Lincoln Hall. Chicago.
The intimate concert hall was mostly dark. The first performer, Erland (amazing, check them out), was lighting the room from the front and the recently extended daylight was doing the same from the back, streaming in through the still open restaurant doors, creating an environment of shadows and silhouettes writhing against the walls and balconies in rhythm with the music.
The room was still filling…this was the first of two openers, after all, so dark figures were moving in and out of the restaurant doors. Kristin and I were embedded with the bartender, staking early our place that would allow for maximum viewing of the stage, quick access to beverages and conveniently close to the bathrooms.
I looked up at one of the many arriving silhouettes and paused what I had been saying to my lovely girlfriend…I know that shape. That confident, stumble-into-awesome strut. That cannot fail swagger. The hair. We may have randomly been in the Windy City, two hours from home, but I’d know that shadow anywhere. That was Jason. Jason of the ridiculous town house gatherings in Kalamazoo. Jason of the most excellent backyard bonfires (where, false rumors still persist, I once walked through an active fire pit). Jason of my most memorable concerts, of piano bar sing-alongs, of countless good times and adventures.
Some times life just tosses you back in with an old friend. I tip my glass to ya, Life.
We spent the rest of the opening acts taking in music with Jason and his lady, Megan. We caught up on the months since we had last seen each other. Planned excursions for the future. Enjoyed the fine musical stylings of Barcelona (also excellent). And then the big show began. Jason and Megan left us for their VIP seating above and Andrew McMahon took the stage.
I first caught McMahon as an opener for an opener on some tour so many years back when his band, Something Corporate was still making tunes. The man played the piano like a rock star. He also spent a good portion of his show standing, sitting or otherwise occupying the top of the piano. While playing. From the top of the piano.
Needless to say, he’d endeared himself to me. I decided to keep up with his work.
He was an excellent performer. The lyrics didn’t hurt either:
i traced away the fog so i could see the mississippi on her knees
I continued to follow him as he moved to a new project called Jack’s Mannequin. I was wowed by the tale of his diagnosis of and battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the young age of 22. My age at the time. I watched him fight the disease. Continue to make music. And turn both into a way to help the world: The Dear Jack Foundation.
Dear Jack took advantage of McMahon’s fanbase to mobilize, to create energy, and to raise money for cancer research, for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And still does.
Not bad for a guy who was just making some music that made me (and many others) feel less alone. To feel great about the world.
For a time, I lost track of McMahon and his music. Life, you know?
When I met Kristin, we engaged on many levels. Music was certainly one of the strongest connections. And suddenly, there was McMahon again, a couple of tracks on a mix CD made for me by my girl in our earliest days (cue the “awwwws”).
So he was part of an army of musicians that got me through my most angsty of years. He made me a little more connected with my girl. And he’s done good things for the world. Still doing all of the above.
Yeah, I like the guy.
Maybe you will too. Maybe you should check him out.
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Photo by KillerB.