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The sounds of normality

I firmly believe that everyone is going to have their point in this tail end of the pandemic where they feel as if things are normal enough to call it “normal.” There’ll still be permanent differences, of course — another yearly shot to go along with the flu vaccine or, my personal hope, bandanas becoming a fashion mainstay — but the daily anxiety of the past year or so will drop to a homeostasis that will be close enough to our hazy idea of what “normal” was that we’ll say, “this is fine.”

Your “normal” point may be as simple as going to a coffee shop without needing a mask inside, and without having to face down the leers of those who are a little too careful (myself included, due to sorting out some bad habits). Or, your point might come to you a moment after an acquaintance does that thing in bars where they get really close and look past you to talk into your ear loud enough to be heard while among the crowd. Your point might just be existing among that same crowd without scoping out each exit.

For me, it’ll be the return of consistent, in-person, live music.



I’ve still listened to plenty of music, new and old, don’t get me wrong. Years of paying for Spotify and an aversion to complete silence can see to that. But it just doesn’t feel the same. I find myself seeking out a hint of a whisper of actual guitars and melodic voices, and I make a point to check Belly Up’s website weekly for any confirmed summer plans. I’ve even stooped so low as to browse the big-name announcements that are eventually headed to Denver, but it turns out paying somewhere between $400 and $1,000 on tickets to see Bad Bunny in February just isn’t in the cards. If you have no idea who that is, don’t worry, neither do I.

Those big-name concerts will return eventually (and are returning), but those will be extra careful and take time. So I’ve stuck to livestreams. It scratches the itch well enough, even though it’s not quite the same. And everyone, local bands included, has found it easy enough to set up a phone and a couple microphones and send out some sound to YouTube.




This new set of music-viewing habits has helped me fully flesh out my personal definition of a “normal” point. It came to me while listening to the weekly music livestreams at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. Obviously, it was online, and I played it in the background of my PC while working one Friday night. The group was the Red Hill Rollers, who I haven’t heard before but were incredible (you can find recordings on the GrassRoots YouTube page). As I was listening, something so alien and forgotten stood out.

In between each song, someone from the band would chat with the audience. Small talk, thanking them for showing up, making the usual mentions of keeping a mask on.

When’s the last time you’ve heard that?

I had completely forgotten this quirk of being an emcee and a band, inherent in live music, up until now. A dialogue between band and crowd, almost fully unseen in this digital age of performances, feels like something so ingrained in music culture, and I was struck. When we can return to the days of local bands chatting local topics with local fans (with bonus points for not mentioning COVID or masks), I will finally feel as if things have returned to normal.

Until that (short) time arrives, I’ll keep scanning for live music, any way I can find it.

Samuel Wagner is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email him at swagner@aspentimes.com.


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