On Friday evening, October 27th, 2017, I had tickets to see Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band at House of Blues. I had tickets for Neal and myself, but then I splurged and bought myself a VIP experience pass. I met Josh several years prior at a book signing event when his novel, Bright's Passage, was released and had the chance to not only have my book signed but to get a chance to chat with him briefly as well. I wrote him a fan letter a while back when I was going through a really difficult time in my life because I wanted him to know how monumental his music has been to my life - in times or darkness or light, his words have been an inspiration to me as a singer, as a songwriter, as a musician, and as a human being. Keep that in mind as I regale you of the surprising events of the evening...
I checked in to the VIP event and received a fantastic tote bag of merch goodies and waited in line for the VIP photo opportunity, Q&A, and acoustic set before the show. After I found my place in line, I heard a woman say to the staff member checking us in to let her know when “Sharon” arrives. I kept hearing them both say, "Sharon" and wondered if it might be me. They looked around to try to find "Sharon" and I gave them a small, wimpy wave, saying, “I think that might be me. Cheryn?”. If you've never heard my name out loud, it's pronounced "Shuh-RINN", fyi. :)
The first woman introduced herself as Claudia, the VIP experience coordinator, and said that the tour manager wanted to talk to me about my order. While we waited for the tour manager to arrive, Claudia asked me where I was from and we chatted about the Boston weather. This was her first time in the city and being from Las Vegas, she was excited to take the obligatory fall foliage picture strolling through the Fenway area. Her brown hair was beautifully tangled and flowed to her shoulders and her smile was infectious. But her friendly demeanor and effortless conversation did nothing to assuage the building anxiety. What was wrong with my order? Are they going to tell me that my ticket isn’t valid? Am I going to get to see Josh and Zachariah and Sam and Josh K? Oh man. I’m freaking out. I. AM. FREAKING. OUT. Then a pretty woman and a gorgeous little blond toddler came over to chat with Claudia. As they exchanged fun poses with each other, I tried to calm myself. "There's a reasonable explanation for this. Just calm down." After the mother and daughter pair walked away, Claudia told me they were Josh’s wife, Haley, and daughter, Beatrix. I had suspected that that may be the case, but was still lost in my own cloud of anxious thoughts.
After what seemed like forever (which I recognize was probably only a minute or two), the tour manager came over and asked me to come with her. She led me through the venue, through a door next to the stage, and then up some stairs. She was tall and I had a hard time matching her pace because, well, I have little legs, people! My inner dialogue was at full freak out. Was she going to take me to a private room to tell me that my card didn’t actually work or my ticket master order had glitched and I didn’t really have a ticket? Was she going to ask for my VIP tote back? We came to a doorway and we paused. I assumed it was to let Josh pass. I tried to smile a hello to him and didn't want to seem like a weird fan. She said hello to Josh, said "This is Sharon", and then left. Josh looked at me and greeted me with a smile and a great big hug. I hugged him back and was both shocked and confused about what was going on.
After he released me from the hug. Wait, no. Let's pause. If you've never been hugged by Josh Ritter, people, you have NEVER. BEEN. HUGGED. He hugs all of his fans, and I was lucky to receive so many of these at the book signing several years ago. He hugs you like you're an old friend and he's so happy to see you. The gratitude he has for each and every fan is incredible, and it's a gratitude that seems to have endless patience whether you're the last fan after a few hours of meeting people and signing books on a long tour. He's truly an incredible human being.
Anyway, so he releases me from this incredibly warm hug, and then thanks me for coming to the show with the brightest smile that only Josh Ritter can effortlessly beam. He then thanked me for writing him a letter. At that moment, my very faulty brain which continually forgets important memories of my life if I don't write them down, is searching for the contents of that letter. I've got nothing. I'm caught off guard by someone who I greatly admire and I can't believe he's thanking me for something I did for him! He went on to tell me that it arrived at a very difficult time for him and that my words were just what he needed. His eyes got a little glossy with tears and if it were not for the adrenaline running through my system, I would have broken down in full tears. Josh Ritter was standing there, telling me that my words had affected him. This man, whose words and notes have inspired me and lead me through some of the toughest moments of my life, for so many years - he was telling me that MY words had helped HIM. Was this really happening?
