One of the best shows I’ve ever seen I went to alone. It was Lucy Dacus at the Basement East here in Nashville, with Fenne Lily and Mal Blum opening.
It was a sold-out show. Fans flocked to the venue early (which has somewhat of a bar-in-a-warehouse feel, booths tucked in corners, a dirty cement floor). People filed in, claiming spots as close to the stage as possible (myself included). While we waited, the energy was largely harmonious and eager. I could hear murmurs of excitement – one couple discussed Lucy’s newest single “La Vie En Rose,” while on the other side of me, a tall guy insisted he knew someone who knew Lucy.
Lucy’s set was bookended by her two of her most beloved songs: “Addictions” and “Night Shift.” From her opening line to the last, fans sang every word. She saved “Night Shift” for the finale, and though it was expected, it built such enormous suspense that when Lucy finally belted, “And I’ll take the night shift,” the crowd went absolutely mad. Screaming, jumping – I think I even felt the floor shaking. There were honest smiles from all of her band members and Lucy herself was almost in tears. “May you treat everyone in your life with that much enthusiasm and kindness,” she said after the song ended.
Going to any kind of show or performance feels scary for many. I have friends who refuse to, usually because of anxiety. I myself struggle with anxiety - going to a show alone is hard. It feels like people are judging you for being there alone. The worst part can be between sets, when you have no one to talk to. But let me tell you this: No one cares. Seriously. Everyone is always going to be more concerned about themselves and what they look like than what you are doing or what you look like. My mother once gave me this advice when I was younger and nervous about going swimming in a bikini. But it applies to so many other aspects of life.
If there’s something you want to experience, be it a show, a workshop, a poetry reading, whatever, but none of your friends are interested, just try it out. It could end up being one of the best experiences of your life so far.
Anxiety surfaces in different ways for nearly everyone. Myself, for example: I don’t often experience panic attacks, and when I do, it’s generally in response to something incredibly specific and random. I’m going to list some specific tips to help navigate going to a show alone, but know that these are based on my own experiences and social anxiety.
Rename your anxiety: When you recognize that your anxiety or stress is preventing you from doing something that you actually want to do, rename it to Fear. Somehow, I find it easier to do something in spite of fear instead of anxiety, because I don’t think of fear as a health condition that I can’t help.
Just do it: Once, I had to read a self-help book about happiness for a college class. It’s basic message was this: Just be happy instead of unhappy. I hated it. That line of thinking is so reductive and frustrating for anyone who lives with depression and/or anxiety. However, at the same time, I find that having the mantra of “just do it” helps me, well, do it. Because saying “just do it” to yourself doesn’t mean “just don’t be anxious,” it means “just do it in spite of your fear.”
Buy your ticket early: If it’s a local show that I know probably won’t sell out, I have a habit of marking the show in my phone’s calendar and then ignoring the reminder of the day of. But, in order to combat this, I’ve started buying my ticket online before the day of. It’s a small way of making sure I actually go.
Make it a project: If you’re a creator of any kind, writer, photographer, artist, etc, then I really recommend making a show a project. That’s what I did with the Lucy Dacus show. I took notes so I could write about it. Sometimes, I take a camera with me - it can give a feeling of purpose. If you’re not a creator, but have always wanted to pick up one of these hobbies, this could be the perfect way to learn!
Remind yourself why you want to be there: Keep in mind - whether it’s on the drive there or between sets - why you want to be there. Is it your favorite artist? Is it a one-time only event that you don’t want to miss? Does live music, ultimately, make you feel better?
The in-between: Some people will tell you that going to concerts is a great way to meet new friends. Sometimes, that’s true. But if that’s not why you’re there, you don’t have to add that pressure. Between sets, you can play on your phone. You can go outside for some fresh air. You don’t have to talk to other people. Or, if you only want to see one artist, you could even arrive late or leave early. Which brings me to the next point.
You can always leave: The great thing about going alone is that you can leave whenever you want. You have no social obligation to stay. If the show sucks, if you feel too overwhelmed, if you really are just too tired, you can leave. It’s okay.
Avoiding or dealing with a panic attack: Like I mentioned earlier, my panic attacks are rare. I recommend reading this article, which suggests staying away from the barrier/front row, wearing earplugs, and planning an exit strategy. (Or this one, which gives even more techniques). When I have had panic attacks, the best relief for me is fresh air. Nearly all venues have an outdoor area for smokers, so when you arrive, find out where that is.
Empowerment: Doing something in spite of your fear or anxiety is empowering. It can feel like you accomplished something - because you did. The most surprising thing I’ve found about going to shows alone is that people actually admire it. More than once, I have been told some version of this: “It’s so cool that you went alone. I could never do that.” (Even though, I believe, you can.)