see and be seen

This is Amos Lee. He is from Philadelphia. He used to be an elementary school teacher. He now plays tunes. He has 3 full-length studio records and a 2-song EP. He headlines tours nationwide and has had his at least one of his songs featured on a popular commercial. And he has a way of making one’s night.

I went to see Amos for the first time at Cannery Ballroom 2 years ago. Through the kindness of strangers, I was able to have a chance meeting with him, which I wrote about here. He was nothing but polite. He chatted and took a photo, and even sent a less-than-cordial tour manager after me to apologize to me for losing his cool. So doing, Amos became one of those artists- one of those people- you remember. Someone whose success you want to support.

I was able to see Amos a second time that year when his fall tour brought him to the 40 Watt Club in Athens. I didn’t get to talk to him then. But I promised myself that if I ever did, I would thank him  for how thoughtful he had been after meeting me.

Last night, I saw Amos for the third time at Mercy Lounge here in Nashville. He played a fabulous set with lots of favorites, some new material, and some cheeky banter peppered in, [Oh, and a Queen cover. Let’s not forget that]. I was right in front of him, but wasn’t sure he had actually seen me at all; he tends to sing with his eyes closed most of the time. When he made a comment at the end of the show about a song being written in 2009, I said [not yelling or anything], “It was a good year.” He looks at me and says “Really?”, as if he knew what 2009 had been like for me. I said “Yeah” with a lot of hesitation, feeling a tiny bit embarrassed and every bit found out. He smiled, pointed right at me and said, “For you, for you, but for me. . .” and continued to set up the song before he finished the second encore with it: it was about learning from the Less Than Great things that life hands to us sometimes. Given that 2009 was actually not that great for me, I appreciated it especially.

It was a great night; I had no complaints. I had nothing to do other than hope for the chance to reconnect.

After Amos left stage, Alicia, Holly and myself stood around “talking set list” with all the other shiny, happy people. It was a sold out crowd, so waiting for a lot of them to close their tabs and clear out seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was.

All of a sudden, Amos came darting out from backstage. He walked right past us and headed toward the back of the room by the bar, where he began talking to some people gathered there. I kept saying to myself “Calm, cool and collected, calm cool and collected”, and before you know it, I had been turned toward him and we were saying hello. He smiled. He is not a teeth-smiler, if you were curious.But he’s one of those people whose eyes help his smile along, so it is easy to tell when he is comfortable and sincere, “My hands are wet,” he said, as he shook mine, “but they’re clean.”

“Good to know,” I said.

Then, I said what I had wanted to say to him for almost two years, “Hey, man. I met you a couple years ago at Cannery. And there was this mean guy that yelled at me, and you told him to apologize, and he did. So, thanks for being a solid dude.”

He said, “No problem,” and smiled. Then he gave me a fist bump.

Realizing I had forgotten an important detail, I said, “My name’s Beth, by the way. What’s yours?”

After he said his name, he realized I was joking and we had a laugh.

He asked me if I had enjoyed the show. I said of course, and thanked him for a great performance.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking some pictures. “Sure, let’s do it,” he said. And he crouched next to me and took a few with the group, after we fumbled around with our cameras to make sure they were on and working. I mumbled something about not knowing how to use my own camera, thinking about how many of his precious seconds I was taking up, and he said “It happens,” in a way that I knew meant he was alright  with waiting. Smile, smile. Snap. Snap. Snap. At some point, I called him back over for a Just-The-Two-of-Us shot to replace the crazy awkward one of me we had taken on our first encounter. I told him I had hated that first one (of me) and he said, “No, no, don’t hate it!” and rushed over to take the replacements.

While we were all chatting, I asked Amos if he missed being a teacher. He laughed and said no, not the paperwork and the bureaucracy. But of course, he missed the kids. I also admitted that even though I said 2009 was a good year, I didn’t really mean it. And we had a moment of griping before the obligatory “2010, baby”! I’m glad there’s at least one other person out there who likes to think the year is still new.

Amos was very kind, attentive, and appreciative. I lost count of how many times he thanked me and my friends for being there. And- just in case you were wondering if he actually did see me from the stage- he said at some point before we parted, “Thank you so much for coming out. Your smile lit me up.”

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that every Happy Cell in my body did a standing backflip when he said that. I cannot explain how happy a simple statement like that can make someone feel. It means “I saw your face”; it means “we connected”, it means “your presence affected my life in a positive way, if only for a few moments”. If I could have picked my jaw up off the floor fast enough, I would have let him know: the sentiment is mutual.

This isn’t really a concert review; this isn’t a set list, a photo montage, or a crappy YouTube video. It’s a story of two people meeting: a meandering dreamer and a former schoolteacher. Somewhere amidst the frantic chatter and the nervous smiles lay the lesson that- just when you think you’ve found your path- you may be sent in another direction entirely; you may be led to even greater heights. It is a reminder that we can make an impression on someone and not know it; and vice versa.

I guess what I’m saying is, we should keep going; we never know where we’ll end up.We should keep smiling; people notice it; people need it. And it is one of the easiest and most rewarding things in the world to give.


“You get right down to the bottom of the barrel,

And then you float back on top. . .”

Thanks, Amos, for your kindness. It is invaluable. May all your Happy Cells get their exercise. Talk to you soon.


2 thoughts on “see and be seen

  1. What a fantastic evening!! And thanks for giving us the back story. I felt like I was right there beside you experiencing the whole thing for myself … minus the music. Oh, yeah, there was the music … (I love his, btw.)

    And, I love this, “I guess what I’m saying is, we should keep going; we never know where we’ll end up.We should keep smiling; people notice it; people need it. And it is one of the easiest and most rewarding things in the world to give.”

    You are one of the most beautiful smiler’s I know. I notice them, and i need them. And you give them so liberally. Thank you.


  2. Wow … “ditto” what Gail said on every point. Also, love performers who hang out with their fans. Keepin’ those happy cells happy! :o)


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