This past weekend, I turned 30 in New York City. Saturday, my friends and I spent the afternoon walking around Manhattan, seeing the sights and killing time until Ryan Adams’ comeback concert began at Carnegie Hall.
We arrived a little after 7 p.m., a little over an hour before the show started. There were four of us but only two tickets (if you don’t know, the show sold out in the first couple of hours after it was announced), so my girl friend and I donned our masks and fished out our vax cards while our significant others went to a whiskey bar.
We were swept inside and hurried up to the fourth-floor balcony to find our seats, which were closer to the rows in front of and behind us than I expected. I also expected more than two pages of Ryan Adams content in the 60-page program 🙄
We had gotten sweaty on the way up, and then cold from the air conditioning, and then cramped with our knees squished up behind the large people in front of us, and our necks craned steeply downward to see that familiar red-white-and-blue guitar on the stage below.
But when Ryan Adams walked out in that denim jacket to deafening applause, I knew I was about to witness something special.
By the time the music started around 8:30, I was surprised to see empty seats at a sold-out show, and only one PAX-AM shirt besides my own; most people looked a good 10-20 years older than my friend and I, so maybe they weren’t as into the whole Instagram Live thing, or at least not his self-designed, flash-sale t-shirts (unlike me, who brought a different Ryan Adams t-shirt to wear every day of my 6-day trip).
Full disclosure: throughout the show, I felt like kind of a poser. I had only even heard of Ryan Adams in 2020, and had never been to one of his shows. I only have a few albums, some digital and some vinyl, and I don’t know all the trivia. As I wrote down the title of every song he played that I knew, I realized there were many I didn’t know, and I had to settle for a line here or there that seemed memorable (and Google-able). Fortunately, he posted the set list later, but I feel like I somehow missed the whole show while desperately trying to capture it all in my mind (and I didn’t record any videos or take pictures because Carnegie seemed so adamant about people not doing that, and I wasn’t sure I could get away with it—then come to find SO MANY PEOPLE DID and I’m a little bummed I was too much of a goody goody…*sigh*).
So I don’t know how to describe it at all. The self-deprecating humor, the banter with the audience, the applause and cheers…it was just great. Of course, one of the things I do remember (which he would probably hate to know) is how he would sometimes stop playing for a second to brush his hair out of his face, and after one song he said he thought he got a booger caught in his hair which then traveled to his mouth 🤣 Gross but hilarious. I’m sure everyone in attendance will also recall how he poked fun at the guitar tech and had to tune each of his guitars like five times during the show. And how he got cold and put on a Budweiser sweater just to be ironic (he’s almost 9 months sober). Plus the story of how he rehearsed using his Kermit voice just enough to make his friends think he might actually play the whole show that way. And how he related to us by referencing all the important but misguided people in our lives that still think we mean the guy who wrote “Summer of ’69” (a song I find very obnoxious, btw) when we talk about Mr. Adams. Ryan, we wouldn’t have you any other way ❤
After the show (which ended just a few minutes before 11 p.m.), my friend and I circled the building (the wrong way) looking for our SOs, and finally found them almost back where we had started, at the West Lobby entrance. We had planned to go to a comedy show at 11:30, but weren’t going to make it at that point, and certainly not if I wanted to try and catch a glimpse of Ryan Adams close up.
So we rounded the corner to the stage entrance on 56th Street and waited. The rest of my crew was even newer to DRA’s music than me, but we all knew this might be my only chance to meet him, and God bless them for sticking it out. At least we had a canopy to cover us and we weren’t out in the pouring rain.
There were about 20 or 30 other people waiting there besides us, to start, and every person that walked by the glass doors inside caught our eye, increased our heart rates, I’m sure. One person, I think, caught a picture of him blurring by into his dressing room through the glass, then waved to her friends and left. As the minutes ticked by, more and more people seemed to give up. Even I started to doubt he would appear.
But then the black SUVs with the flashing lights started to show up in front of the barricades and the metal loading door and we knew he must be close.
About 45 minutes after the show had let out, the 10 or so of us left watched as the one and only DRA exited the building in his concert garb and a red face mask, a crew of five or so rushing to his side and shooing us away.
I barely remember what happened next, but I know I held out the slipcover of my copy of the Big Colors bonus 7″ and said “Ryan, can you sign this?” We made eye contact, and you could see the apology in his eyes as he said, “I’m sorry I can’t cuz of COVID,” and held his hands out slightly as if asking forgiveness. I had not thought to put my mask back on, so he probably saw the disappointment clear on my face, but I didn’t want to make a big deal of it so I just said, “Well it was nice to meet you!” and then “I’m from Alaska, by the way.”
After years of travel and introducing myself to new people Outside, I know announcing my home state often raises eyebrows or piques people’s interest. Maybe it’s gotten me favors I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, I don’t know. But this time, I swear I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted him to remember me.
I don’t know if it was the “Alaska” that caught him, or the limited edition “Friday Night Live Feed” shirt that I was wearing, or what, but he stopped and looked at me, his body relaxed in some kind of resignation, and he beckoned me with a hand as his crew got the car ready.
Somehow my feet closed the gap between us and I handed him the LP cover and the open Sharpie I’d just bought at a CVS down the street earlier that evening. As I watched him sign his name and craft a quick kitty, I don’t know what I said. I was whispering “thank you so much” and something about this being “so cool” but combining it with some other statement that totally didn’t make any sense so I had to repeat myself. Seconds later he handed back the paper, waved to everyone waiting (maybe said another “sorry” for not signing anyone else’s things) and got in the car without a backward glance.
I turned around to face my friends with what I’m sure was a ridiculously star struck look on my face, holding the 7″ cover to my chest. I felt positively electric. I had just received the most epic gift, from the biggest celebrity I’ve ever met, minutes before my 30th birthday.
And as if that wasn’t enough, he re-shared my Instagram stories about it and commented on my post with a “Happy Birthday” wish and more. I even got photographic evidence of meeting him from a stranger who happened to have the forethought to snap a picture of the event (thanks Joni Meeth)! I also snagged the ONE copy of his book of poetry, HelloSunshine, at The Strand bookstore on 8th and Broadway.
BEST. BIRTHDAY. WEEKEND. EVER!
Thank you, David Ryan Adams, and all the fans that made your comeback possible.
P.S. If you’d like to listen to the songs played at the show, I made a YouTube playlist for you (and me of course)! Or, if Spotify is more your speed, you can find that playlist here (minus the encore).