The Grand Return of Concerts Has Been Cathartic, and I Will Never Take Them for Granted Again

BY MEGAN WRAY

Lights suddenly darken. Curtain slowly lifts. Twelve thousand screams crescendo as souls find their voices again.

Bass notes echo through speakers, blurring the space between me and the crowd of buzzing bodies beside. A pulsing beat injects my veins with electric adrenaline, overtaking my chest until my arms have nowhere to go but up, bouncing on my feet like the ground beneath is lava.

Spotlights illuminate the pitch-black sky, dancing like makeshift shooting stars. Stars that I wouldn’t bother wishing on, because everything I’d dream for is right here in front of me.

Live music is back. After 16 months, we made it.

The melody kicks in, and in it, I hear a heavy sigh. A collective relief. Less an anthem, more a standing prayer. We’ve gotten up off our knees, lifted ourselves back up to honour a higher power. A spiritual experience we’ve forcibly renounced, now baptised once again.

I’m not religious, but this is my place of worship. Lost in a sea of strangers who don’t seem so strange to me. This is where I’m part of something bigger than myself. Where each breath is nothing short of divine.

And I hold onto every one, grounding myself between moments of euphoria. I wish I could bottle this energy — freeze this second in time and stay here forever.

Because this moment wasn’t a given. It wasn’t guaranteed. We didn’t know if we’d ever make it back here. We easily couldn’t have. Buying tickets to the next show used to be as reliable as a sunrise. Always exciting, always predictable, and never far away. Yet for a year and a half, as we battled through the pandemic (and continue to do so), no one knew when we’d be able to return to this sanctuary safely.

And if it wasn’t for the healthcare workers we celebrated nightly by banging on makeshift drums, the grocery store clerks who missed paychecks awaiting test results, or the scientists piecing together mRNA sequencing like the world’s most intricate jigsaw puzzle, we wouldn’t be back here.

In a time when everything was keeping us apart, the community came together. We missed birthdays, holidays, funerals, graduations. Skipped hugs, goodbyes, hellos, first words, and last kisses. Then 2,670,621,618 people around the world got a couple of shots to keep their neighbours safe. All so we could finally return to each other again.

And on a beautiful, moonlit August evening in Toronto, we did exactly that. Twelve thousand people showed up to a sold-out Arkells concert for the first time since April 2020. Thankfully, that group of passionate, talented musicians gave us a home to come back to.

Like so many others, I turn to music when I feel lost. And when I’m in a crowd of thousands, singing to the songs that guide me, I know I’m less alone. But what happens when that escapism is no longer available? When that safe space is no longer safe?

I lost a part of myself during those 16 months. What used to be my light in a dark tunnel became a twisting labyrinth — hauntingly quiet. As I sat within the same four walls day in and out — anxious, hopeless, scared — the idea that live music might eventually return was my saving grace.

“I put my shoulder to the wheel, and I just kept rolling,” as Arkells said — I repeated these words to myself, knowing I’d get my happy place back someday. I had no choice but to believe it would happen, no matter how far away it felt. And when it did, it was cathartic. I felt like myself again for the first time in a year and a half. I felt life return to me.

There’s an indescribable warmth to these returns. They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, but I’m not sure I’ve ever believed that. I’ve always known how sacred these shared experiences are.

But I do think that we’ll all hold a much greater appreciation every time we step into a stadium, bar, or concert hall for a long, long time. We’ll remember how lucky we are to be back, arm in arm again.

I think we’ll continue breathing that heavy sigh as the beat kicks in. The lights will darken, the curtain will rise, and we’ll say a silent “thank you” to everyone that allowed us to come back home.