Jason Webley gave us such a gift this evening, a beautiful, marvelous experience, far beyond what anyone could call a concert.
Not to knock the concert, which was a blasting cap of a show, topping out almost everything else I’ve ever seen, (literally dancing in the aisles, jumping up and down levels of crazy amazing, that show. It just did. not. quit. ravishing. Melodies and shouting and poetry and snow made of feathers and surprise guest performances and identical twins and home-made instruments thrown into the audience and.. wow!), but the truly incredible part came after – when he silently walked off the stage and out of the hall, at the very end of the music, his fist tightly wrapped in the strings of a massive bouquet of giant red balloons, and swept almost the entire crowd into the street with him, everyone singing the last refrain of the last song over and over as the band played everyone out.
As we walked, hundreds strong, still singing, all the way to the water, down a cobblestone hill, under an overpass, over an overpass, Rafael and I arm in arm, up at the very front, sharing smiles with Jason, the leaders of a surreal parade that trailed four blocks long, thick enough to block traffic, the tune still soared with every step, as if the song kept our feet from touching the ground, as if the song was what kept us enchanted, a spell that he made but that we created, until we finally reached a smooth stone beach where a yacht was anchored, lit only with candles, fifty feet from shore.
He motioned us all to stop, then, and began to dance quietly where the shore sloped into the waves, gesturing to us with the great red balloons, a poem in motion, throwing our attention to the dazzling, full moon, then whimsically shifting from joyful pose to joyful pose, his heart bursting for us as he was painted with the flashes of a hundred cameras, like a strange, moving art fresco at the side of the sea. Eventually he paused at the top of some rocks, every inch the grand jester, both the king and the fool, suffused so thoroughly with glittering exultation that his face was a miracle, and finally began to say goodbye, certain, I suppose, that everyone had arrived.
He continued the act without saying a word, tying his treasured trademark hat to the balloons and, with a series of Chaplin-esque gestures, releasing them bumping into the sky. He lay on the rocks, watching them go, the red of the balloons weirdly lit by the moon, the saddest, most happy, fiercest gentle creature that ever lived, all the while as we, his crowd, kept singing, until they were nearly out of sight. Some people cried. (He might have too. It’s hard to say, even though I was close, one of the very front line.) Next he began to strip, unbuttoning his shirt, peeling off his pants, unhooking his shoes from his feet, then he waved to us, we the hundreds, crammed onto the beach, spilling out, farther back, still singing, some stuck all the way back on the street, and we waved back, felicity incarnate, and many shouted, “goodbye!” and “until next time!”. He looked at everyone, posing as he did so again for our cameras, as if it had all been rehearsed, the camera flashes picking him out for our eyes, then turned, satisfied, and bravely waded into the cold, black sea, the blackest thing, the coldest, and swam for the boat.
And that was that. Except that it wasn’t. Telling you what happened doesn’t explain what it felt like, how extraordinary it was, how perfect and clever. I could tell you how we cheered when he reached the yacht, how the crew that eventually emerged was dressed all in theater blacks or what it was like the police arrived to break us up or why my shoes got soaked or even more about the astoundingly good concert, but these are details and, in a way, unimportant. We were transported, as truly if we slipped sideways through space in that theater and briefly inhabited another world only a few molecules away, but happier in every respect. That was the magic. We were there as audience, but we were part of it and essential, all of our voices required, all of our eyes and hearts and minds.