My husband and I attended Founder’s Black Party last Saturday, where specialty limited-release dark beers are featured on tap. We bellied up to the bar for some delicious selections; I chose the Panther Cub with its sweetness of maple syrup and vanilla and my husband chose the Donkey Stout with its chocolatey smokiness. We ordered some blackberry barbecue rib tips from the deli and took all our loot outside to enjoy what was left of the day’s sunshine.
As we ate and drank and enjoyed, we heard a band inside the taproom start to run a sound check. The large garage doors to the taproom were open to let in the fresh spring breeze, but we had our back to the main building and instead stared out onto the city. We heard the expected instruments each try out their microphones—the drums thumped, the guitar strummed, the bass guitar grumbled.
Then we heard a woodwind. “Is that an oboe?” my husband asked me. We both turned around and peered inside. A tall young lady with blonde hair was chirping on a clarinet.
“Well, that’s unexpected,” I answered.
The next sound check came from a skinny man with a small ponytail. He practiced his trombone into the microphone. Over the next half hour, a collection of different instrument sounds wafted from the taproom and out onto the patio in endless succession: a mandolin, an accordion, a wooden flute. It was the longest and most interesting sound check I’ve ever heard.
Our curiosity eventually lured us inside just as their set was about to start. A banner with the name “The Collection” was draped in front of the keyboard. We turned our attention to the bar for a moment to order a second round, and when we looked back at the stage, we were met with a surprise—the entire band put on what looked like Venetian Carnival masks. I wasn’t sure what to expect next now with this eclectic masquerade unfolding before me. I leaned over to my husband and whispered in his ear with a chuckle, “I don’t know if I’m drunk enough for this yet.”
The band began to play, and the upbeat music had me instantly and uncontrollably tapping my foot. All the instruments blended together perfectly and their musicians switched between them fluidly and flawlessly. One minute I spotted the man in the back playing a banjo, and the next second he had moved onto the didgeridoo (a freakin’ didgeridoo, guys), and I never saw him switch the instruments out or noticed any note out of place.
It wasn’t just their skill or their melody that lured me in. It was the sheer enjoyment they got out of playing. They weren’t playing to impress the audience. They weren’t even playing to boast of their abilities. They were playing for the sake of playing, because that was what they loved to do and wanted to do in that very moment.
A man with a full beard tangoed with his bass guitar, taking nimble steps back and forth across the stage. The man with the ponytail closed his eyes and turned his face towards the heavens as if performing this song was a spiritual act for him. The ladies on the left side of the stage sang every word instinctively under their breath, though it wasn’t their turn to sing. They were fans of their own band. The songs they played were their favorite songs.
And it was infectious. I smiled a wide open smile throughout their performance. I didn’t want to blink because I didn’t want to miss a minute of their joy.
When they played “The Gown of Green” with its hypnotic beat, the audience nodded their heads together in sync. There were people of all ages, of all walks of life in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. The band had united us. We moved as one.
I think part of what surprised me and entertained me so much with this performance was the fact that, yes, they were so obviously passionate about their art. But I think it extends farther than that. They were passionate about life. They were excited to live; because they were living, they were able to play. And that may sound strange—of course they’re happy to be alive. Yet I think it’s so easy to forget how wonderful passion can be. The older I get, the more I can feel it draining from me and getting replaced with responsibility and routine. I hold onto it with white knuckles, refusing to let it go entirely. Because I believe that passion is the means to happiness. I’m most happy when I’m passionate about what I’m doing.
The Collection taught me a valuable lesson. I don’t want to write because I want to impress the audience or boast of my abilities. I want to make sure I write because it’s what I love to do and what I want to do in this moment, because it’s what I have passion for. I want to be my biggest fan. I want what I write to be my favorite story.
As we walked out of Founders, the sun long gone and the fires on the patio glowing bright, I still had a smile on my face, a melody in my head, and a passion burning in my heart, all put there by The Collection.