The sky was clear blue, and the sun headed slowly towards the horizon, behind a chain link fence that kept us from the bay at Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. I was waiting in a line with what was later estimated to be an audience of about 8000 people, a population that included some older folks, some with families, but mostly young hipsters in their teens and twenties, with more tall indie boys in skin-hugging jeans than I could conjure up in my wildest fantasies.
The show we were all waiting for was the first stop on the Railroad Revival Tour, a train-traveling concert-playing journey across the American Southwest undertaken by folk favorites Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Their story began at that concert in Oakland last Thursday, and ended yesterday, Apr. 27, in New Orleans. Mine, however, began freshman year, in the spring of 2009, when a shaggy music enthusiast I met in a chatroom sent me a Facebook message with a link to Edward Sharpe’s first demo video, for the now insanely popular song “Home.”
I listened to thirty seconds and came to the instant conclusion that this song would change my life. Over the two years that followed, I religiously pirated Edward Sharpe’s music (and by religiously I allude both to the chaste fervor and the intense guilt that comes with the territory).
And this month, I found myself finally able to see the band I’ve adored anonymously from afar, like most of my other love interests. On the way to the large meadow where the stage was set, I ran into Francisco Fernandez of the Ferocious Few, a local indie band, and underwent a minor fangirl freakout as he serenaded the line of appreciative concertgoers with his song “Back Home.”
“I’m a huge fan,” I gushed hyperbolically, after snapping too many photos, “can you sign my arm?” (He could, and did.)
As I wandered off, it occurred to me that if this was how I reacted to a musician I’ve somewhat admired for a few months, how on earth was I to maintain a professional facade in the pit, just feet away from the band I’ve loved for two years?
Old Crow’s charismatic frontman, Ketch Secor, took the stage first in a genteel Southern cream-colored suit around 6 p.m. Fast-paced bluegrass got the audience dancing and clapping, from time to time giving way to such slow tunes like their cover of “CC Rider,” where the audience swayed gently, mesmerized, and in the stilllness you could see the hanging speakers swinging softly in the wind.
Just like many of their songs, Mumford and Son’s tirelessly energetic performance, which included many tracks from “Sigh No More” and a few new songs, had a very distinct flow—a building, a receding, a swelling—that raised the weary audience’s spirits and somehow seemed to fill their lungs with the capacity for even more yelling before the indefatigable Britons spewed forth their aggressively emotional hit, “Little Lion Man.”
But it is clear where my biases lie, and I’m not going to make any bones about it: while Old Crow played first and the headliners, Mumford and Sons, played last, Edward Sharpe’s performance was pretty much the beginning, middle, and end of my concert experience.
Dressed in his characteristic long white shirt (well, one could assume it used to be white at some point), frontman Alex Ebert had clearly donned his alter ego– “Edward Sharpe,” a character that in interviews Ebert described as a Messianic figure sent to save mankind–as several members of the audience mumbled to one another that, “he looks like Jesus,” with his long brown hair, flowing garb, wild eyes and bare feet.
The feisty ensemble band, consisting of more members than I cared to count, strummed and trumpeted and clapped and sang as Ebert danced around the stage, getting tantalizingly close to the edge, even sitting down on the side at one point.
During “40 Day Dream” Ebert gracefully descended into the pit, much to the delighted screams of the audience (mostly young women) pushing up against the barrier to high-five him. As the bridge approached, Ebert climbed up onto the barrier, wobbling precariously.
“Hold me up,” he called out as hands went up from the audience, meeting his own to support him. Someone next to me reached his arms out, spotting from the back, and I took my chance, freed my inner crazed fan, and reached out, grabbing onto his leg. In the giddiness of this moment, I joined in with the audience in the wordless breakdown, “Oooh-ahhh-ahh-ahh, yeah,” finally living out not a forty-day but a two-year dream.
The rest of the show was for me a haze of transcendental ecstasy. It did cross my mind once or twice that none of the other photographers jockeying for positions appeared to be screaming and singing, but I got over that fast. In my brief conversations with the others, it seemed that it had come across pretty hard to them that I was just a college correspondent, but hey, what’s a little dignity lost?
By the end of the show, my feet felt as if they’d been steamrolled, and there were inexplicable bruises all over my shins, and my voice was gone, but I’d howled out the words to “Home,” with all the others, I’d touched Edward Sharpe, everything was going to be all right, and I was going to be blessed forever and ever amen.