There is a framed Elvis concert poster at the top of our staircase. A gift from my brother to my youngest when she was in a preteen Elvis phase, it advertised a 1956 concert where all tickets were $1.75. That seems impossible.
Even more improbable is that Elvis has been dead longer than he was alive, but his songs still attract new fans. While my childhood memory of the singer was an overweight man in a white jumpsuit, Phoebe and some of her friends embraced the image and songs of young Elvis. Satellite radio blasted the King whenever she rode in the truck, so of course one Spring Break we made the trek to Graceland.
As a child, I saw the footage of fans screaming and fainting at the sight of Elvis. I never understood it. As teenagers of the 1980s — the decade of Auto-tune and lip-syncing — we were skeptical of our musicians. We were the MTV generation — where videos killed the radio stars. Prince and Madonna were big, but we went to their movies, not their concerts. The closest I ever saw to fan adoration was when a friend’s mother excitedly announced that she had “touched the hand that touched the hand of Neil Diamond.” Even then, especially then, we just laughed this excitement off as an odd old-person thing.
Graceland changed my perception of Elvis. As one website proclaimed, “Most kings have a castle; this king had a home.” That’s what Graceland is … a home. An elaborate house certainly, it had many entertainment spaces from man cave-like rooms to racquetball courts, but it wasn’t a mansion. I left with an appreciation for his sense of community, his support of civil rights and his musical versatility. Ultimately, he was just a talented guy who wanted to take care of those he loved.
I left an Elvis fan but still didn’t get the hoopla and the mass fan adoration.
This is why the whole Taylor Swift concert thing caught me off guard. Both my girls desperately wanted to go, and they wanted to go together. There is an eight-year gap between them; together doesn’t happen often. Chloe would be celebrating her 25th birthday, and it would be Phoebe’s first concert. We tried for tickets, signed up for every avenue possible, then got caught in the infamous ticket fiasco. Adoration has its financial limits in the Peer House, so we knew that resale tickets were out of the question. After months of disappointment, there was an unexpected second chance, and two tickets for nosebleed seats were procured. They weren’t the $1.75 tickets of Elvis’s time, but they cost less than a restaurant meal for our family. This was March; the concert was in May.
Anticipation is wonderful, and looking forward to something is half the joy. The intervening months were full of sisterly Facetime calls, planning which album the girls would honor with their outfits. Part of Spring Break was spent in thrift stores where the usually conservative Phoebe tried on sequined numbers and sought out rhinestone accessories.
The night before the concert the girls sat at their grandmother’s kitchen table, stringing together glass and alphabet beads, incorporating song lyrics, album names and Taylorisms. By the end of the night, they had a pile to exchange with other fans.
During a beading break, the girls went on a mandatory snack run. One of Chloe’s bracelets caught the cashier’s eye.
The check-out girl looked at Chloe’s wrist. “I like your bracelet. What does it say?”
“Oh,” hesitated Chloe, “It’s a Taylor Swift lyric.”
“I thought so,” the girl literally began quivering with excitement. “Are you going? I’m going?”
“Yeah, tomorrow night.”
“I’m going next week. Do you want to see my outfit?” She pulled out her phone and began scrolling through the pictures. “What are you wearing?”
Three girls, one a complete stranger, bonded in anticipation of the upcoming concerts. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Hey, are you a Swiftie, too?”
My girls laughed as they envisioned me in a sparkly outfit. I laughed and shook my head. Definitely not a fan.
The concert itself began at 6:30, but the parking lots opened hours before. The resulting party has been called Taylorgating, where fans eat, sing, dance and socialize before heading into the show. People from all over come together to savor the moment. For a few hours, fandom brings disparate groups together; strangers become friends. The camaraderie extended into the stadium and engulfed the masses.
As a country, we band together to protest, to express rage, to share in grief, but how often do we gather in joy? That night at Gillette Stadium there were nearly 70,000 people … sharing an experience and celebrating. I can’t help but think that we need more of that.
“Hey are you a Swiftie, too?”
At the time, I answered “no,” but now, I think I am.