Harmless: One of the best gigs I ever saw was Charles Bradley at FYF in 2016.
It was a bad year. I was a full year out of college, working retail and kicking myself for not having ‘made it’ yet in music. I was in a rocky place with my then-girlfriend, with no signs of improvement.
Like most couples in dire straits, despite seeing the warning signs, we made plans for the future and purchased tickets to an event we knew we wouldn’t attend together. We were just three weeks shy of actually making it to the event, but unfortunately, I took an edible that awoke me at 3 am in a panic that prompted me to break up with her on the spot. A series of embarrassing Instagram stories followed before the close friends’ time. The kind of stuff that makes your friends cringe.
I swore off not going to FYF. We had a thing where we went every year, like a couples retreat. I sold my ticket without giving it a thought and then regretted it rather quickly. What if she showed up? What if all we needed was a break? How could I have been so dumb to let go of my tickets? I missed my chance at rescuing my relationship. So I did what I had to do. I bugged my friends, DIIV, who were playing at the festival, to get me a ticket. The good dudes they are, they obliged, and I was back on track to try and get my ex back.
In the days leading up to the festival, I annoyed my friends with my plan, how I planned to run into her and rekindle, dance, and sing the night away. Kismet, plain and simple. They entertained me about it as much as they could muster. In hindsight, it was clear they knew something I didn’t – that it was over. So we finally make it to the fest, and they hand out these pamphlets with maps, a setlist, and some info on the artist. I remember flipping through it and seeing that Charles Bradley had garnered a reputation for making folks cry during his set. I thought nothing of it but promised myself I’d see the set before I left the fest.
Day one goes by, and I go and meet up with friends. See a lot of sets alone and wonder to myself if I’d run into her. At the time, I had unfollowed her on all social media and felt that if I looked her up, then it wouldn’t be destiny for us to reconnect. I saw Tame Impala and Kendrick but no ex-girlfriend.
Day two rolled around, and I’m more or less giving up. “Love is dumb. No, maybe it isn’t… But it is,” I would mutter as I stumbled from set to set. My best friend, Matt, could tell I needed supervision or I was going to be a bigger mess than I was. He was a Charles Bradley fan and insisted that we go see him. We made our way to the front of the stage and waited for Charles. When he emerged, it was like seeing an angel. He was effervescent and had this glow to him as if he was the only thing in the world. He looked at the crowd in a way that made everyone feel as though he was about to sing to each one of us individually. He made it seem like it was just him and you, heartbeats in sync, pain to pain.
I locked my eyes on him and crossed my arms in total rejection of the experience he was presenting. He made the crowd crumble under the massive weight of his voice and band. I remember shuffling closer and closer to the stage, leaving my friend a bit behind me so that I could feel that energy. We made eye contact for a moment as he sang his cover of Changes, and I could swear it was then that my heart truly finally broke. I wasn’t going to get back with my ex; no way, it was over, and Charles made it clear. With my arms still crossed, I wept like a baby for the remainder of his set. Occasionally, I’d shake my head down to let the tears waterfall into my arms, the same way that a kid makes pools with his body in the shower. I looked around and noticed that everyone else was crying. That pamphlet did not lie.
As Charles finished his set, my friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was okay. I turned around to face him, and he knew. He asked me if I wanted to stay, and at that moment, I overheard John Father Misty sing about “White Jesus” and felt like it was time to go. We exited FYF and got gifted some promotional M&Ms. I remember sitting in the passenger seat with the candy in hand. I had completely forgotten to look for my ex, it was too late, and we had left the fest. I asked my best friend if she had even come, and he said, “No, I think she sold her ticket a couple of days ago.” I didn’t laugh; we just drove away.
Harmless for Charles Bradley: Harmless’ “Rosie” is out now. He performs at the Echoplex on September 13.
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