This post has been a long time coming, but in retrospect, I’m glad I waited to write it. A lot has happened since I first thought to jot down these observations…events and interactions that have only strengthened my belief that I stumbled onto something pretty special.
One of the things that stuck with me after my conversation with Rich, that tattooed, camera-wielding guy at the Amourasaurus festival (oh, that fateful day around which all things revolve and about which you’re all probably tired of hearing) wasn’t his recommendation of a particular musician that he thought I would like. Because as you know, I couldn’t remember the musician’s name. What I did remember was an offhand but sincere comment he made regarding that musician, or more specifically the culture surrounding him. Rich said that I’d “fit in well with that crowd.”
Of course this comment made no sense back when I didn’t know who the musician in question was because I didn’t have any context. But once I realized that he was talking about Frank Turner and I learned that Frank Turner is the creator of his own brand of punk rock, I was puzzled. HOW would I fit in with that crowd? And how could he have ascertained something like that so quickly? After all, our conversation was brief, undercut as it was by the performances at the festival. But thanks to his JD McPherson shirt, we found a unifying element – the same taste in good rock ‘n’ roll. I was by no means a huge fan of punk rock though, so when I found out that that was the sort of music Frank made, I had to take it on faith that Rich knew what he was talking about. And as it would turn out, he was right.
I’m typically a solitary concert-goer. “Lone wolfin’ it” is how a friend once phrased it, and that describes it perfectly. Unless I’m attending with family and friends, I prefer to keep to myself. Some of it is practical – it’s a lot easier to figure out logistics when the only person I have to worry about is myself – and some of it is the exhilaration of travelling alone and being completely independent. The same goes for when I’m actually at the show. I’m there for the band, for the music.
So I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it when I drove to north Jersey for my first Frank Turner gig and found myself in the midst of what felt like a family reunion. Rich was (is) something of an unofficial Frank Turner ambassador, a jovial father figure that everyone knows. He introduced me to his core group of gig buddies, people who had come from all corners of the eastern seaboard, and it occurred to me that, for them, it really was a reunion. These were the die-hards, the fans who had been showing up at the same shows for years and knew each other well, people who were so far-flung geographically during their day-to-day lives that these concerts were the only opportunity they had to truly visit with each other. And there I was, an interloper thrust in the middle of it. But while there was the sort of stilted getting-to-know-you conversation at the beginning of the evening, I never felt unwelcome. In fact, it was just the opposite. I’ll admit to being kind of surprised at the warmth that I, a stranger, was met with. And when we all parted at the end of the evening, it wasn’t with goodbyes, but rather with “See you at the next show.”
I’m sure that having Rich the statesman vouch for me went miles to helping his friends accept me. But what was going to happen when he wasn’t there to act as intermediary? He had a VIP pass to the next show a few months later, so I only saw him for a few minutes before and after. I was on my own. But the acquaintances I’d made in Sayreville appeared in the queue too, and standing for hours in the cold March drizzle together gave us a chance to get to know each other better. And as strangers joined the conversation and people called up and down the line to other folks they recognized, the circle grew.
This has happened at all eight of the Frank Turner shows I’ve been to in the last ten months: you find a familiar face, someone you might have seen or chatted with casually at another show or someone you might have “met” through social media, and the greeting is invariably warm. Then the person you’re already acquainted with introduces you to another someone who appears at all of the same shows you go to, and the next thing you know, you’re surrounded by a crowd of new friends.
This immediate, unconditional acceptance was touching, but there was another element to it too. On the surface, this is not a crowd I should have belonged to. I like to think I buck the stereotype of my current profession (at least, I hope you don’t look at me and think, “There’s a librarian right there”), but I also don’t look like the sort of person who attends punk rock shows (and yes, I’m fully aware that I’m the one stereotyping now). I don’t have – and have no desire to get – tattoos. Piercings and gauges aren’t for me. The only pieces of clothing I own with studs or spikes are the stylized sort that you might see on the pages of a fashion magazine. I always assumed those were de rigueur, almost mandatory aspects of that culture, which meant that I, with my unremarkable, pedestrian appearance, should have stood out like a sore thumb. I was fully prepared to be on the receiving end of sidelong looks that dripped disdain and asked, “What do you think you’re doing here?”
But nothing of the sort happened. Instead, there was such a mix of humanity, so many variations in appearance and combinations of styles that no one stood out and everyone fit in. My lack of tattoos wasn’t out of place, though there were a lot of people with them. There were combat boots and tennis shoes and many, many pairs of Chuck Taylors. There were mohawks and baseball caps and hair dyed the colors of the rainbow. There were band tee-shirts and leather jackets and sweatshirts. Nothing and no one was out of place or extraordinary. Everyone belonged. This is the culture Frank has cultivated.
While his legion of fans is sometimes referred to as the “Frank Turner Army,” that’s a misnomer. Because from all I’ve seen and experienced, it’s not an army, but a family. At some point in every show, he gives a variation of the same speech where he reaffirms punk rock as a unifying force, a true community. That once a person finds their way to it, it becomes their home. That in punk, “we take care of our own.” And though I’ve heard the speech almost ten times, it causes my heart to swell and a lump to form in my throat every single time. Because that home is mine too now. I had no idea, when I went to that first show, that I would, or indeed could, become a part of something like that. I’m no longer an interloper, if I ever was – I belong there. And while the music always, always comes first, it wouldn’t be the same without the people who surround it.