The Coalition for Happier Music

April, which first brought sunshine and warmth and the promise of a lengthy summer, has turned on us as of late. Cold rain has begun and ended several days over the past week. This being the current state of affairs, I was not very excited to attend an outdoor concert last night. Friends had discovered that the band Guster would be giving a free concert at Duke and we decided to go. Here's where I get in trouble, especially with the JMU alums who may boot me from the inner circle for the following admission: Guster is not my favorite band. I admire them, think they are infinitely talented and very cool people, but, you get my point right? They're not my favorite.

After leaving the show last night J told me he'd envisioned the whole thing as us standing in the sun upon fresh grass enjoying the music. I tell you this part first, so I can now tell you what actually happened, and how much what actually happened differed from this rosy projection.

First, I wasn't much in the mood to go out, but did because the event started early, at 7, and because it's important to go to out and experience things like rock concerts in the rain. I picked up J at the lab and after we met Sherry and Christy we were off to the Duke campus.

Where it was the last day of classes!

It's interesting. I mean, maybe I should have realized it was the last day of classes when a 12-year-old dressed in patterned pink pants and a button down came stumbling across the lawn in front of Duke Chapel. But, I was like, "Well, this is North Carolina. That shit happens."

It took assessing the situation further and listening to nearby conversations spoken in very loud tones to get the picture. Classes were over, baby. Not only were classes over, but Guster wasn't playing til 9! Not only that, it was starting to smell a little bit like puke!

Pretty soon after one of two opening bands started playing some college-esque love songs the muddy field started getting pretty packed with intoxicated youngsters, some of whom were drinking actual beers, the 21-year-olds or those with damn good IDs, I figured, and others who were drinking neon pink and orange liquids out of plastic water bottles and Nalgenes. Oh, you guys. I went to college. I know what's up.

I forgot about the fact that I hadn't really wanted to come see my non-favorite band in a rainy field on a Wednesday night and got rather into the scene. I became an equally surprised and delighted observer. Especially when hip hop artist Razell (I've searched the Net to no avail on how to spell this guy's name) took the stage. I'm pretty sure there were some other, older Guster fans, like our group in that quad, but we had somehow gotten right in the midst of the-last-day-of-classes glee club and when I wasn't witnessing up-close, highly sexualized dance moves, I was picking up an empty bag of Franzia from the mud and handing it to a concert-goer behind me. Really. He wanted to make sure it was totally gone.

At one point during Razell's performance - which was amazing by the way, the guy could imitate the beats and lyrics to complex hip hop tunes using only his voice - I felt someone softly grip me around my waist and lean his chin on my head as everyone swayed to the music. Justin? No, a teetering gentleman who all too soon left us for the great unknown of the crowd beyond. Romantic.

It became dark quickly, and the pulsing crowd reached new heights of excitement as drinks were circulated. Besides the adorable conversations I heard, including, "I need a beer. Dude, I need a beer. Dude. I need a beer." and (from the more innocent among them) "HEY! Let's totally take a road trip up north this summer! Are you in? I'm in! I'm so in! I'm in!" I noticed the very sensual interactions between the students. I thought back to all the times Erin G. and I had danced to "Only the Good Die Young" at one of our favorite bars in Boston, sung by a local cover artist, and wondered if we, too, had been so sensual. I am saddened to think that, no, we didn't quite have these moves. Taking tequila shots in the freezing cold landscape of New England, I suppose, doesn't yield the same results.

When Guster finally appeared onstage, after we'd been trampled a little and separated from our friends, the students reached a peak. The band played Alice Cooper's "School's Out" two times as well as made many references to it being the last day of classes, and the students accepted the kind gestures well. There was crowd surfing. There was singing, guys belting out the lyrics to every last song just as powerfully as the girls.

Our good friend Tara, who went to JMU with J, has a boyfriend Mike, who I will give major thanks to for the rest of our lives because he rescued me from certain situations. Certain situations like J and all his friends suddenly forming a tight circle and dancing rambunctiously to a song I didn't know. Or breaking out the guitars and singing a tragic ballad. At a party, say. They all have great voices and can harmonize, and it's very, very sad. Mike and I formed a coalition and last year he bestowed me with a wonderful present - a t-shirt with our group's name, "The Coalition for Happier Music," emblazoned on its front.

At one point during last night's concert the Guster band members started plucking their guitar strings in a deliberately slow manner and I thought, "Dear God, no," but yes, they were playing one of these tragically emotional songs J and his friends like to sing in harmony. I looked around and thousands of drunk Duke students had lifted their mouths to the skies and were singing like their lives depended on it. I told J I was living my worst nightmare, but after a bit had to smile. It was funny. It was more than funny. There we were, packed like sardines with what seemed like a million carefree students, stepping on beer cans and each other, the smell of mud and grass, cigarettes and puke mingling - college! The smell of college. The picture of college - their bare feet and rolled up jeans, their clear bottles full of whatever they could get their hands on. The sounds of college - their singing, but loudly, not like the too-hip concerts we now attend, their conversations, their calls to friends and their declarations of joy in the form of fists thrust upwards and a piercing yelp because classes were over...what I'd spent the first hours of that concert thinking of as "their fun" had suddenly become mine and I was overjoyed that I, all at once, had no desire to experience it over again as I did in that cold, New England urban landscape, but that it still exists in such a pristine form, the music made even happier by the fleeting circumstance of such young, unburdened life.