We’re quickly sneaking up on a year since that week last March when the world changed. Most of us were bracing ourselves for it, but we didn’t exactly know what to expect back then from the emerging coronavirus. And here we are, stuck in winter of 2021, still locked in a battle with the pandemic. But, not without hope, as vaccines circulate, providing a little optimism that we’ll all soon get to hang out again. Because, here at LEO, we miss events. Missing out on events wasn’t the most important thing in 2020, of course, as a racial justice movement, a pivotal presidential election, a public health crisis and an economic downturn defined the year, but the cancellation of festivals, concerts, markets and gatherings hurt everyone’s collective ability to get out in the world and be social, contributing to an isolation that’s taken a toll on all of us. Below, a few staff members, contributors and friends describe what they miss the most.
The Familiar Faces
By Sheri Streeter, musician
I’ve always been a bit of a loner, but now I understand the value of interacting with acquaintances and strangers. While the pandemic limited contact with close friends and family, it all but eliminated casual encounters.
I often used to go alone to restaurants, coffee shops and movie theaters. I didn’t mind sitting quietly, but I miss the possibility of organically meeting new people. There are some I don’t mind not running into at shows and sordid public encounters to say good riddance to. But I miss the spaces that allow a distant fondness to grow, to catch up with pleasant acquaintances, or for an introduction to a friend of a friend. If I recognize another customer, I’ll wave and politely try not to keep them. There are no more familiar faces in places I once frequented, no warm exchanges across the room with someone I’ve never spoken with but wouldn’t mind to, no brief chats with passersby and kind strangers waiting in line with me. There is simply no more being in the company of others.
My sense of community with other musicians, artists, and people with shared interests was lost with venues and businesses closing. I miss seeing acquaintances’ excitement and pride in projects they’ve been working on, hearing about the progress they’ve made since we’ve last spoken. I used to draw inspiration from the creative energy of others that can only be felt in person. Without an audience, writing now feels self-indulgent and no longer the conversation that a live performance is, a chance to connect with a room full of people even if they don’t relate to me. It’s harder to find the point of it all if no one’s there anymore to listen.
The loss of these “impersonal” relationships has shifted my aloneness to loneliness.
Extending The Apogee
By Allie Fireel, writer, performer, producer and founding artistic director of Louisville Fringe Festival
I’ve felt this thing — this instant — standing on stage confessing to 500 people that I used to be a self harmer. I’ve felt it before I stripped off my last article of clothing seducing a packed house of 20. I’ve felt it onstage as a performer, seen it offstage as a playwright, heard it happen waiting in the wings, smelled it bouncing as a part of the crowd. A lot of people use the phrase, “the audience was on the edge of their seats,” but that’s not it.
I had this dance teacher once — John Rodriguez, ballet, Dayton, Ohio. He was this tiny, soft-spoken 60-year-old man with effortlessly precise technique. I took roughly 1,260 ballet classes from him. He swore if you took a sharp extra half-breath just before the highest point of your jump, you’d hold off the end of your apogee — you’d float — for an extra tenth of a second.
That’s what it is. It’s not an audience at the edge of their seat. It’s a group of people in a room collectively reaching an apogee, breathing in, sitting up straighter, waiting for what is going to happen next.
Sometimes as a performer, I get to shape that millisecond, push the audience to laugh or cry, to think or to lose their fucking minds. It makes up for every powerless second of childhood I spent scared and struggling with a learning disability in an educational paradigm that demanded I spend my time in silence. And that’s why I’ve been driven to spend 10,000 hours to get that chance.
I have been living a palpable feeling of missing that moment so much, the first time I tried to write this, I lost a whole day. I couldn’t write. My partner asked me what was wrong, and I didn’t know how to answer.
Because there’s this other instant that some people love, but it makes the space between my shoulders itch like somebody is planning to sucker punch me. Or stand me in the corner. It’s the moment when I am waiting for the show to begin.
I need this waiting moment to end.
The Little Things
By Sean Patrick Hill, writer and LEO contributor
Over the course of this past year, lodged in the pandemic, there are many things I miss from being in public. Sitting in a coffeeshop with a macchiato, perhaps a journal. Going to the library to pick up books precisely when I need them, and then browsing the shelves, aimlessly, letting one discovery lead to another. But these are small things and are, of course, self-concerned to an extent. They rise quickly to mind, but it may be that such excursions — shopping, dining, exploring — are only masking a deeper loneliness.
