By Caleb Calhoun
I walked into the Altamont Theater nearly an hour before the Emma’s Lounge show I’d been eagerly anticipating for weeks, and the air was already electric. Vendors vended, an old-fashioned kissing booth (but for dancing) stood ready for action, and folks were handing out free transferable tattoos, face jewelry and glow sticks. People from just about every walk of life and a cross-section of age groups rivaling Free-Dead-Friday over at The One Stop was massing.
The air is pregnant with love, the room full of beauty.
As the dance floor fills up, local genre-benders Dr. Bacon take the stage. Intense and unreserved, their music brings an edginess that offers the perfect complement and contrast to the love-struck hippies. Their sound is raw, vaguely reminiscent of swamps and gators and snakes. The patrons willingly give in to the journey they are being taken on.
After what must be nearly 90 minutes of music from what you dare not call an opening act, Dr. Bacon brings their set to a frenzied ending, sending the crowd out into the cold evening air to scramble for cigarettes and anything else they may want to burn.
There is an undercurrent of anxiety. The chemicals coursing through listeners brains don’t demand more music. Everybody’s ready for the main event.
Drummer Mackenzie Richburg and bassist/guitarist Justin Tsugranes take the stage first. The music builds and to raucous applause as lead singer/guitarist Logan Venderlic, keyboardist/vox Meg Heathman, and violinist Kenan Hopkins (playing his fiddle as he comes) walk through the crowd to join them on stage. The song is deep and stormy. All five of them wear shining satin capes, black as Dick Cheney’s soul and dark as the sounds coming from their instruments.
Then a shift, a change in sound and they toss their capes to the ground behind them. The swaying crowd breaks into dancing. The spinners spin, the skankers skank, the hoopers hoop and, as a whole, the crowd, inspired by the bravery of the musicians, toss their inhibitions to the wind.
A few songs in, the band announces that they’re shooting a live music video for the next song, Shakin’ and Swayin’. It’s a song that Logan wrote to be, in some ways, a tribute to the music festival culture. It seems natural that they would invite the crowd to be a part of this big moment.
I grab my 1950s Royal typewriter and head to the stage, taking a seat beside Kenan’s pedal-board. I try to focus on typing a poem while keeping the rhythm, but this is something altogether different for me. I’m sure I can write under these circumstances, but unsure if I can do it without more practice.
Halfway through the song, I come to the conclusion that what I write doesn’t matter. Just like how here, what you look like doesn’t matter. Your sexual orientation or your age or your religious and political affiliations don’t matter.
This is not the workplace or the schoolyard or the gym. This is Emma’s Lounge. A magical place where everyone is accepted for who they are, where everyone is encouraged to be who they want to be, where everyone is loved for the simplest of reasons – that they exist and all living things deserve to be loved.
The concert continues in this vein, the music spectacular and the crowd spilling beauty all over each other. After a simply mind-numbing Boot Scoot Boogie, the band heads into somewhat more philosophical territory.
They cover several songs about change before challenging their audience to be the change in their own world. The message is uplifting and not overbearing. The entire night one raging success.
The love ripples from the stage, into our hearts, and we, filled up to overflowing ripple from the show into the streets.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.