Song of the week: “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest
This week’s piece was partially inspired by guest writer Adam Grant’s op-ed in the New York Times “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing” (10 July 2021).
On Friday night, standing beneath the Woebegones, I got chills.
This time of year in Texas, where I’m from, my dad gets me a UTOPiAfest ticket for my birthday. I leave the city behind to camp out in the west Texas prairie with him and his friends and watch live music for a weekend. After midnight each night, the speakers on the main stages turn off, and those of us who are awake hike up to a hill hidden in the trees. It used to be called Tank Goodtimes. That is where, in the early morning hours, unamplified musicians bear their souls to a gathering of lonely people asking to be seen. We’ve heard some of the songs before, from the solitude of our headphones in our rooms or walking in our respective neighborhoods. Hearing them together, we are reminded of our personal memories, but cannot ignore the people around us singing along to the same words that we’d come to think of as our own. The song no longer belongs to just you, but to a collective.
The Woebegones couldn’t amplify their music. This made for a somewhat muffled sound overlaid with conversations permeating throughout the small crowd. But it also made us instinctively stay a little quieter to be able to hear them. And in that way the notes and the harmonies drifted through and found their way to me. To all of us.
Everybody here is out of sight, they don’t bark and they don’t bite.
This group harmonization, this feeling of the same notes and rhythms in real bodies around you at the same time, is collective effervescence. It is what a lot of us have been told we would find at college, and what a lot of us have subsequently lost.
I haven’t been to UTOPiA in two years. Opportunities to see live music since then have been few and far between. Approaching my birthday last week, I was painfully aware of the fact I hadn’t stopped to feel the presence of a large crowd in quite some time. My first year at Lawrence, I was forced to spend time with people in small groups or not at all. And any gatherings you could attend, no matter the size, were cloaked in that anxiety and fear we grew increasingly weary of.
That’s what made this outdoor set that much more powerful.
We like our fun and we never fight. You can’t dance and stay uptight.
They played softer folk songs that you could sway to, songs whose harmonies coaxed you to close your eyes. They played faster bluegrass that you could twirl your friends to, that pulled laughter and song from our throats and dancing from our bones. They played for each individual who’d spent the past year listening to King Harvest quietly in our cars or bedrooms, turning us into a living, breathing thing that moved as one. They played me back to Texas, where we huddled around campfires to stay up after it hit 50 degrees, just for a few minutes of the Goodtimes sets.
It’s something you don’t realize you miss until you feel it again. This silent absence in the corner of the room, watching you hum to yourself while you make breakfast, watching you sing to yourself in the shower. I had forgotten I went to a school with real students, just like me, until I felt their hearts beating beside me.
After two years of living in fear, we were given permission to open our mouths and to harmonize with strangers and feel safe and unashamed. We were allowed, at last, to breathe.