Opinion: Rediscovering community and mourning losses at my first pandemic concert

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Noel Lee/The Occidental

Clad in her signature sparkling skeleton dress, singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers directed her gaze toward the audience. “Thank you for coming out tonight,” she said into the microphone. “I can’t tell y’all how cool this is.”

The crowd cheered as Bridgers directed her attention back down to her guitar and began plucking a bass-heavy melody, the opening notes to “I Know The End.” We all stood together in the cool LA night air, holding our breath in anticipation as the song built to a roaring crescendo and Bridgers closed the set by screaming into her mic. The audience screamed with her, a long-awaited promise of catharsis finally fulfilled.

With so much lost to the pandemic, the absence of live music seemed inconsequential. After the early stages of quarantine had passed and the gravity of the situation began to set in, I felt more isolated than ever. I watched all my friends and my brother go back to school while Oxy decided to stay virtual, and it felt like my life had come to a standstill. My mental health was worse than it had been in years, so I did everything I could to try and stay afloat. I threw myself into exercise, cooking, meditation and countless other things in an attempt to alleviate the stress of everyday life. The one thing that stuck was music.

I spent more evenings than I can count walking around my neighborhood with my headphones in, pretending like the world as I had always known it wasn’t falling apart. It gave me solace, comfort and companionship when I couldn’t find it anywhere else. It also provided a way to connect virtually with the people in my life without being on Zoom 24/7. My friends and I sent each other new songs and artists, and traded playlists back and forth. I even made a playlist for my grandma when she told me she had made a Spotify account. I felt like I was able to connect with the people that were important to me on a deeper level, and it eased some of the loneliness that had settled in my chest.

I went to my first concert since the pandemic began this fall. I stood in a crowd full of people at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park and listened to Phoebe Bridgers perform her album “Punisher.” It was an experience unlike any other I have had, and one that I will not soon forget. I was initially a little anxious about what the night had in store, but the moment Bridgers came out all my anxiety melted away and for a brief 90 minutes I was suspended in her dreamy vocals and resonant guitar reverberating up into the ether. What struck me most throughout the performance was being able to share this experience with an amphitheater full of people, all of whom were there for the same reason I was: to try and shake some of the loneliness that seems to cling to us these days, and to do so together through music.

After a year and a half of listening to Bridger’s music alone through my headphones, seeing it performed live was like letting out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. It felt like hope. Standing in a theater full of people, breathing in the cold night air, I began to realize how important it is to create these moments of intentional community after a year and a half of isolation. In my experience, music, especially performed live, has an inexplicable power to bring every repressed emotion to the surface. I felt like I was finally able to grieve everything and everyone I had lost during the pandemic. I was conscious of everyone else in the audience, singing and grieving their own losses along with me. I left a little bit of my hopelessness on the floor of the Greek Theatre that night, and I made my way home feeling lighter than I had in a while.

The weightlessness I felt that night was underscored by the incomprehensible tragedy that was Travis Scott’s 2021 Astroworld Festival. The people that attended this festival were people just like me — music lovers who were seeking the connection and community that live music brings to our lives. Comprehending this makes the events in Houston, Texas even more devastating.

While we all continue to try and adjust to a more normal way of life, I am conscious of an underlying sadness that seems to shadow the way that we move through the world now. The truth is we still have a lot of healing to do, both as individuals and as a community. It’s important to be patient with ourselves and acknowledge that this transition will not be as seamless as we may have thought it would. The past year and a half was both emotionally and physically exhausting, and the return to pseudo-normality felt abrupt and left me confused and anxious about the future. As we start to come out of the pandemic, lean on whatever it was that got you through isolation while we continue to heal and rediscover what it means to find community.