There are times I am in the company of other people. Grocery shopping, which has long since lost its sense of dread. Buying clothes, which has taken me to a number of small vintage shops, moments that will often develop into a conversation at closer quarters. I walk in the parks, or through the neighborhood — though one cannot miss how often we seek to avoid each other, how people cross the street at our approach, averting their gaze.
Naturally, I’ve wanted to feel the gaze of a friend, or even a date, without the mediation of a computer screen, without simply reverting to texting. Living alone, the longing to be touched — even by a hand laid on the small of my back, or on the ball of my shoulder — is nearly without precedent.
But what I’ve missed most, I suddenly realize, is simply the fullness of faces. I long to see smiles, to hear an unmuffled laugh. I saw a child one day, in the Mid City Mall, who smiled at me brightly despite the fact my own mouth was hidden behind fabric. Seeing his face was like turning to the sun. I felt its light.
Elation and Heartbreak
By Erica Rucker, arts & entertainment editor of LEO Weekly
A long time ago, there were weekly, nightly, whenever-they-happened dance parties above El Mundo on Frankfort. Some nights were chill — folks nattering on about art and movies while drinking margaritas or shots of rum while music thumped in the background. Other nights were colored by the haze of boozy carnality, filled with artists, a lack of inhibitions and wandering hands acting only on an implied consent. They were risky moments that would feel more dangerous now, but then — for a young, scribbling, high-heeled, control freak — letting myself melt into the space, music, surrendering my many inhibitions created something that felt transcendent and necessary. It gave me a lot of words. Sometimes, it still gives me words.
There were other parties like that, in other spaces, warehouses, old brick buildings and with other “crowds,” and it always felt like a scene from a movie when the characters find themselves at the mercy of the environment frozen in space — the rusty binary, “boy” and “girl” at the center of a crowd, coming together or breaking up, realizing you’d just outgrown your use for each other.
I miss those spaces. I miss those moments of elation and heartbreak. Even now, I both love and lament the New Year’s Eve in one of those places where I put someone’s heart on ice so that I could begin a separation and move on with my life.
Selfish and Necessary.
The best words for what I miss about events, at least these very specific events — I miss the way music moves through bodies and spaces. I miss the way a collective mood can take over a crowd and how we choose to navigate or remove ourselves from those moments.
Being with people is how we become better at living in our human skin and finding our ways through life. My hope for the future is that as we emerge from this pandemic — hopefully safe, even wrinklier or fatter — that we find ourselves in the middle of a crowd, under stars or stage lights and feel that moment of being moved by just BEING there surrounded by others having a similar experience.
Interacting With Readers
By Laura Snyder, publisher of LEO
There will be no Literary LEO 2021 event. Instead of gathering together in Copper & Kings’ beautiful event space to appreciate the poetry, fiction and photography of LEO’s talented readers, we’ll have to be satisfied with letting them take over the pages of our March 17 issue. But, once again, I’ll miss the surprise of seeing that the author of first place poetry is an 80-year-old retired bus driver or a high school senior or someone I regularly see walking her dog in Crescent Hill. I’ll miss hearing the emotion in the voice at the mic reading about Breonna Taylor/Butchertown/sex/youth/rebellion/loss… but there won’t be the loss of life due to a LEO event — something we didn’t fully understand this time last year when we very hesitantly canceled Literary LEO 2020. I questioned the necessity of the cancellation repeatedly, telling myself we would reschedule in June or July when everything returned to normal.
Then, in August, I found myself scrapping plans for Margaritas in the ‘Ville 2020, a sun-baked 600-person celebration of el Jimador tequila and the area’s best margarita mixologists, where the LEO cohort annually bids farewell to summer on the banks of the Ohio River at Captain’s Quarters.
In October, I was determined to find a way to safely celebrate the local businesses who won our Readers’ Choice Awards, which is how Acting Against Cancer (AAC) found themselves performing the Rocky Horror shadow cast in 40 degree weather at the Sauerbeck Family Drive-In (Remy, I’m sorry). I knew there was no chance of packing 800 guests into Tim Faulkner Gallery or Odeon to listen to an up-and-coming band, but at least we could listen to Jack Harlow over our radios as the logos of Electric Ladyland, Headliners, Carmichael’s Books, The Louisville Palace and our readers’ other favorite businesses flash across the screen. And we did that (AAC did that!), but no Coopers’ Craft filled our glasses, and beyond missing the hugs, it was dark by 7 p.m., so I’m not even sure who came to our party.
