No Pix, No Phones – The Joy of Being Present

I am a lucky girl. I was one of the first to experience the Pat Metheny Unity Band’s 2014 world tour. Jacksonville was the second date, the day after the new album came out. I had a seat on the second row toward the side with a completely unblocked view of the stage. So this is what I thought I was going to do – get there and post on Facebook that I was there, then tweet that I was there. Then I would take some pictures of the stage because there are elements of the Orchestrion, the orchestra of instruments that play themselves inspired by the early 20th century originals and the basis of his last album and tour, which I missed. Very cool with Steam Punk overtones. Then there would be pictures of the band on stage just in case I decided to write a review and wanted a few pictures to go along with it.

Then the game plan changed. The band was introduced by one of the theatres’ staff members who talked about how proud they were to be bringing this artist to Jacksonville and happy to see such a crowd. Then he told us the musicians had requested that there be no photos or videos and that everyone turn their phones off for the duration of the concert. The entire crowd clapped. It was partially because it meant they wouldn’t be bothered by someone sitting near them pecking out text after text, a ring tone going off, or someone holding a whispered but obtrusive phone conversation. It meant the person in front of you would not be wiggling and reaching to try to get a good photo while you craned your neck from side to side to see the stage. But I think it went deeper than that. When Metheny asked us to turn off our gadgets he gave us permission to be truly present while this band gave us two and a half hours of astonishing music, music that hit mind, body and spirit, something that happens more deeply if your mind isn’t on a message that needs answering, your body isn’t trying to lean into a better angle for a photo, and your spirit isn’t stressed by incoming or outgoing communication. We didn’t have to make excuses for pulling ourselves out of contact, that choice had been made for us and all we had to do was sit down, get quiet, and be present.

It changed everything. Mobile devices are so omnipresent that we see them the way we used to see people wearing watches. Most people have a phone attached to them and checking it or using it constantly has become an unconscious reflex. It is part of our landscape now, people walking around or sitting at tables giving their undivided attention to little data delivering squares even when there are actual human beings right in front of them. It’s in your hand, it glows. Hold it up and take a picture, touch the screen and see if it has gotten colder outside. Steal sideways glances to see if you-know-who has texted or called. Do this again in five minutes. I am one of those people. I justify it because I freelance in two fields and any text or message could be an offer that has a paycheck attached. But really? Is anyone going to die if I don’t respond at this immediate moment? I quit photographing concerts a while ago because Iive music is my favorite thing in the world and I realized I was so busy documenting and sharing the experience that I wasn’t actually experiencing the experience. I had to look at my videos later to see what the concert was like and those are inevitably blurry and shaky, even when I was close to the stage. Besides, there were human beings creating music right in front of me. If I was only going to be there through a lens I might as well stay home and watch YouTube.

So this is what happened. A group of people who mostly didn’t know each other shared an out of body experience together. That is how Pat Metheny concerts have always been because of the scope of the music, the artistry of the musicians, and their connection with the people in the room. We also shared the experience of being fully present and allowing the music to push away the monkey mind that squawks out to-do lists and contact lists and things we did yesterday or need to do tomorrow. That is a place you can’t get to with little squares of glowing light jockeying for position all over the place. It was magical and I know I would have hated myself if I had even missed a moment of being able to look straight up at one of these fabulous musicians, eye to face and not lens to face. There will be a tour DVD. When it comes out I can watch video made by someone more skilled than me, who got to see the show multiple times before viewing it through a camera. Until then I can tell others that I was there. Really there. And that made all the difference in the world.