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.