Thursday, July 19, 2012

Justin Utley Live (Camp Pride)

In 2010, I lost my boyfriend of 11 years to pneumonia. I was lost and hurt and all alone. I turned to my friends for support but in the wee hours of the night when I had talked too long or when I had imposed one step too far, I found solace in music. A medium shared by multitudes that made me part of something larger than myself gave me purpose. It allowed someone to express what I was thinking or feeling in a manner that I was incapable and in a lot of cases they did it more eloquently and at times, succently. I started grabbing anything new to help keep myself busy and to give my overactive brain a rest. One of these new artists that would come to mean more than I would ever know was Justin Utley. His music, in part has been the soundtrack to my life the past couple of years. There have been other artists that have added their voices but Justin's has been prevalent throughout.

His manner of delivery, his ability to express feelings that I didn't even have names for and in many cases; his talent for making a bad situation look not as grim were the qualities that I quickly became engrossed with. I purchaed his 2005 debut album, Runaway and listened to it more times than I could count. The songs became friends that would do all the taking so that I didn't have to talk anymore. So you couldn't understand how estatic I was to find out that he was releasing another album. I spent hours writing letters (to no avail) to the Pride Committee in Nashville for 2 years trying to get him booked as an entertainer at Nashville Pride. I followed his career. I watched the rare live performance he would post on Youtube and he became a tremendous part of my life.

When Nothing This Real was released I was estatic over the prospect of hearing more about where he was in his life, musically as it were. I again, spent hours getting to know each and every song on the album like it was an old friend, the only difference now was that I was an aspiring music blogger and I had stopped being miserable on a daily basis. I took to the keyboard to write about this album and to my surprise, the words came out quckly and decisively.  I have become a fan of not only his music but his message as well.  His story is one of hardship and triumph over adversity at all costs.  I've written about it (Here) so I won't rehash  it again.  Listening to this album is so personal because Justin doesn't hide anything.  If you actually listen to the songs, he shares so much of himself that you feel like you've been with him as he's taken each step of his journey.

There was no way in the world that I was going to miss seeing him perform in Nashville when he came to be an entertainer/mentor/advocate/guest speaker for Camp Pride so I grabbed up my best friend, Charles, and we traveled the 2 hours south to be part of what could have been a once in a lifetime event.  What is Camp Pride?  It is a week long summer camp for GLBT Undergraduate students to come together and learn how to become leaders in their community and be able to take new tools and resources back to their campus to aid in the formation of student groups and to help ensure continued equality for GLBT students.  This year there were approximately 60 universities represented from across the country.  For more information click here.

We got to Vanderbilt a bit early because we wanted to find the Sarratt Cinema and once we found it we just hung out until the show was going to start.  Justin walked in with one of the faculty members, Shane, from Camp Pride and noticed where we were sitting.  Charles tells me that something amazing happened at this moment but I think I was swept up to appreciate it the way he did.  When Justin saw us, he immediately recognized me and stopped to talk to us.  This is the part that amazed Charles, a nationally known singer/songwriter knew who I was on sight.  We talked for just a minute and he went in to start getting ready.  After a little while, we went into the theater and watched him sound check.  We talked to other faculty from Camp Pride and get a better understanding of what they were working to accomplish and I felt truly inspired and wished that my college had an organization that I could have taken pride in.

Justin took the stage and what you learn extremely early is that he is the most genuinely humble and down to earth human being you will ever meet.  There is nothing about him that comes off as pompous or arrogant or phony.  Between each and every song, he stopped to talk about his experiences and gave background on each song.  His stage presence is so huge that even though it was just him a guitar and a piano the stage never felt empty.  His stories are so personal and he shares them with such unabashed honesty you are immediately brought in and made to feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself.  He has a smile that happens so easily and frequently the room just lights up with the sheer joy of it.  Watching him tell the stories or play the songs, you can see every ounce of heart and soul that he has put into them.  They aren't just songs, they are a living, breathing part of who he is, who he was and in some cases who you want to be.

He played 8 of his own songs and a Tears for Fears cover ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World") and interacted with the audience like he'd been doing it for years.  I've always thought that if you go to a live show and the artist sounds like they do in a recording, it's the sign of a true artist. No studio magic, no trickery just art.  He not only sounded like his recordings, he was better live.  You can hear subtle nuances in his voice where there is more emotion in different parts of the songs.  Every song was awesome and there wasn't a moment that I didn't enjoy.

After the show, he went over to the Rec Building where he hung out with the students and talked some more and was just happy to be there.  Never once in the entire evening did he make anyone feel put out or insignificant (even though he had a horrible travel day).  Everyone he met was important and deserving of his time.  We talked about some of his songs and he shared more stories about them which gave me a whole new understanding of who he was/is and where he came from.  Those are his stories to tell and I'll let him do that.  I think the thing that stood out the most to me about the entire event was that I went into it being a Justin Utley fan but when I left, I felt like family.

Thank you to Justin for one of the most amazing nights I have had in my life and for being a continuing source of inspiration.  Thank you Campus Pride for the amazing things you're doing with the future leaders of our community.