Being Out Amongst People Again: A Review

Sat May 01 2021

So you’ve been missing live music, have ya? It seemed a cruelly specific pandemic punishment at first, until the profundity of the tragedy unfolding began to dawn on us. The world was on fire last year; there was too much to process, so much that we’ll probably never even be able to process. In our isolation, we missed our chance, yet in order to process as much as we could, isolation was the ideal condition.

I was worried that such prolonged isolation, and more specifically, immersion in the unreality of online life, was going to be a haze that we might struggle to see through when we were face to face again. As it turned out, I think I was dead wrong.

There’s no way to know, of course, but I got to look into a lot of eyes and even catch glimpses of full faces, and everyone…seemed like themselves to me! I felt like all the excess anxiety melted away almost instantly when Jen and I approached Cactus Club and started searching the crowd for familiar faces. IT HAD BEEN FOREVER. But it felt…normal. In fact aside from the masks and being outside in the freezing cold when the warm and inviting Cactus Club was RIGHT THERE, it could’ve been any old show. Johanna Rose, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, SistaStrings, you couldn’t hope for a better First Show Back.

Being inside Cactus Club (for the restroom), was surreal. The Kristina Rolander stage backdrop we all remember is still up. Otherwise you’d hardly recognize the place. There’s an entirely new glow. It was intoxicating being in there. Rather than feeling empty, it felt like a welcoming home for just a person at a time.

There was some altercation involving neighbors across the street. Obnoxious beeping of horns. Acoustic music at 8 p.m. on a Friday, a grave affront. Cops came. Not much seemed to come of it. After the music, we got to watch a short film about Johanna’s treehouse life in Vermont. The film was a good reminder that a simple life based in the natural world is still possible. Like when we were kids. We could still live like that if we wanted to.

Or we can nurture the community we’ve got right here. I’m not going to say “it felt like no time had passed”; rather, I think we all knew we’ve been living through the same basic trauma. Even though we’ve been apart, this can be a source of immense empathy. Then there were the conversations. Slipping back into that mode. Telling each other our stories. It’s funny, there’s no pressure to catch up any more, we’re all way too far behind for that. Whatever might pop up will be sufficient. I’m much better at listening than talking anyway.

In fact I love nothing more than listening. But last night at Cactus wasn’t really about listening. Missing shows wasn’t about missing shows. It was the people I was missing. And although I felt that in a sense the reconnection was almost automatic, I also know we all have work to do. I’m not trying to impinge on anyone’s comfort level but once you reach the right level (please get vaccinated people) I would encourage you to get out there and spend time with people, ESPECIALLY OUTDOORS. We all need it really really really badly I think.

I’m going to leave you with this Kae Tempest song, because it’s been running through my head ever since last night. As with the words of any great writer, the meaning changes as you live through more shit; I thought I had a sense of this song back in 2019 when it came out, and then I thought I’d found an even closer interpretation after I read their book On Connection last year, but actually I had no idea what the song was about until last night. Sure, sure I’ve got it right now.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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