This summer was my last semester in school and as soon as my finals were done I went on a road trip to Lyons, Colorado for Folks Fest. Sufjan Stevens was a headliner. A friend of mine introduced me to his music and I remember thinking that if I ever dared to write songs they would likely have the similar, unsure symphonic aesthetic of Illinoise. (I grew up listening to a lot of classical music. I’ve a great love for a wind section that I don’t think I could escape or understand how to wrangle).
Since then I’ve felt a special affinity for him and have wanted to see him sing in person. I was in Portland in June and found out he was in town to perform, but the show was sold out. That night I was out exploring and thought, even if I don’t have a ticket it can’t hurt to stop by and see the beautiful theater. Maybe a little magic would rub off on me, I don’t know.
I talked to Helado Negro, the opener, at the merch table. He was such a sweet guy, but gosh, there was this really mean girl working the table who called Salt Lake a shit hole. Like, to my face. She’s a shit hole. (Even though, I get it). But it did hurt my feelings, and I suddenly felt really out of place with those cool kids. I made my way for the door and just as I was stepping out, one of the ushers followed behind me and whispered “Psst!” I turned around and he said real quietlike,
“Do you want to see the show?”
I saw a ticket in his hand, gasped, and grabbed his arm. “Are you shitting me?”
He walked me up to the balcony and shone his light on a seat dead center. It was an emotional experience to be sure, supplemented by Sufjan’s performance at Folks Fest. In the rocky embrace of the Planet Bluegrass ranch we were bathed in blue stage lights. It rained buckets that evening and we stood in muddy tarp water, but nevermind. Sufjan’s voice rang throughout and at one point I nearly felt the vibrations reset the rhythm in my chest.
In my mind I came to call this trip to Lyons the Weekend of Orphans. Sufjan filled me with sadness and wonder at the loss of an estranged mother. The following day I was adopted for the weekend by a sweet couple who’ve come to these festivals for decades and gathered others lonesomes like me. Gillian Welch closed out the festival, singing “I’ve had friendships pure and golden/The ties of kinship have not known them.” I’m not an orphan; I come from a pretty big, involved family. But there are times when I feel lonely, like I’ve lost someone who should’ve been sewn to my side for life. I spent that weekend gazing into the empty scene and felt the unwanted space.