Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Elvis Costello: The Kindness of Strangers

If you are ever wandering around a new city-I'd suggest you do it alone. Some may say, that it's dangerous. You won't know where you're going and could find yourself in a bad neighborhood. Not So! If you have a stitch of common sense, you'll know right away when trouble is around. Listen up to what my years of traveling alone have taught me: You meet more people going solo.

I came to Chicago for a couple interviews and after many nights of venturing around by myself-seeing all the live music this city has to offer-I decided to try my luck in buying a ticket at the legendary Chicago Theater to see Elvis Costello. The guys working the front door said the box office closed 15 minutes earlier. My heart sank at the thought that I wouldn't see one of my favorite artist. Disappointment must have been written all over my face for what happened next was a kind of miracle. A young guy wearing a hoodie with a sad look turned and asked, "I have an extra ticket. Do you want it?" Like a vulture looking for its next meal, I turned and said, "I'll buy it from you. How much do you want?" The man with the sad eyes said he would give it to me for free. That he was in Chicago on vacation with his wife. The ticket had been for her, but she was sick and needed to stay in.

I looked at the ticket in his hand. The price read $150. In my state of utter shock, I asked if I could give him something for it. He said no and that he got the ticket for free and wouldn't feel comfortable charging for it. I took the ticket and we walked into the extraordinary atrium of the venue that resembled more of a New England war memorial than a concert hall.

I told him the very least I could do was buy him a beer. He said that would be fine. I ordered up two Stella's and we entered in to the concert with our beers in hand. Both of our mouths dropped when we saw how close we were to the stage. We were in the sixth row!

The stage was set up in a Las Vegas theme. A big colorful wheel with names of the songs on it, was right of center stage. To the left was a Go-Go cage and a bar with a couple martinis on top. I've been to many shows before, but this was by far the most creative. Audience members were randomly selected to spin the wheel and when it stopped, Elvis Costello would play the song. He cheated a bit. When the audience wanted to hear Living in Paradise and Chelsea, he complied.

What's more impressive was that Elvis Costello who's been performing for over thirty years (since 1977) could still play a solid set. During his encore, he performed back-to-back hits including my personal favorite Beyond Belief, which was actually fitting to how I felt about the whole night.

The acoustics were wonderful. Though, I doubt that Elvis Costello could sound awful even if he was performing in a tin can.

After the show, I tried to give my kind stranger a 20 to get his wife some flowers. He said no thanks and smiled. We exchanged our stories and it turns out he works in the music industry! And to boot, he said he would happily read my writing.

Case in point: I find that in our most vulnerable state of being alone, we open up to the world and attract more acts of kindness from locals or dare I say strangers. This has happened to me many times before. I've met some of my closest friends while on my own...looking a bit lost.

Whether you're traveling to Milwaukee or to far off places-go out alone.

You'll be fine.

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