RYAN ADAMS 2003
Ryan Adams’ music was brought to my attention when I still lived in Atlanta and the first time I saw him live was at The Tabernacle, a church-turned-concert-venue located downtown. The show was just a few weeks shy of my move to New York. The Tabernacle is built for standing audiences only but Ryan had folding chairs set up in rows, presumably so we could sit comfortably and quietly to enjoy his, then infamous, acoustic set awash in plenty of red wine. His glass was always more full than mine, as I recall.
Ryan hails from North Carolina and that particular show was also the first time I heard his signature ballad, “Sweet Carolina.” When he strummed the opening chords the crowd went immediately silent. You could hear sins being forgiven. This must be some tune, I thought, while sitting comfortably and quietly in my folding chair.
Midway through the song his voice dropped as he whispered the line “the sweetest winds, they blow across the South.” At that the silence cracked and all my good Southern neighbors proudly, but subtly, start clapping and uttering shy, conservative “Wooooooos.” That celebration – that teeny bit of geographic solidarity which teetered on singer-songwriter cliche – made me second guess my well-planned move North. Even though I had never heard the song before, I clapped and I woo’ed. Yeahyeah… I was moving to New York City in a few days, but I was born in the South, dammit! I belong in the South. I just do.
Flash forward to my first summer in the city… Ryan is playing a free concert in Battery Park. Since I was a paid-in-full fan at that point I was front and center. I remember it being 100 million degrees outside and lest we forget there was no AC in my abode, shy of me sitting in front of an open refrigerator door. To get away from all the sweaty bodies after the show I started walking along the riverfront, when I actually SEE Ryan clumsily climbing on a random statue (he hadn’t given up the red wine quite yet).
Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! (Real life exclamation was more like HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!) He was pretty much all alone so I walked right up to him and introduced myself, gushing about the one thing I knew we could connect on.
“I just moved here! Yeah, NYC is cool… but whatever. blah blah blah. I’m from Virginia… I LOVE the South!!!”
The picture doesn’t show it, but I’m wearing my very first “I Heart NY” apparel.
Years later I was at a friend-of-a-friend’s show at CBGBs (R.I.P.) and Ryan showed up in the audience. By request he performed one song to the crowd of at most fifteen. Our respective every-day New York Citys were overlapping. And even more years later – last December actually – I bought a ticket to see him play at Carnegie Hall. The venue was on my NYC bucket list and Mr. Adams, who somehow kept me rooted in my roots all these years, opened with “Sweet Carolina.”
I had already made the decision to move back to Virginia, away from New York City. Plans were in motion. And when he came to the line, “the sweetest winds, they blow across the South,” no one clapped and no one woo’ed. There was only comfortable silence.