Too many years had passed since I last experienced Ybor City’s nightlife (I sometimes choose to forget the night we drank those pitchers of wooden- spoon-stirred sangria at King Corona Cigars and landed ourselves in a beer-pong tournament), but my focus was the same. I was there for the music.
Ybor (pronounced ee-bohr for the non-Floridians), for me, has always been synonymous with music. And maybe tatoos. It was a place that would have made my parents nervous had they known I was hanging out there in my late teens. But my boyfriend was in a band (he was going to be a rock star) and the big shows were in Ybor. And for the big shows, we marched in unauthorized parades up and down Seventh Avenue. Karl let his “little brother” ride a Huffy along the double yellow lines while wearing a helmet outfitted with tiny firework antannae. (It seemed like a good idea until the sparks fell into his face.) A guy whose last name was, for good reason, Outlaw, wore a bathrobe and a crown and tossed dog kibble into the air like confetti. But it was Ybor at night, and so no one really noticed.
On this night, though, if I was noticed, it was for being the “old lady” at the kids’ show. For having too-few visible tatoos. For being pierced only in my ears. (One girl wore sparkly studs in the dimples of her lower back. I had never seen that and I’m still not sure how it works.) And no one had told me about the black, square-framed glasses. Darn.
But my friend and I got in faster because the over-21 line was shorter and we made our way to the bar, where the Magic Hat #9 was $10, but came in a really big cup. We sat on a bench that had previously lived as a church pew, and sipped our beer. The mom in me watched the barely-covered young girls walk by and thought of how cold they must have been. One even turned to me and said, “I had no idea it would be so chilly.” I must have looked like a mom. I should have had a sweater ready.
When Dallas Green, who is City and Colour, graced the stage, I understood the tatoos, and especially, the glasses. And I understood why the guy in front of me yelled out, “He’s so dreamy!” But what I understood the best was that the music didn’t need any of that; the music was undressed. That voice was so . . . naked.
And the whole night was like that. There was this purity to the sound they made together. There were moments of quiet and moments where he rocked so hard that the boy next to me started jumping around and pushed a middle-aged woman into the bar. (Can you really mosh to Dallas Green?) There were even moments when I thought Jeff Buckley had been resurrected. Sigh.
At one point, he asked everyone to hold up their phones and cameras, whatever had been glowing in the crowd throughout the night. And, dutifully, they did. They held them high enough for him to see. And they waited. And Dallas said, “Okay, good. Now put them away.” He asked them to stop worrying about recording it all, and instead, to try to experience it all.
And then there’s the guy (because he’s always there) who’s experiencing so much that he feels the need to yell out during the quiet moments. In this case, it was a guy in jeans and really big muscles who wore a hat with a little red maple leaf at the back. Every time Dallas sang, “I’m comin’ home” during Comin’ Home, the muscle guy punctuated it with “To Canada!” or “To St. Catherine’s!” He was not unlike the faded-white-hate guy at the John Mayer concert at Lupo’s in 2002 who kept saying, “It’s my SONG!” and thumping his palm against his chest during St. Patrick’s Day . . . Or the guy at Matt Nathanson’s show at The Social in Orlando in 2008 who yelled “Curve of the Earth!” so many times that Matt finally said, “Dude, if you just stop yelling, I’ll play your song.” Then he got kicked out for trying to jump over the bar.
But this is what I love about live shows — that the music does something to people (even if it ultimately gets them removed). It makes them feel something. And it connects people who might not otherwise be connected, like a girl with pierced lower- back dimples and a mom out on the town on a Tuesday night. They look at each other and their eyes say, “Yes. We get it.”
On the way out of The Ritz that night, I looked across the street at a place that used to be a diner all those years ago. And I thought, for a moment, that I saw us there; me and my boyfriend (the rock star) and his band after a show. We were sitting in a big square booth, eating eggs at 2am.
I saw us. We were still there.