A year without LEO events is a sad tale, but, nonetheless, we’re holding out for a happy ending — an ending that’s an opening… of doors and drinks and introduction and dancing with strangers. They say that, just as the 1918 pandemic ended, we’re going to usher in a second roaring ‘20s. Damn, what a party it’s going to be. Until then, we’re hunkering down, storing up our hedonism, staying alive the best we can so that we can see all of you at the next LEO event. Thank you for making sure we all get to enjoy it together.
The Society Of Beer
By Syd Bishop, beer and music contributing writer to LEO
When I say that I like craft beer, I mean that I love the craft of beer. I love someone turning hops and grains into something fun. For the last three or four years, I’ve been lucky enough to write about the local beer scene in a quarterly roundup that focuses on seasonal beers. That made me feel like the luckiest person in Louisville because now I get to write about beers AND drink them. It’s in the job description even.
Then the world shut down. Like a reasonable person, I listened to the science. I practice social distancing and wear masks. I mostly keep to myself. I’ve shifted my support of the local brewery scene from the taprooms to my comfy rocking chair. It’s been a heavy year, but I’ve been able to spend time with family and support the things I love all the same. But goddamn do I miss breweries.
I miss talking to strangers, brewers or just other beer nerds, about whatever it is that makes this or that beer special. I miss sidling up to the bar and asking the bartender for whatever best describes the season to them, which is different for everyone. There is nothing better than someone suggesting a beer that’s so far off your radar that you would’ve never thought of it. A black IPA at Christmas? Let’s go!
It’s not just tasting the beers, but getting the stories. Do you know anything about barrel-aging? Getting a tour of the back-of-house or seeing a bottling system is a treat, especially when you make friends along the way. Do you know what helps everyone make friends? Beer! Beer is a great social equalizer, making strangers into friends, and I miss out on that camaraderie as much, if not more than a fancy chocolate stout or hazy IPA.
How A Crowd Changes A Room
By Scott Recker, managing editor of LEO
A few years ago, I got a phone call at Kaiju. The front of the bar was noisy, but there wasn’t an event going on in the backroom, so I walked into the small venue area and answered the call. The room was empty, quiet, uncluttered, lifeless — just like I had hoped — but, oddly, it was a strange experience. I had never seen the room like that, and, as silly as it sounds, it felt like I was standing in a different place than the dive-punk venue that I’ve been to dozens of times. The week before, the thrash metal band Belushi Speed Ball was spraying a packed crowd with silly string. I’d seen Sheer Mag and countless other bands and musicians on their way up the ranks make so much noise in that room that it seemed like the walls were going to crumble, while the crowd itself — even if only a few people showed up — was always a confluence of attitude, style and energy.
But, there I was, in that room, where you could have heard a pin drop. Instead of feeling deep into a Saturday night, I felt like I was in a storage closet. That’s because a crowd can change a room from deeply forgettable to a burned-in memory.
I had a similar experience at the 2019 championship game of the legendary outdoor basketball tournament, the Dirt Bowl. Two days prior to the game, I was sitting in Shawnee Park, interviewing Ben Watkins, founder of the Dirt Bowl, who has since passed away. Watkins was telling me the history of the Dirt Bowl, which started in 1969, as we sat on the bleachers, looking at the blank courts in the early afternoon. There were maybe only two other people in sight. But, that Sunday, during the championship game, hundreds of people packed around the court, filling the bleachers, standing ten rows deep on the edges. There was a roaring crowd and food vendors. When three-pointers dropped, announcer Cornell Bradley shouted his signature line: “Bang! I said bang!” Dirt Bowl legend, UofL champion and 1981 NBA Rookie Of The Year Darrell Griffith watched courtside. It was incredible. Two days before, it looked like any other outdoor court, then it morphed into one of the largest and last remaining outdoor basketball tournaments in the United States.
Crowds are a window into humanity, and they act as a vortex that reshapes a space. They certainly can dictate a mood. Sometimes, of course, that can lead to bad shit happening. But, most of the time, like in the examples above, they lead to life-affirming moments that connect us, give us something to look forward to and often leave us with some good times to remember.