“My heart’s balled up and I’m ready to explode”

Internet, do I look different to you? I feel different. I was out of Fort Wayne just twenty-six hours. It was a very short trip and totally worth disrupting my week. I had to do some fancy scheduling, and I’m sure this weekend, I’ll have to put in some late nights to get done all the work I could’ve been doing when I was losing my mind over Amy Ray.

She came out and played “Out on the Farm” with the opening band, Arizona, and during the song, she almost knocked over her mic stand with the neck of her guitar. The look on her face was completely adorable. I think, however, the most adorable moment of the night came just after that, when Arizona finished their set and Amy and her bandmates started setting up theirs. There were a couple roadies, too, but there was Amy Ray, working right next to them, moving stuff, plugging stuff in, and tuning stuff.

It was then that I began to wonder if it is possible that Amy Ray isn’t famous.

I’m quite certain this is not a question that keeps her up at night nor will it keep me up. (No, “Bus Bus” on relentless repeat in my head is what keeps me from being able to fall asleep.) What matters to me is this: Amy Ray is talented, generous, gracious, and accessible. I count myself very lucky for having seen her live four times this year (if I count the Indigo Girls shows).

The venue last night was very small, but my sister and I were impressed. There was a good energy (not to get all hippie-dippy on you), and the musicians couldn’t stop raving about it. It was clean and the staff people were great. And, hello, the tickets were $15! How could we turn down a chance to see Amy Ray for $15?

I know I should say something about the actual concert, but the truth is that I wish you had been there with me—all of you, whoever you may be, but especially Andy, Liz, and Yvonne. (I’ve never made Yvonne listen to Amy Ray but I’ve always thought that the punkness, the heavy electric guitar, and Amy’s propensity to say what she means would appeal to Yvonne.) When she played “Covered For You,” my excitement almost became something outside of myself—like a whole separate being, tugging on my legs and pulling at my arms.

I tried to take a video of the song, but I couldn’t hold still. I have about twenty seconds of pretty good video, but it’s not worth figuring out how to post it here. The person directly in front of me (Bethany and I were about three or four rows of people from the stage; keeping in mind that means standing bodies squashed against standing bodies, that’s pretty darn close) was rather tall and every time I wanted to take a decent photo, I had to raise my arms way above my head. I’m afraid that was annoying to the guys behind me and it distracted me from the moment so I didn’t do it too often. That’s another reason my video is only twenty seconds long.

I could list each song and how it specifically blew my mind, but the truth is that every single song she played was more incredible than I could have possibly imagined. I’ll admit that my expectations of her awesomeness were very high and that was causing me some anxiety. How could she be as good live as she was in my head? I had already been amazed when I saw her doing the Indigo Girls thing with Emily Saliers so I already knew for sure that Amy Ray is not a fraud.

But her solo work is not like the Indigo Girls’ stuff. My first thought after the show was, “It must take a lot of energy to be Amy Ray.”

Friends, she did that rock star, fall-on-your-knees thing when she was playing “Laramie” at the very end of the show. I had never thought of “Laramie” as a particularly rockin’ song. It has a quiet intensity and an urgency that pulses beneath the lyrics, but the studio recording is nothing compared to the live performance she put on last night.

I think I’m getting closer to figuring out what it is about Amy Ray.

In my surrealism class on Tuesday, we talked about what distinguishes some poets from other poets when the techniques, skill, and even talent are all there. There is this thing called duende that comes from Latin American and Spanish surrealism, and while I can’t explain it, I’m pretty sure Amy Ray has it. That was the discussion last week, though. Tuesday, the professor said when he reads contemporary American poetry, he rarely feels like there is anything at stake.

Ah ha!

When I listen to Amy Ray and especially when I watch her perform, there is no doubt that it matters, that she has something at stake. There is never a moment when I feel like she isn’t putting something on the line. That is at least partly what makes her so compelling.

She closes her eyes a lot when she’s performing. I think that impulse is part intensity and part humility. This woman is seriously modest. More than once last night, she seemed genuinely surprised at the crowd’s reaction to her, and there were moments when she seemed downright embarrassed, especially when people would scream “I love you, Amy.” What must it be like to be so awesome and not realize it?

By the time we got to the encore, I was almost relieved. Of course I didn’t want it to be over, but I was running out of energy (and I had to pee). My system can only take so much prolonged stimulation. “Johnny Rottentail” and the aforementioned “Laramie” were the two encore songs. A word about “Johnny Rottentail”: This isn’t a song I listen to on a regular basis. When I listen to Stag, I usually skip it. I like it, but it’s so different from everything else on that album that it’s jarring. Usually, I want a smooth ride, you know? Anyway, “Johnny Rottentail” is meant to be live. That was made clear to me last night. I don’t know how Amy had the energy left to come out with her mandolin (yay!) and play that tune all by herself, but she did. Ever since Richmond, I’ve been fascinated by Amy Ray’s mandolin. I want to touch it. Someday, I am going to ask her if I can touch it. Watching her play it on stage all alone was the perfect cap to a perfect show.