I could be anywhere in the world, but the moment I hear a song from Neko Case’s “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,” I’m transported back to my friend’s single bed in northern France. The year is 2009, my Erasmus year, and I’m a teaching assistant in a suburban secondary school.
There, I would spend my evenings drinking €3 red wine and listening to the iTunes library of a new American friend (and now, best friend) named Shannon who also happened to be teaching English in the same sleepy French town. It was there, during this year of instructing teenagers how to conjugate, that I realised how intensely personal our relationship with music can be. That’s why, nine years on, I decided I would go to see Neko Case on my own during her European tour.
Alone is how I go to gigs these days. I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be frank. This going-aloneness is not for want of anyone to go with, but instead because I actually want to be alone to fully enjoy the experience. It took me until my late twenties to discover the wonders of going to concerts alone. The first time was an accident. I’d booked two tickets to see Fleet Foxes at Brixton O2 Academy in the hope I’d be able to entice a friend to accompany me. But, my friends weren’t as enamoured with the dulcet tone of Robin Pecknold’s voice, so that ticket went unused. I ventured down to the gig on my own.
I felt nervous and self-conscious when I first arrived. I wondered if people would see me standing friendless in the crowd and think I was some kind of outlier — a thought that I now freely admit was completely preposterous. I shrugged that self-consciousness off when I got inside the venue, had a beer, and told myself to get the hell over it, Rachel, you’re a fully grown woman. In the stalls, I metamorphosed from awkward billy-no-mates to a person reliving past moments that were inextricably tethered to this music. When “The Shrine / An Argument” played, I was reminded of the summer after graduating when I played “Helplessness Blues” on repeat, at full volume.
That night, during my first solo gig, I realised I have a unique bond with these songs, that I needed to be alone with them. Songs mean different things to different people. But, I now know that my experience of seeing an artist whose music has had an impact on my life is something I need to do alone. Just like visiting an old friend with whom you have a close personal bond, trying to bring a third person into the relationship would dilute the experience, divert my attention to other things.
It is, of course, fun to bring a friend along to a gig. Especially if said friend is as big a fan as you are. My cousin Ellen and I have been to see Beyoncé together twice because we are both diehard superfans and I need someone to scream with. But other times, I’ve taken friends along with me and have caught myself worrying about whether they’re having a good time, worrying if they’re bored, worrying if maybe I shouldn’t have invited them in the first place.
One year on, with several solo gigs now under my belt, I went to see Neko Case unaccompanied. As she sang “Hold On, Hold On” my eyes welled up with tears as my mind travelled back in time to that year in France. It was a moving, lovely night.
I am not alone in my aloneness, of course. A lot of other people are in possession of the knowledge that going solo to a gig is a wonderful thing.
“Whenever I go to a show it is because the music is very personal and meaningful to me.”
Freelance filmmaker Jeremiah Warren says he often goes by himself because he’s attending a show “for the music not for human interaction. “
“Whenever I go to a show it is because the music is very personal and meaningful to me,” says Warren, who loves people and socialising, but also enjoys spending time alone and being able to experience something all by himself. “I heard Sigur Rós during their 2016 tour and it was one of the most emotional and spiritual experiences I’d had in a long time. I think it would have been a distraction if a friend had been there.”
The one exception, he says, is “going with a significant other” which he feels is distinctly different to bringing a friend along for company.
Just like Warren, many solo-show-goers say it’s not really a conscious choice to go it alone. Joe Garbow, who works in communications, started going to gigs alone when he was a teenager. He says it’s not necessarily a conscious decision to not invite others who might be interested, but instead a case of “if I decide I want to go, I’m going.”
“Going alone you are fully immersed in the performance, free to get crushed on the front row, and lost in the sway of the crowd.”
He went to see The Streets on his own after a friend dropped out at the last minute. “Going alone you are fully immersed in the performance, free to get crushed on the front row, and lost in the sway of the crowd or stand at the side with some personal space,” Garbow tells me. “Bringing a friend, even if they are fellow fans, you somehow feel responsible for the quality of the show. If it doesn’t meet expectations, your musical prowess takes a knock,” he adds.
I can totally relate to this feeling. I’ve found myself constantly turning my head to check on a friend’s enjoyment of the gig, and interjecting with comments like “oh, this is my favourite song” in a bid to make them see the significance of a moment.
James Olliver, who works in PR, flew solo when he went to see Jake Bugg play when he was visiting Berlin and had “an amazing experience.” “None of the others I was travelling with fancied it so I decided to head over by myself,” says Olliver. “Barring getting slightly lost on the Berlin metro, it was great and I found myself chatting with more people than I would normally during a gig. Would definitely recommend it!”
Whether you want to chat to fellow gig-goers, or just be alone with the music, going to a gig alone is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. If you have a personal connection to a particular song or musician, give yourself the gift of flying solo. You won’t regret it.