Turns Out, I Would Risk My Life For A Grade by Olive Riley

For one of my classes I was assigned a piece on a pop-punk band that had started a tour around the United States. I had never heard of the band, or of the venue for that matter. Neither of those things surprised me because I am not an avid pop-punk fan, and the music venue is in a town an hour north of where I live. So I thought there should be no reason to worry about what I might get myself into. This was my last journalism class, and I didn’t want one of the last memories of this degree to be me half-heartedly working on an assignment that I had no passion for. Plus, I had done fairly well in all of my courses; I wanted to continue that pattern if I could. I was going to do my damnedest to make the experience of completing this piece something that would equate to more emotion in the final piece.

The day of the concert I looked up the address of the venue, but found nothing. I thought there may have been a chance the owners were old-school and didn’t believe in using a website; I wasn’t sure what the pop-punk crowd was into. I opted to call them instead. A man picked up and I asked where the venue was. Instead of giving me the address he asked who I was. Strange. I told him I was a student trying to cover a band playing there, and that I had gotten his phone number from one of my classmates. He asked me if I was the police. I told him no, and he begrudgingly gave me the address. This worried me a little bit, but not enough to deter me from going. I did the thing that all people who get killed in horror movies do; I justified everything creepy that happened by concluding it was just coincidence.   

I roped my boyfriend into going with me to help me lug my camera equipment, and soon, I found out he would also function as personal security. As we neared the venue, the streetlights grew fewer and farther between. There was no sign of a music venue anywhere. That’s when we realized the venue was a house we had driven by at least four times, tucked in a woodsy area with a long driveway. The only light was the one at the end of the driveway. As we turned in I was sure my name was going to show up in a missing persons headline and eventually I’d be known as the idiotic try-hard who literally gave her life for a grade. I hoped at least my eulogy would embellish my scholarly attitude and work ethic as how I went down.

The driveway narrowed as we pulled into an open lot at the back of the house. A few people stood around in a dimly lit garage covered in leaves and decorated with a few old couches. I saw a lighter flash, illuminating the outline of a man’s face, and smoke soon filled the air. Someone hastily approached my car and asked who we were; this time, I was contemplating if I should say I was a lost stranger or not. Before I could speak my boyfriend introduced us and secured our stay. We pulled around behind the garage, where we were told to park, and turned to look at each other with wide eyes. We were surrounded by an amalgam of old, beat-up cars, and as I looked out the window behind him I just saw more dark woods.  I apologized for bringing him to a “middle of nowhere” that perfectly resembled the final death scene in a horror movie. He reminded me he loved me and there was a pizza with his name on it if we made it out alive.

I got out of the car, my hands shaking. I reminded myself that I had to find the passion in my work, and I went up to the only girl I saw there and introduced myself. She was traveling with the band as some sort of promotions employee and told me they were in the garage. I went in to introduce myself and found three people around my age and a bearded man who could have been sixteen or fifty. They all looked fairly normal, but it was the surroundings that scared me. There were saws hung on the wall, the couches were covered in black trash bags and sunken in, and everyone was drinking out of bottles covered by brown paper bags. It took me a good ten minutes to get their full attention, but eventually they decided to give in and let me tell them why I was there. They all snickered amongst themselves when they saw that I was going to be interviewing them. In their defense, I had shown up in my extremely puffy parka and stuck out like a sore thumb among everyone who had thoughtfully dressed for the occasion in a more pop-punk style outfit. When the interview finally took place they gave me a hell of a time.

Halfway through the interview I saw a man approach and start to chat up my boyfriend. He introduced himself and I learned he was the owner who I had talked to on the phone, and apparently, he still wasn’t convinced we weren’t the police. Honestly, it was kind of flattering to me that he thought I was old enough to even be a police officer. I still get carded when I go to a rated R movie.

When I finished my interview, I went to join my boyfriend and this man. His long hair was blowing out of his ponytail from the wind whipping him in the face as he spoke to us, but he didn’t seem to mind much. I thanked him for letting us come to his home, and his words slurred as told me he loved having company. At this time he did inform me that I would have to wait for quite a while before the band I wanted to get footage of because there were two acts before them. Someone across the yard yelled for his assistance, and as he walked away he told me to make myself comfortable because we would be seeing the show in the garage. At this moment I promised myself that come Monday morning, I was going to cuss out the kid who assigned me this piece in class. I sat in the owner’s freezing cold garage and waited an hour and a half for the show to start, to get the footage I needed.

The hour wait went by fairly quickly as people streamed in and introduced themselves to my boyfriend and me. My cold feet were the only complaint; the cold encroached on their space and sent spikes of pain throughout them. Luckily, the people around us made for both great people watching and conversation. All of these people were what I would say the stereotypical pop-punk listeners from movies look like: darker clothing, unkempt hair, and even a few piercings and tattoos. They were so welcoming and willing to share their lives with me; I started to feel as though I was brought into some sort of community just by being there. Everyone was incredibly welcoming even though I looked like I was about to go sledding instead of attend a concert.

Thirty minutes before the show started we realized the crowd was thinning, and we didn’t know where people were going. The owner had been drinking a fair amount by this point and was extremely friendly. He told us we could go inside where the show really was. Against my better judgment, we entered his home. His living room had been converted into the “main stage” area with drums and mics set up. I turned the corner and entered his kitchen, where I met his very unfriendly pet lizard who was trying his damnedest to get a good night’s rest, but the strangers in the house were making too much of a fuss for him; honestly, I would’ve been unfriendly too.  The kitchen led to a bathroom and another living room where the bands had set up their merchandise. I heard someone say they loved “house shows,” which was apparently where I was. I walked back through the house to the living room, waving at all of the new friends I had made, and sat in the corner with my boyfriend and waited for the music to start.

Once the show started, I found out there were going to be three acts, meaning I would have to stay at least two hours to get the footage I needed. I looked around and noticed people with bottles of alcohol. I remembered the bottle of wine my boyfriend and I bought for after the show, and knew I needed it immediately. Little sanity and few calm feelings were left within my being. I was feeling the pressure to do well on this assignment mix with my social anxiety. Wine was the only thing that would help with both of these problems. Plus, I figured I needed something to help loosen me up so I could enjoy the experience.

Turns out I was right, the wine helped immensely with my anxiety. The music sounded a hell of a lot better, too. As the night went on, people around us amped up their alcohol to an assortment of drugs. We were offered a few, but I kindly declined and kept on with my wine, thankful that my boyfriend had agreed to let me finish the whole bottle.

When the act I was supposed to film came on stage, I was sufficiently drunk and worried about the quality of the video I was about to take, so I just let the camera roll. I climbed chairs and budged in front of people. I ended up in the front at one point when they were singing a particularly intimate song and put my camera down to listen. Their music was so heartfelt, and every person in the room grinned from ear to ear. I knew they were all at least a little drunk, but there was something about the house show that brought us all together, putting us in a euphoric state.

I went back to class excited to share my story and footage, but my computer had other plans. I was fortunate to share my experience, but the footage was ruined. I had plugged it into audio enhancing software and stripped all of the sound from the video. This meant that the video would never happen. Ever. Because the assignment centered around the video, it would have to die out and would most likely not reflect well on my grade. It was somehow a poetic ending; absolutely nothing went as expected, from being randomly selected to cover the band to the final grade. At least no one ever had to write my eulogy.