bless ur heart
There is a notion that D.C. is a certain way. An easily recognizable type of person who works in a trendy industry starts going to eat at a beloved neighborhood institution. Before long, that person and their trendy-industry friends move into that neighborhood. Soon, places that only took cash for as long as anyone can remember are overrun by chip readers designed for cards named after precious gems and metals. A year later, the restaurant is gone, but the "immigrants" remain, to the detriment of the previous residents.
It's sort of the same with concerts and concert venues. In the beginning, the independent—the grungier and grimier, the better—is the ideal to aspire to. But it's pushed aside for a shiny new temple to processed pop. And then the dive bar next door closes to make way for a place where bartenders call themselves mixologists, whatever the fuck that means.
It's even become a problem with cultural events like Pride. Things become less about the message, more about the branding.
To escape the crush, it helps to get away for a night—to step outside of yourself and experience something unique and new. That's how I wound up at a serpentwithfeet concert in a venue no bigger than one of the overpriced luxury apartments that push poorer residents out of the neighborhood.
There were a few mixed drinks, but no cocktails. No slim-fit J. Crew suits worn straight from the office. None of those beards. It was a transformative experience. Hell, it was rhythmic! There was dancing—and not that drunken dry-humping you used to see at frat parties. People sang along like they were an accompanying church choir, and held a genuine dialogue with the performer, bargaining for more songs to be played.
This isn't the D.C of the first paragraph. It's a place of empowerment and unity. It's an arena where everyone's on equal footing, even—especially—those who are usually cast out or silenced. But in the midst of everything, two people stick out like a pair of opposable-but-sore thumbs. They're the kind of people who shut down the restaurants...which is to say that they are more like me than I wish to admit. Then one half of this cisgender heterosexual couple says to the other, "No, I discovered this."
There's the problem. For a certain type of person, one often found in America's bustling metropolitan centers, there's a high value placed on collecting experiences—especially ones that your peers haven't collected yet. That trip to the art museum to see the new exhibit becomes something to hold over a friend's head. And a serpentwithoutfeet concert becomes an opportunity to gloat about having co-signed something first. It's classic manifest destiny; simply by being there, you feel like you own that experience.
Fuck that shit! This shouldn't be about you discovering something. It should be about everyone who chose to be present that night coming together and recognizing that this is more than a concert venue—it's a home. This venue is small enough to attract niche crowds for niche shows. The crowds value having a home that empowers them, and the artists do too. That value goes double for artists like serpentwithfeet that have a strong identity and message. A concert like that becomes something for the people who attend to rally around. Thus the dialogue, the heartfelt dancing, the shared rhythm.
I value being invited—well, admitted—to this kind of home, but I also recognize and respect that it is ultimately not for me. That's why the "discoverers" are so infuriating; they miss that part of the message altogether. They infiltrated other people's existence rather than joining in the experience as equals. So fuck them. Identity and community are not things you tack on your wall like a poster or laugh about to your friends.
It was their home before it ever "wafted across [your] soul." Or, as serpentwithoutfeet said about his home of Baltimore, “I don’t know about y’all, but I’m from the city, not the county.” It rings true for the people infiltrating D.C. as well: No matter how long or often you visit the city, you will always be from the county. These homes are not yours.