Long As I Can See the Light

We have a well-loved concert venue here in southern Oregon called Britt Festivals. I’ve enjoyed seeing many shows there over the twenty years that I’ve lived in this area.  It’s an outdoor venue where patrons can bring their own picnic dinner, including beer and wine, and listen to great music on a hill under the stars. I try to go once every summer, and every time I go, I wish my boys could be with me. For most of the summer shows, they’re in LA with their dad, but that, of course, is not the only issue. How do you take a sound-sensitive autistic teen to a concert? Would ear plugs be enough? Could he handle the sensory bombardment for over two hours? Would he even enjoy himself?

Inspired by reading about C going to a nightclub (!) last year, I decided that I wanted to take Nigel to a concert at Britt. I figured that we had a better chance of success with this venue since it is outdoors, and the sound level would not be contained within walls. He could also lie down on a blanket on the grass, read books, and eat food from home to increase his comfort level. And then when I heard that one of his favorite bands, CCR, was coming to town the week after he and Aidan would return from LA, I knew that I had a recipe for success. I bought three tickets.

But I also knew that in order for it to be successful, I needed to prepare him. I called him while he was still in LA and told him about the upcoming concert we’d be attending, assuring him that we’d bring ear plugs. He was excited about seeing his first concert and that it would be CCR! He was mildly disappointed that John Fogarty would not be present (the band is now called Creedence Clearwater Revisited), but he was still very motivated to go. A few days before the concert, I showed him the website of the venue, with a map showing the grounds and the lawn area where we would be sitting. I explained to him that even though we had tickets, we still needed to wait in line for at least an hour to get good lawn seats, and that once we got our seats, we would need to wait an hour and a half before the concert started. Then I had to explain the concept of an “opening band” and field questions about why there would be one before CCR took the stage.

So we packed lots of food, beverages, books, National Geographics, and our magnetic portable chess game. Rain was forecasted for that one day of the week (damn!), so I packed umbrellas and jackets. And of course – the ear plugs. It rained just a little while we were waiting for our seats, and Nigel took it in stride under an umbrella. Finally we went inside, found a good spot, and spread out our blanket. We read for a while and relaxed, and when the music started, Nigel and I were in the middle of a chess game. His eyes grew huge, and he said, “Quick, Mom! The ear plugs!” He put them in and adjusted to the sound level. I was relieved.

But I was happiest when I saw how much Nigel enjoyed the concert. The vocalist, John Tristao, met with Nigel’s approval by doing an amazing job of recreating Fogarty’s distinctive voice. Nigel kept leaning over to me, making little comments like “They are using ‘60s graphics on the backdrop,” “I feel like I’m in the ‘70s,” and “I bet the aliens can see this concert from outer space.” I loved when they played “Hey Tonight,” and Nigel looked up and said to me, “The stars are perfect with this.” I had been worried that he would merely tolerate the concert, or that he wouldn’t engage. But he got up and danced, waved his arms in the air, cheered quietly, and even sang along. Seeing him mouth the words “I wanna know . . . have you ever seen the rain . . . comin’ down on a sunny day?” brought tears to my eyes. When the concert was over, I asked him, “What did you think of that?” and he said, “That was rockin’ awesome!!” with the most enthusiasm I’ve ever heard.

In the middle of their set, the band did some introductions, and the drummer, Doug Clifford, who was in the band at the beginning, told the story of how they met in seventh grade and dreamed of being in a rock band. He told of their success as musicians, eventually having two number one albums on the charts. And at the end of his short, inspirational talk, he urged the audience, “Hold onto your dream.” I really needed to hear that. I think we all do.

14 thoughts on “Long As I Can See the Light

  1. Holly

    So glad he had fun. I think music is one time and place that ASD kids can filter and enjoy, especially if it’s one of their favorites!!

  2. dynamite girl

    Love it, Love it, Love it! I am always looking for opportunities to give my son (and in turn his best friend who also has ASD) as many normal experiences as possible. I want both of them to feel some of the simple joys of just being a teenager. Sometimes it is a challenge, we have to constantly be aware of sensory issues, but it is so worth it when it works out. The boys did a water park on their own over the weekend for a hour. First time the have been alone at a public place. Side note CCR is my husbands favorite band, Nigel has good taste.

  3. Goldie

    That IS rockin awesome!!! This made me get a little teary. What a wonderful, magical experience for you to share. Great job, mom!

  4. Cheryl

    I’m so glad that you guys had such a great time, and that Nigel was able to get into it and enjoy himself! Rock on!

  5. Kim

    That is wonderful! It’s always such a great feeling when you prep for something and it goes so well and they ENJOY it! My Rocco loves music too (he loves Jack Johnson right now) and I hope that someday I can take him to an outdoor concert (maybe red rocks!)

  6. CorrieHowe

    What a great story. I’m glad you both had a great time. Thanks for sharing how you prepared him and what things you brought a long. This is helpful for the people, like me, who are coming along behind your experiences. And it is encouraging to know that our family isn’t the only one who has to take extra measures to do “ordinary” things.

  7. rhemashope

    I know it must have made your heart soar to have that time with him and see him enjoy the concert so much. I would have been teary-eyed, too. I loved reading this, Tanya.

  8. jess

    sounds like you did so much to pave the way for this fabulous experience. thrilled for BOTH of you.

    and what a GREAT first concert!

  9. Tera

    that is terrific. kaeden loves music and really lets loose anytime we’ve taken him to something live. i wish i could afford to do it more often. he also loves broadway plays. you know, the concert may have been rockin’ awesome, but i’m actually thinking it’s more the mom who is truly rockin’ awesome!

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