Then he asked ME how I was doing! In my shock, my words stumbled through sentences about how I had come to accept that certain relationships with my family would never be what I wanted them to be. I told him that I had started a new job at a biotech startup and was trying to cure cancer. I told him that I had found an incredible person to share my life with that made me so incredibly happy and supported my dreams. That I was in a much better place now than I was at the time of writing the letter.
At some point in this conversation, I remembered that the VIP Experience instructions had been that we were not able to request an autograph. I had planned to use the Q&A session to ask Josh if he would be willing to hand write some lyrics from one of my favorite songs for my next tattoo. So I gathered my nerve and asked him if he wouldn't mind doing that. He smiled and responded, "Of course! Sure!" and led me into one of the rooms. As he grabbed a piece of paper and a Sharpie marker, he asked me if I wanted any water or juice. (In hindsight, I should have responded with a clever joke about Bourbon. He is the man that got me in to Four Roses, it would only be fitting.) I politely declined, and he started penning the words to a song he's sung for so many people for so many years. He paused for a second saying, "I just want to make sure I get it right" and then penned the following,
Be my Darling...
Been a long time coming
But now the snow is gone"
He paused, looked it over, and then added an exclamation point so that the last line read, "But now the snow is gone!". It was perfect. He thanked me again, said "I'll see you later. I hope you enjoy the show!", and then hugged me. I thanked him and then the tour manager came and led me back to the meet and greet line, where Claudia was standing.
"Did you know about that?" I asked her.
"Yeah! I didn't want to ruin the surprise, so I just told you it was about your order." she said, all smiles.
"You gave me a heart attack!" I said, "I thought something was wrong!" She asked me how it was and all I could muster was "Amazing. I can't even explain."
"I'm glad, " she said. "You've lost your place in line, but, you're probably okay with that." I was most definitely okay with that.
So I waited in line, for another hug and a picture opportunity. I may have stepped on Josh's left foot when I went to hug him (Sorry, Josh!). Claudia snapped several great pictures, and then the VIP folk were allowed into the main room. Josh performed "In the Dark", "Thunderbolt's Goodnight", "Bright Smile", and "Getting Ready to Get Down". And it was amazing. As always.
It's now Sunday night and I've had nearly 48 hours to process the events of the evening. I can’t even put to words how I feel and nothing I've written above even comes close to conveying the magnitude to which this has affected me. I never thought Josh would get to read my words when I wrote them and I never thought in a million years it would mean as much to him as it would to me. But my words mattered, they mattered enough to him that he remembered my name. He figured out that I had signed up for the meet and greet, and requested that he get a chance to talk to me. My words meant something to someone whose very words have given me the hope I needed to get through some of my toughest moments. So, even now, I find myself thinking, "Did that REALLY happen?". Thankfully, my girl Claudia took several pictures to serve as photographic evidence. So yes, it really did happen. And I am so incredibly touched by it all.
Side note - Some Thank You's:
Thank you for passing my letter on to Josh. His words and stories have made such an impact on my growth as a person and a singer/songwriter (although I am a cancer scientist during the day, I sing when I can find musicians to work with). I could have gone on never knowing what my words did, and I’m so incredibly grateful to you for your role in this. To know that my words mattered to someone I respect so much means more than you’ll ever know. I wish I had the chance to thank you in person!
I’ve tweeted him (although I don’t know if he’ll see it) to ask if he could please email me a copy of my letter. I can’t find it, and I would love to print it and place it in a scrapbook with the other items from the evening, including the lyrics to Snow is Gone he wrote out for me as a tattoo. If that’s okay, I would really appreciate it. In any case, thank you SO SO much!
Thank you for your role in this moment as well. You kept me calm when my anxiety was getting the better of me, and your expert coordination made the night a fantastic success for not just myself, but the countless other fans in attendance. Thank you for all of your hard work on this tour so far, and all of the amazing things I know you'll do in the future. Your smile and your charismatic personality make you the perfect person for your job!
Oh man. The day has come and it's actually here. I've finally purchased a domain that's all mine, and I've built a website. I've been meaning to do this for ages, and somehow never found the time. I think that's a solid theme for me the past few years - there are so many things that I would LIKE to do, but because I tend to want to do a lot, that usually means I have to put several things on the back burner. Where they remain. For a while.
