It’s late, very late, on a Saturday night, and I am head banging with all my might even as I attempt not to get dizzy or lose my balance. As a 56-year-old woman, there are other places I could be such as at home sitting on my couch with a good book. But you see, I’m with the band. No seriously, I’m with the band. I am the band mom and merch lady for my son’s band, Ignite the Fire (think Shinedown or Breaking Benjamin), and they are quite good (shameless plug here).
Eight years ago, my life and my basement changed forever. My son and a school friend decided to start a band. And I went along for the ride. And what a ride it has been—one that has enriched my life more than I could have imagined.
In the early days, I packed hot dogs and homemade cookies because they were cheap and easy to transport on long trips and could be gulped down while unpacking or packing up instruments and equipment. And I was even an audience member—of one!—at a show, jumping up and down and, yes, headbanging enthusiastically in an effort to make up for the lack of audience.
My son had a dream, and I was going to support it any way I could.
Fast forward a few years, and much has changed. I have stood among a throng of fans singing the lyrics to a song my son wrote. I have watched my son share the stage with his all-time favorite drummer, John Fred Young of Black Stone Cherry. And I have witnessed Ignite the Fire fans getting tattoos of lyrics and even musical notes from songs as well as images of the band’s logo, a Phoenix. I hear the band’s songs played now and know that the embryonic strumming in my son’s bedroom or downstairs in the basement has given birth to songs being heard by people all over the world.
And I have been there for it all.
First, let me tell you this from backstage: There is an amazing amount of talent out there. I never cease to be impressed at what these bands are doing and how they are doing it. While Ignite the Fire has a specific genre, they have played with an eclectic group of bands.
I admit going through this experience and seeing it through the eyes of a middle-aged woman, who last rocked out to Bruce Springsteen and today prefers James Taylor, has definitely been, uh, different.
I have met people I never would have encountered otherwise. Sometimes, they appear intimidating and different and maybe a bit terrifying because of those differences.
Usually they turn out to be very interesting and creative people who express themselves as such. Then there are those who look non-threatening until they open their mouths. I will never forget a cherub-faced young man, dimples as big as saucers, growling with raw emotion, “There’s a monster under my bed, and he crawled into my head.” That one was a bit of a shocker.
And to be honest, some personas are more disturbing than others. I remember having to run merch, which involves selling Ignite the Fire T-shirts and CDs, at a show. Next to me was the Goat Skull Rebellion merch table. With the call of “Join the Rebellion,” the band’s motto, their mascot was an actual goat skull with horns.
He was propped in a place of honor, as he modeled one of the band’s hoodies. Now, this is an impressive and promising band, and I mean no offense to them, but that goat skull staring me down all night in a dark venue was a bit unsettling. I spent a long time staring back at Mr. Goat Skull and thinking about his rebellion. “I guess it’s just you and me, huh,” I asked him at one point when we were alone. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had answered me in backwards Latin.
I have been to a venue with a dirt floor and no heating in the dead of winter. My feet slowly went numb. And I have been to national shows and festivals and have been bestowed a coveted backstage pass with bands such as Theory of a Deadman and Three Days Grace.
Speaking of backstage passes and hobnobbing, I will admit that it can be frustrating to get to interact with big names at some of these shows, but when I tell my friends all about it, they look at me with blank faces. I am not meeting bands from the day, as it were. No Bono or Bruce or Bon Jovi. But I will tell you that Aaron Nordstrom from Gemini Syndrome is a lovely, lovely man—so kind and gracious, in fact.
I have also seen the rougher side of the band experience. The long drives, sleeping in a van night after night, show after show. As Ignite the Fire was packing up one night, I started talking to a band member from another group. He had quite the rock star bravado, but I casually asked him where he and his band were headed next. A place many states away, he told me. “Wow, that’s a drive,” I said. That’s when he changed. His bravado melted into a little boy, tired and weary of the road. “Yes, yes, it is,” he replied. “We’re going to have to drive all night. All night.” As he talked, it was if all the air had left him. He sat there deflated and real. Life on the road is hard.
I have also found myself in situations that are not in my best interest. I escaped a near mishap with a mosh pit. As one of the bands played, I had gotten too close to the action without realizing it. The last thing a 56-year-old woman needs is to be battered and bruised in a dance pile-up. As it looked like I was heading for the heap of bodies slamming into each other, I remember thinking, “This is it. I am going to die.”
That’s when I felt two hands on my shoulders. I turned around and a young man with a T-shirt that displayed an expletive in all caps whispered in my ear. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’ve got you.” And he did. He kept me safe and sound, hands securely placed on my shoulders until the song was over and I could move to the back of the crowd.
With experiences like these I keep thinking of that adage: Never judge a book by its cover. It’s so true, yet we as a society are so guilty of it. We all should be fortunate enough to step out of our comfort zone and embrace new and different experiences and people. I believe our world would be better for it. And, thanks to my son’s dream, I have done just that, and I wouldn’t have dared missed it.
Now, if you will please excuse me, I’m with the band. And I’m off to join the Goat Skull Rebellion.