I grew up wanting to be a musician. I took piano and voice lessons; I played the guitar for a brief moment in time. I even did musical theater for much of middle school. What I wanted to do more than create music, however, was perform it. I vividly remember twirling around in my sister’s princess dresses, pretending I was Hannah Montana. We would put on performances for our parents and relatives in our backyard, dancing and singing to “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry.

The first concert I remember going to was in 2009. It was Taylor Swift’s Fearless Tour. I bought popcorn in the arena and sat in the back, watching various vendors parading up and down the rows selling cotton candy, light sticks and posters. The crowd was on its feet even before Taylor came on stage. When she came onstage, though, we all lost it. I could barely hear her singing over all of the screaming. Taylor performed almost all of my favorite songs with elaborate sets, costumes and backup dancers. The visions I had in my head of her songs came to life in front of me. I had always imagined how Taylor would perform, and now that I was seeing it, it was spellbinding. I think I didn’t breathe for the entire first song. Needless to say, I was hooked on concerts.

In high school, I went to a Halsey concert with two of my best friends, Layla and Amea. It was my first concert with a pit, so we made sure to get to the venue extra early to get a spot at the barricade. As the venue filled up, I could feel bodies pressing up against my back, trying to squeeze into a spot at front. I wasn’t letting them. But by the time Halsey came onstage, I couldn’t hold. Layla and Amea watched in horror as I was pulled away from the barricade by the mob sweaty pubescent teens. For the first time, I was really alone at a concert. It was terrifying. I frantically tried to get back to where they were. It was no use. Everyone around me wasn’t willing to move, and it was too loud to thoroughly explain my situation to the people around me. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that I was going to be lost forever, so I made an effort to enjoy myself. To my surprise, I did. I was more absorbed in the music. I was able to notice the subtle arrangement changes Halsey had made between the live versions and the studio recordings of her songs. I could people watch. I noticed a girl raising her newly-purchased Badlands vinyl above the crowd to fan the people around her. I noticed the older kids who snuck a flask in. I noticed who knew all of the words to every song, and who was pretending like they did.

I’ve attended four concerts alone in a row now. My first was Dodie at a church in North Park. My dad dropped me off pretty early, so I had to wait before I could get into the venue. It was chilly for San Diego in September, and the sun was setting behind some apartment buildings. My whole body was shaking. I was terrified. Normally, I’m not very comfortable in public, and I’m also not very comfortable with being alone. It was basically my worst nightmare. Eventually, I made it into the venue and was immediately calmed. Dodie is a pretty quiet artist in her recordings, so I assumed the vibe of her show would be very chill. I was wrong. Dodie changed her songs so they sounded more upbeat and fun to dance to, with deep cellos, roaring guitars and thumping bass drums. Dodie danced around the stage while she sang, bringing the audience into her creations. Other people in the audience danced with their friends. Even though my friends weren’t with me, I danced too. At school and around friends, I always feel like there’s pressure to be “on”. I have to make myself likable and palatable to my classmates. At the concert, though, I let all of that go. It was like Dodie was performing for me and me alone.

Since that concert, I’ve attended three more concerts alone. I saw Carly Rae Jepsen in August at a waterfront venue near the San Diego Bay. It was the most beautiful venue I’ve been to, and Carly was an amazing performer live. I’ve also seen Conan Gray live twice, once in California and once in New York. Before one of his songs, Conan asked if anyone came to the concert with their best friend. The crowd cheered. I didn’t. I started thinking about how I was feeling. Sure, I was having a good time, but would it be more fun if I was with my friends? Was it weird that I was there alone? Conan then told everyone to hug their best friend. The guy next to me, who had noticed that I was alone, turned to me and gave me a hug. He was really warm, and it felt good to be seen for a moment. I didn’t get his name, but I’ll always be thankful to him for recognizing my feelings.

Whenever I mention going to concerts alone to one of my friends, they almost recoil in shock. I get pretty much the same questions every time, like, “Don’t you feel awkward?” or “Wouldn’t you have more fun with other people?” At this point, though, I’m pretty much indifferent as to whether I go to a concert with a friend or alone. I would recommend trying new things alone to everyone. It’s a unique experience that tells you a lot about yourself.

 

Camden Rider | camden.rider@yale.edu