"I NEED A TICKET."
Ever been to a concert and seen the folks holding homemade and hand-written signs like that?
Their eyes are like a bar drink, mixed with one part hope and two shots of desperation. They write their signs with the penmanship of the underdog, caught, as the song goes, between a head full of doubt and a road full of promise.
"NEED 1 (ONE) TICKET."
Ever been in their fraught shoes? Hoping, praying, that life or God or music karma presents that one extra ticket that you can afford ... before the show starts?
Friday night, dozens of folks orbited the streets and parking lots around the Chattanooga Choo Choo clutching such signs. It presented an ironic image, as if trying they were trying to buy a ticket on a train that no longer runs.
But the show they wanted was at Track 29, the new club behind the Choo Choo. Headlining Friday night was The Avett Brothers, a band so popular that on the morning tickets went on sale, they sold out not in minutes, but seconds.
"Twenty-seven seconds," one woman told me Friday. (She had a ticket).
That's why I found Angela Rothrock and her husband, Tim -- who live in Winston-Salem, N.C. -- on the street corner Friday night, each holding a "Need Tickets" sign.
"We had four tickets, but gave them to our two sons and their friends," said Angela. "We forfeited our tickets for them. That's love."
Amen. Or, to paraphrase a line Scott Avett would tell me later that night: I take to that notion.
I would learn three lessons during Friday night's concert, and the first came from the Rothrocks.
Sometimes, love means you lose your own ticket.
"Three words that became hard to say," the Avetts sang that night, "I and love and you."
I've been on the street corner before, holding up my own handmade sign. It's humbling. Keeps you honest. Down to earth.
Lesson two: Be true to your roots.
"I knew these guys when they were playing in bars for 10 people," said Matt Nooga, local jewelry designer and taxidermist who traveled with the Avetts on tour years ago.
Pause here, and remember that: The Avett Brothers, whose shows now sell out in less than the amount of time it takes to read this sentence and the next, once played concerts for 10 or so people.
I know a soccer mom who can fit more folks than that in her minivan.
"Come on," said Nooga, after the show. I stuck by him like a tattoo, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting on the tour bus, across from the two Avett brothers and the hippest cellist this side of Rick Rubin's LA studio: Joe Kwon.
They were exhausted. Remember the old image of post-concert rock star debauchery? Not here. They were peeling fruit. A box of organic cereal nearby, next to bottled water. I think I saw a warm bottle of Chardonnay, but can't be sure.
Led Zeppelin they aren't.
But generous, gracious, down-to-earth? To a fault. They and Nooga talked about the old days, West Coast motorcycles and some crazy guy named Albert who bought his own shrimp boat. I was the odd man out, but they treated me like an old friend.
It made me think of the Rothrocks and the last time I saw them.
It wasn't on the street corner. It was inside Track 29, moments before the show.
They'd gotten in.
"A lady came by with two extra tickets," Angela said, a 250-watt smile on her face. "It's grace. It's a blessing."
Funny how life works. Friday night, I was reminded again of the deep surprises it brings. One minute, you're out in the cold, needing tickets. Or playing to a bar with more empty bottles than people.
Then, the next thing you know, the lights go up. You're on the front row. And the place is packed.
Kind of makes your heart skip a beat or two. Maybe even like a kick drum.
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.