How we met The National (part one)

One year ago, I was living it up at Bonnaroo, a four-day music festival that floods the farmland near Manchester, Tennessee, each year. I’ve always loved music and had been to a couple of shows before (Coldplay and Rilo Kiley for my thirteenth birthday, The Avett Brothers and David Wax Museum when I arrived at U.Va.), but it was Bonnaroo that kicked off a year of incredible concerts.

L-R: Mike, Megan, Jimmy, me, and Billy hadn't showered in four days, but the griminess didn't detract from our last day at Bonnaroo in the slightest. (Photo credit: Random stranger, but it was Mike's camera)

L-R: Mike, Megan, Jimmy, me, and Billy hadn’t showered in four days, but the griminess didn’t detract from our last day at Bonnaroo in the slightest. (Photo credit: Random stranger, but it was Mike’s camera)

Yesterday, The National stopped off in Richmond, squeezing in a few last shows before they take the stage at Bonnaroo themselves. Back in February, I had frantically refreshed the Ticketmaster page, eager to snag a ticket before they sold out (which they quickly did). Over the past few months, I had repeatedly remembered and forgotten that the show was coming up, experiencing little rushes of adrenaline as the realization that I was actually going to see one of my favorite bands sunk in.

I headed off to Richmond after a painstaking morning at work, stopping on the way to pick up my friend and fellow-fan Nora, a Poetry and Politics double major from Singapore. Nora scoped out StubHub prices on the way; unsure if she was going to be in Singapore or the U.S. this summer, she hadn’t been able to buy a ticket when they were still on sale. Although The National sells tickets through Ticketmaster, one of the biggest ripoffs ever, StubHub is even worse; prices soared as high as $90 per ticket plus fees before Nora was able to purchase one for a semi-reasonable price. Still, she told me that concerts in Singapore are even more expensive, recalling that she saw Stars for around $100. By comparison, we both saw Stars at Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater last fall for a mere $15 that included a download of their new album.

With the ticket trapped in her phone, our first goal was to find a printer as soon as we parked in Richmond. Nora had discovered that a public library was located a few blocks away from The National Theatre, the appropriately named venue where we were to see the band, so we set off in search of this logical solution to our printing problem…only to be told by a librarian that we had to pay for a library card and that the library was about to close. “Is there another patron who could print it out for us, or could you?” I asked. The librarian smirked smugly; “Sorry,” she said, shaking her head in feigned helplessness.

Frustrated, we decided that our next best option was the Broad Street Mariott, my hangout spot of choice while killing time before shows at The National Theatre. Despite the fact that we weren’t paying customers (which we didn’t mention), the Mariott allowed us to use their business center to print the ticket off.

Nora triple checked her ticket to make sure that everything was in order.

Nora triple checked her ticket to make sure that everything was in order.

Our streak of good karma began soon after when we discovered an iPhone abandoned in the women’s restroom. Luckily, the owner’s driver’s license was tucked into the case; we delivered it to the front desk so that it could be returned to the owner. Good deed done, we settled into one of the Mariott’s numerous tables to picnic on my homemade hummus, crackers, brie, and oranges, slowly working our way through the last hour before I could pick up my ticket at the box office.

After another hour of waiting in line that left us momentarily blinded by the sun, we raced into the theater, following our self-prescribed rules: 1) Do not stop for merchandise, and 2) Head for the stage. Dating Billy (who has attended literally hundreds of shows) has taught me that there’s no reason not to be close to the stage. Nora and I are both around five feet tall, far too short to see over a crowd.

Much to our initial dismay, we ended up in the second row of people, behind a guy who was over six feet fall. “Should we ask him?” I whispered. “I don’t know what the etiquette would be,” Nora replied uncertainly. After 20 minutes of deliberation, I tapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t feel pressured at all, you got here first,” I rambled, “but is there any way my friend and I could switch with you?”

“You guys can’t see,” he replied. “Of course you can, I’ll be able to see over you.”

Will's kindness was appreciated by the people around us, who were clearly impressed by his generosity.

Will’s kindness was appreciated by the people around us, who were clearly impressed by his generosity.

His name was Will, and he had driven up from Raleigh, North Carolina, to see the show. Ironically, The National are playing in Raleigh tonight, but Will had expected to be working in D.C. this summer. When that didn’t work out, he kept the ticket, hoping for a more intimate concert experience than Rahleigh’s large outdoor stadium could provide.

I thought the drummer's mathematical precision sounded suspiciously like The National.

I thought the drummer’s mathematical precision sounded suspiciously like The National.

After a confusing opening act by mystery band Lanzendorf, we waited for the scheduled opening act, People Get Ready, to take the stage. When I looked back over my photos, I realized that Lanzendorf was simply The National minus the Dessner twins and Matt Berninger. As far as my Google searches have revealed, Lanzendorf has no Internet presence; the word refers to a locality in Austria and is the surname of a famous American hairstylist, but according to Google, it isn’t a band. Our guess: the 25-minute, heavily distorted jam was improvised to cover for the fact that People Get Ready never showed. It didn’t capture my attention (or the crowd’s — the man next to me repeatedly scrolled through Instagram) but when The National took the stage, it didn’t matter.

I’m off to work. Next part of the story to be posted soon!



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