When we got to the arena, there were signs posted apologizing that the Night Sweats wouldn't be able to play, and thanking Grace VanderWaal for stepping in to support the tour.
Before I talk about the young Miss VanderWaal, the reason for this blog post, I have to tip my hat to my husband who shrugged, smiled, and stayed as excited for the show as if one of his favorites were still playing. Kidney failure and losing 100% vision will turn many people bitter, but my husband has never lost his love of life. In fact, I think it's increased.
OK, back to Grace.
Before last night, I'd heard only one song by her, but I'd heard it a lot. She's featured in the Google "2016 Year in Search" ad below. For over a year, I taught an essay lesson focused on ad analysis, and this was one of the ads most commonly chosen by my students. Grace's "Light the Sky" is the first sound of hope in this ad, and even after reading hundreds of essays and rewatching the ad over and over to inform my grading of these essays, I never got tired of the moment her voice breaks the silent pause that turns the tide of the ad.
So even though I don't know her work well, I was happy for the chance to know it better.
And then there was her band on the stage - three adult musicians rallying the crowd to usher this tiny 15-year-old out to hop around with that ukulele in her glitter eyeshadow and flowered dress, singing in this otherworldly voice that was at once knowing and vulnerable. They made her look older. They contoured her cheeks and put a bow-tied scarf around her twiggish neck, and she looked like she might actually have the life experience - almost - to back up her grown-up singing.
And then she spoke. She was as self-conscious and uncertain as any kid would be in front of tens of thousands of people. She was sweet and grateful and stumbling when she spoke, and didn't know what to say past thank you, and I hope you like it. And I realized she's younger than my daughter. And it kind of broke my heart.
It's not that I wanted her not to have this beautiful world of possibility. It's that I kept thinking, does she ever get to hang out with other kids and just be a kid? Does she get to have sleepovers and go to the movies and have to figure out how to pool the fifty cents she found in the couch cushions with her friends to order pizza? Does she get to hate school except for that one class? Will she be able to date without the world scrutinizing her as she figures herself out?
I found myself worried that the music industry would feed her uppers and deny her food to keep her peppy and thin. I found myself praying that someone was looking out for this sweetie, the way I'd want someone to look out for my daughter.
I examined the band with parental suspicion. Maybe I was projecting (I'm sure I was projecting), but I think they felt protective over her, too. And I watched the crowd - you couldn't find a more loving, considerate crowd than the one at a Florence + the Machine concert, and I felt grateful for this tiny person that she was singing for people who were for her, even those of us who came to see someone else. Everyone wanted her to succeed. When she stumbled through lyrics to one of her new songs, nobody flinched, and we cheered all the harder when she opened it up and made it perfect in the next verse.
There's a lot of mess in the world. We're all so fragile. But maybe there's hope. If people like Florence Welch and Grace VanderWaal keep drawing crowds, and if each of us in those crowds live out the message of hope that these ladies bring, maybe someday the world will be a safe place for talented children to share their light. God, look over this little girl and her big, beautiful voice.
More from Grace here: https://www.gracevanderwaal.com/
And more from Florence here: https://florenceandthemachine.net/
Also, Get Well Soon wishes to Nathaniel Rateliff.