“Oh…ugh! What was the name of that book? It had the greasers…and the socs…that kid who lived on the streets…Ponyboy! What was the name of that book?”
The early August heat was in full force. We sat in line at the Unity Christian Music Festival with all of the other musically thirsting, each dealing with the persistent sun the best way that we knew how. Me, with a bottle of ice water against my cheek, the man next to me with a shaded camp chair, Ginger and Melody with liberally applied sunscreen, the teenage boy next to them with an umbrella, and Stacy with an eager snapping up of the chance to volunteer to head over to an air-conditioned trailer to donate blood. We sat with our legs stretched out on the bridge, our backs to the lake and our faces toward the railroad tracks and the downtrodden red brick industrial building with “Amazon” perched on its roof in white letters.
The conversation turned, as it often does when we girls come together, to literature. Debates over important matters like whether or not Jo should have married Laurie, and discussions about books that we read when we were younger and decided to reread as adults (just in case we had been too young to appreciate the book for what it was at the time), like that book – the one with Ponyboy. The one that I couldn’t remember the name of – something that I knew would bother me until I thought of it.
…but then I had help.
“You were talking about the book with Ponyboy in it?” She was in line behind me, helping her husband fold up their camp chairs in preparation for the line to move once the gates opened.
“Yeah! What book was that?”
“The Outsiders. I’m a retired English teacher. I taught that book for years.”
A former English teacher myself, the conversation branched out from there – from books we had taught, to the struggles that come with teaching, to growing up on a farm. Because, it turned out, she had grown up on a farm, too. Just like me. The conversation carried on as the line moved, and ended as we went through the gates, two nameless strangers, probably never to meet again.
Ginger, Stacy, Melody, and I staked out our spot in front of the stage with an outdoor blanket and a couple of sheets and settled ourselves in for the long haul. There were several artists playing on the stage that day, but we were there for Jon Foreman and Switchfoot. We filled the hours before Jon Foreman’s solo concert with hot dogs, ice cream, and visits to the merchandise tent. We listened to music from musicians we had never heard before and people watched.
As the music played, I couldn’t help but notice the wide variety of people who were wearing Switchfoot t-shirts. How great is it that people can have so many things in common without even realizing it (like the woman that I had met in line and I)? All of these Switchfoot t-shirt wearers looked very different, but they were all united by the love of one band’s music.
There was a freshman in high school, baseball cap on his head, chest emblazoned with the name of his favorite band, wandering around the festival grounds with a couple of his friends, determined to fill the last few weeks before the start of school with as much fun as possible.
There was a woman straight from the beaches of Lake Michigan, sleeveless Fading West t-shirt and jean skirt clad, swaying to the music in the front rows. Her tan was a testament to the lure of sea and shore, and to the amount of festivals like these that she had been to already this summer (this was her fifth).
There was a tall middle-aged man mid-crowd. He had gotten off of work at the office early to come here, his 11-year-old son in tow. His Switchfoot t-shirt was hidden beneath a more straight-laced button-up shirt, and no one would ever know by looking at him how much he had been looking forward to this until the music started and his fist flew up into the air. YES! SING IT!
And then there were the four of us, clambering up off of the ground in front of the main stage to head over to the smaller spotlight stage. We left an hour early in order to make sure that we could stake out a good vantage point to see Jon Foreman’s solo concert. The spotlight stage was in a tent next to the lake, with a view of boats anchored in the background, and the feel and sound of a welcome breeze billowing around the tent curtains. We took our places near the front of the stage, and listened for the first time to the Good Little Giants, a band that won me over with their humor, their mixing of traditional hymns with folksy charm, and their banjo. They were having a good time, and so was I.
And then came Jon Foreman, the man we had been waiting for. He came with nothing but a guitar in his hands and a harmonica around his neck – and that’s all he needed. He sang audience song requests that were passed up through the crowd on small scraps of paper; chicken scratch hopes waiting to be plucked from a set of strings. At one point he even pulled up a volunteer from the audience to play guitar for him while he played the harmonica – and the volunteer surprised everyone by turning out to be a kick-butt guitar player. The Jon Foreman concert was a good show for everyone in that audience, but I have a feeling that it was probably an extra special one for that guy – the kick-butt guitar player who got to climb up on stage and play with a songwriter and fellow musician that he had listened to for years.
And when the time for the Switchfoot concert arrived back at the main stage, it was just as good. As the sun faded and the stars blinked into the sky, I joined my voice with the music that radiated from the stage. I had been looking forward to this concert for a long time – because this music had come to mean a lot to me over the past few years – more than any other music ever has. Just a short time ago, I had picked up this music – Switchfoot’s music, Jon Foreman’s music – and found in these notes an echo of my own fears, my own doubts, my own hopes, my own faith – and it helped to get me out of a dark place.
In that moment, while the music from the stage reverberated in my chest, I had to smile as I thought about how lucky Jon Foreman, and the band, and people like him are. How lucky he is that he gets to share his gift of song with so many people and touch so many lives with it – like that freshman boy’s, or that gal’s from the beach, or that man escaping the office’s, or mine. That can be difficult to do – sharing your gift – baring your soul in a song – because we humans are all too often afraid of showing our imperfections or of making mistakes. But I have come to realize that even imperfections and mistakes can be turned into something beautiful…
…and, like Jon, I want to sing with all my heart a lifelong song…
even if some notes come out right…
and some come out wrong.
*Picture courtesy of the Unity Christian Music Festival’s facebook page