Once upon a time, I became obsessed with Chris Stapleton. I mean, not obsessed with him, but with his music. I wasn’t following him on social media and pinning pictures to my wall. But I was listening to his Traveler album all. the. time.
I’m not even a concert person, but I thought this would be a concert I’d like to attend. I’ve been to many concerts. In college, my roommate and I went to see the country artists we liked at bars and casinos and the state fair. My husband was in a band when we were dating, so I went to a few of his shows at sketchy clubs where minors had to get Xs on their hands. Then we were married and I went along with him to see the artists he liked at dark damp places that never had anywhere to park.
But this would be different. The concert to end all concerts.
I looked at Stapleton’s tour schedule and there was nothing in Omaha. Who cares? Omaha sucks. I would travel. I’d be a traveler (it’s late and I’m delusional. Everything’s funny). He was going to Chicago. I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago. It was at Wrigley Field. Steve and I would catch a Cubs game. He’s always wanted to go to Wrigley. But the timing didn’t match up with our schedule.
Kansas: no. That’s as bad as Omaha.
Denver. Now we’re talking. Denver is a city I love. Steve and I used to go there once a year. We went there when we were dating on our first real trip together. Maybe we even fell in love there (I’m probably reaching but it sounds poetic). I met his extended family and instantly felt accepted. I stayed at my cousin’s hotel, the one I could never afford without the friends and family hookup. Steve and I walked 16th street and gave crumpled ones to street performers and bums. We held hands and stopped for beers on patios.
Chris Stapleton was not just coming to Denver, he was performing at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Last September Steve went to Red Rocks to see his favorite artist (Gregory Alan Isakov). He went with his brother and ever since he’s been telling me about it: what an experience it was, up in the mountains, in the open air, under the stars. I would have to go sometime, he said.
So fuck it, I would.
Tickets were sold out, as they always are in this age of ticket agency hustlers. But we bought them anyway. We paid what we had to. But still, I wouldn’t say we paid too much.
Then last Wednesday, we set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. and roused the boys from bed and hit the road. We drove five hundred miles with two toddler boys. We dropped them at Steve’s uncle and aunt’s house where they threw pine cones into a creek and then slept in a tent.
And Steve and I made our way up the mountains. To those giant, almost unbelievable red rocks.
The home of the $9 margaritas that got me not quite fucked up but just the right amount of feeling good. And the music swirled and dipped and the crowd swelled and overflowed. And the shadows lengthened and then the sun went down and the stars came out and the crowd got rowdier and I cared less and I heard my favorite songs and I smelled the mountain air and the Colorado marijuana and the music filled my ears, my lungs, my body and I knew what Steve meant then, about it being an experience. Not just seeing someone, not just hearing them, but feeling the music in your whole body.
It wasn’t the liquor, but that was a part of it.
It wasn’t the smoke plumes in the sky when he sang “Might as well get stoned,” but that was some of it.
It wasn’t the people watching: the cowboy boots and cutoff jean shorts, the glassy eyes, the flannel shirts. But that was a little.
It wasn’t Stapleton with his long hair like a homeschool girl, covered at the crown with a cowboy hat. OK, it was, a bit.
It wasn’t familiar songs filling me as they filled other people, being a part of it together, watching the way it moved them, affected them. But that was a lot of it.
It was all of it. And it was the line at the bathroom and the way we huffed to the top of the stairs because of the altitude. It was the people tailgating in the parking lot and it was having someone else put our kids to bed for the first time (my mom has been the only one up until now). It was traveling to get there and planning it before that. It was all of it wrapped up together, this giant ball of energy that moved in us and made us feel alive, up there in the mountains, under the clear Colorado sky.
Life is full of moments. A lot of them are ordinary. But we have to make room for those unordinary ones. We have to clear a space for those expensive, ridiculous, impractical ones. The ones that fill your entire being and remind you not only that you’re alive, but all there is to live for.
Fuck yeah, it was that. good.