But this is amazing! I am already overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my friends and family. You guys are liking my musician Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram (oh my!), sharing videos, and showing your lovely faces at events and I could not be more grateful. I'm a very lucky girl to have such incredible people in my life!
Since I graduated in 2010, I think I've been sort of floating along. I had a Plan (with a capital P) for my life and it outlined everything I was going to do for the next 10+ years. I had all my ducks in a row to succeed in the Plan, and then I wasn't so sure. The "Plan" fulfilled my career goals - check. It fulfilled my intellectual pursuits, check. But it didn't really leave me much room for the musical pursuits that were near and dear to my heart. I didn't realize it then, but I definitely was not "ok." I was doing things and doing things well, but I had lost something vital. In 2014, I joined an a cappella group of a bunch of INCREDIBLE singers. It was a weekly excuse to get together with a bunch of instant friends that shared this passion for singing. I found fellow nerds that shared my love of Doctor Who and Chuck and I became a part of a unit of people of varying musical theory skill. I think a lot of people in the a cappella community have similar stories of the "instant family" you acquire when you join a group. Some time after that, I came across Felicia Ricci's amazing vocal lessons (Fel's a voice finder. Check her out here if you sing at all, she's freaking fantastic) and started to think that maybe I could conquer some of the vocal fears that were holding me back. I picked up my guitar and my piano, and the realization hit me that I hadn't actually played either of these for years, (YEARS! How did that even happen??? Sorry, Uncle Fred, I know! Terrible.). These items that were once so integral to my identity had become items that I just carried behind me whenever I moved to a new apartment.
In the past year or so, I've slowly come to the realization that the thing that would most make me happy was right there all along. October of 2014, I saw that Alexz Johnson was coming to Boston - Berklee's Red Room at Cafe 939, to be more specific. I splurged and purchased a VIP package that added a meet and greet and special acoustic set prior to the concert. I've been a fan of Alexz's music forever. I was a big fan of the Disney Channel television program So Weird and Alexz was cast to replace the lead actress for the final season. She sang on the show and I was hooked! We were close in age and as I got older and my sound matured, so did hers. I'm sure I said something stupid when I finally met her. All the eloquent phrases to communicate how much her music has inspired me and how much I appreciated seeing her incorporate a little bit of many different genres into something truly unique were lost in whatever I stammered. I recently saw her perform again at another show debuting an amazing new duet project with the super talented Bleu - I think I kept my composure a little better this time. Hopefully.
At that first Alexz show, I was introduced to the band Jared & the Mill from Arizona. I sat there and listened to lyrics that spoke of choosing a life on the road and what that meant. A song about vulnerability and walls we construct to shield ourselves from reality. I watched this incredible group of guys playing so effortlessly and it made me miss that stage. That stage with a piano, guitar, and drums. I went and saw them every time they returned to Boston. In November of 2015, they headlined a show at Brighton Music Hall with special guests Air Traffic Controller (Thanks for introducing me to another PHENOMENAL band, seriously. They're amazing! Check out their new album Black Box!) and Amy and the Engine (such a big voice for a tiny chick). I had signed up for their street team and was invited to come to a soundcheck before the show. I ended up getting dinner with some of the guys and playing a few rounds of pool and skeeball before they took the stage. Getting the chance to get to know these guys and hear their stories of being on tour and what music has meant to them kept chipping away at this wall that I had built around the pursuit of music. Watching this group of talented guys make friends all across the country and spend their nights performing incredible music was so profoundly inspiring.
So somewhere in all of this, I came to the realization that I was changing the Plan. No longer defining myself purely by my career, I'm currently interviewing for some really exciting research positions. Wish me luck! These next few weeks are going to be quite the whirlwind! We're moving to a new apartment next month so between that and interviews, life is CRAZY.
In the meantime, I'm allowing myself time to write music every night (and finally pen lyrics to all the random iPhone voice memos I've accrued. Seriously, there could be several albums of songs where hooks were written in the middle of dissecting a mouse). So every day I think I'm a little closer to a version of me that is a little less fearful, a little more vulnerable, and a lot happier.
Thank you to my friends and family who've shown such incredible support over the years and whose support I'm grateful to have as I embark on this next journey! Finding band members! Seriously, if you know of someone that plays an instrument and is looking for a folk/indie sound, send them my way! Direct them to this link! At least I can finally take this one off the back burner and cross "Make a website" off my to-do list!