night, while I was ushering for The Tragically Hip at The Egg in Albany, an aggressive young lesbian put some serious moves on me. It’s been decades since that happened, but somehow it seems emblematic of how my life gets ever more interesting as I age. Whether it’s downhill skiing or ushering for groups whose music I don’t know at all, I continue to take on fresh challenges and explore the unknown. I’m surprised how many people my age – and even people much younger – are afraid to do that. In the words of David Byrne, most seem to prefer the “same as it ever was.”
Speaking of music – which I seem to do a lot on this blog – I’ve got a prize for someone in the Capital District who reads to the end of this post. But first, I’ll fill you in on last night’s Egg experience. I’ve been ushering there for about three years now, and at the Troy Music Hall for longer than that. The major benefit from these volunteer efforts is the opportunity to hear a lot of great music for free. Both venues send out sign-up sheets around Labor Day, and we’re asked to select those shows we want to usher for, as well as to select some that are harder to staff and might not be our first choices.
Like most ushers, I go for known favorites first. Since I’ve been reasonably friendly and reliable, I tend to get many of my first choices. For Troy this fall, that includes Steve Martin and his banjo bluegrass band, Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra Jr. At The Egg, I’ll be ushering for Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson this Sunday, followed by Keb Mo’, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Brian Wilson, Ani DiFranco, and – just added – Ray Davies with a band, though he’s not calling them The Kinks. Okay, I’ll confess – I bought the Brian Wilson ticket, because I didn’t want to risk being one of the unchosen ushers.
Not all the artists are this well-known, so I also select a few that I’ve heard good things about, or whose songs I’ve heard a few times on the radio. Ben Folds’ concert at The Egg fell into this category. I remembered only one song of his – the lugubrious ballad with the line “She’s a brick and I’m falling slowly” – but it intrigued me enough to sign up. When I commented on Facebook that I was going, my Albany poet friend Don Levy commented, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d be a Ben Folds Fan.” Well, I wasn’t – until that night. The sold-out show was absolutely fabulous.
I knew even less about the Tragically Hip, but I liked the name. Another sold-out show, another marvelous discovery for me, although as with the Ben Folds show, most of the audience seemed to recognize every song right from the opening chords. Ben Folds was loud – I cringe to think of the damage he inflicted on that grand piano – but the Hip were louder – a six-piece, guitar-driven band verging on heavy metal but with intriguing and unpredictable words and music. Gordon Downie, the lead singer and songwriter, reminded me of John Malkevich channeling Mick Jagger with a touch of David Bowie. In other words, not just a singer, but a wonderful actor and dancer.
And now back to my lesbian story. I’d signed up to usher near the orchestra pit, and when the Hip took the stage, two aisle seats in row A were still empty, so I stood in front of one of them. (The audience was on its feet from the get-go.) Midway through the first number, two young women arrived to claim the seats, but one of them immediately threw her arm around me and pulled me close, saying “Stay here with me – you’re so adorable.” As she nuzzled my neck, I caught the unmistakable aroma of gin. I disengaged myself with a smile, tried to move away, but to no avail – she grabbed me again from behind. I decided my best bet was to walk purposefully away, and I found an equally good vantage point on the other side of the theater.
Did I feel threatened? Not really – I believe she was just out for a good time, more than a little drunk, and feeling very, very friendly. I’m straight, married for nearly 35 years, but had my admirer been a man, I’d have been furious, probably called security. (At the band’s request, The Egg had laid on extra security, so I was surrounded by big, muscular guys.) This was my weirdest ushering experience to date. Will I avoid ushering at hard rock concerts in the future? No way. Besides, standing, swaying and boogying for three hours was great exercise.
I started out blogging about my willingness to try new experiences as compared with all the old fogies I know. But I’ve rambled on long enough for today, so I’ll save it for next time.
AND NOW FOR THE GRAND PRIZE: I’ve got two tickets to WEXT’s benefit concert next Friday, October 23, 7:30 p.m. in WMHT’s North Greenbush studios. I donated $60 to the station for the two tickets, but I’m only using one. My husband went last time, but he’s really not interested. If you are, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If someone wants to pay $30, that’s great, but I’ll consider lesser offers – or even give it away. There’ll be four local bands. Do I know what they sound like? No – but I’m going to find out.