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My First Show Back: Lauren J. Hammer on Melissa Etheridge's 60th Birthday Concert

Lauren Hammer and Stefani Cushing
Courtesy of LJ Hammer

Lauren J. Hammer and Stefani Cushing

For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Show Back” is a series dedicated to sharing stories from throughout the touring ecosystem about what’s happening now, what has been forever altered and what will never change.

In this installment, Lauren J. Hammer, a Boulder, Colo., superfan in her mid-50s who has traveled the world to attend thousands of concerts, especially her favorites The Who, Melissa Etheridge and Indigo Girls, discusses returning to live music with Etheridge's 60th-birthday concert May 29 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. 

The concert-going and human part of me desperately wanted to go to shows, be with other people, all those things. Then the part of me that has taken [the pandemic] very seriously and spent 15 months in heavy isolation was apprehensive. I was not happy that it was an indoor show. 

I felt much better that it was only a couple hundred people. The overwhelming majority of people were masked. They did require a COVID test or vaccination before entryAll of us were carrying proof of vaccination. I would not allow anyone in my party to be in my proximity indoors without vaccination. I can't control the whole world, but I can control my little corner of the world. 

Some people are birthday people and some people aren't. [Etheridge] is a birthday person. Coincidentally, her wife Linda Wallem has the very same birthday -- not just the same day but the same year. It was so joyful! It was such a happy, joyful place to be! The joy just emanated off of her. It was so apparent to anybody who was there. It was just the smile on her face when she came out on stage. 

As much as she's done in the last year, she missed her band. She's been with this bandI'm going to guess, about five or six years, plus the crew and everybody. She probably knew two-thirds of the people in the audience -- people she's gotten to know over the years. 

It was so great to see friends. I had a friend come down from Seattle and a couple of LA friends. It was very much a mecca kind of trip. People came from far and wide because it was the first one and because it was Melissa's 60th. I had already taken a trip a few weeks earlier to northern California and saw friends and family. So by the time I did the Melissa trip I was acclimated to other humans again.  

It was such a sparse crowd that you didn't have that intensity of a packed house. But she and the band were so full of joy and spirit and happiness to be there. It was that mass catharsis. I don't know how to put it into words.  

The face [value ticket] was about $300 a pop because it was a low capacity. That was price level one. There were cheaper tickets. The pisser was you had to buy a four-pack because of the COVID pod stuff. I ended up with a four-pack of the right people to be there with. It all worked out in my little world. 

People were in little pods, distanced and separated. But as soon as she hit that stage, people rushed the stage. I wore the mask the whole time. I couldn't wear my glasses because they instantly fogged up. I just took them off and gave it up. Fortunately, I was in the front row. I felt comfortable rushing the stage and being surrounded by people. They let us be for two songs. I saw Melissa's guitar tech go and talk to her, and I'm like, "Oh, that's a bad sign." Sure enough, she came out and said, "I know that if I don't tell you, you're not going to listen -- we really need everybody . . . blah, blah, blah." 

And everyone was compliant. And everyone rushed at the end. 

As told to Steve Knopper