We sit in the car, I grip the back of the front seat. I peer over Jason’s shoulder to look at the speedometer. We’re going 110 MPH. I turn and see the trail of dust following us, dimly illuminated by the car’s running lights. All it would take is to clip a tree or a deer to wander out in front of us and the night could easily be ruined. In the distance, lights shine through the top of the treeline.
We make our way into the small field filled with cars. I notice a few of the cars from the skate park. The barn is in surprisingly good shape for being as old as it is. The bright crimson paint has chipped and faded over time, but I like the worn-in look. The walls stand at least twenty-five feet high and probably close to fifty feet long.
Jason shuts off the car, and I get out after Cole. The air smells of cigarettes and cheap beer. Over to the side sits an old RV with four shaggy-haired, unkempt guys laughing, as if at a stand-up comedy show with Chris Rock. A burly, broad-shouldered man stands at the door, sporting a flannel, biker boots, a ZZ-Top-esque beard, and some gnarly neck tats. His face resembles that of Conor McGregor in a way. He stands there like a statue, arms crossed, and ready for any wise guy that tries to pull a fast one.
Cole leads us up to him, and he pulls out $30 in cash, as well as two cards. The bouncer takes the money and marks off small boxes on the cards. He glances across all of our faces in a rather intimidating manner before sidestepping to let us pass. Suddenly, he puts his hand on my shoulder, making my heart skip a beat out of shock.
“This your first time?” he asks.
“Yessir.” I reply.
“Be safe, kid. Don’t get hurt in there,” he says with a smirk.
He reaches into his back pocket and hands me a card like Cole had shown him. As I look down to read it, Cole pulls my arm and drags me in through the door. I quickly shove it into my front pocket where my wallet is.
The first open area is basically a lounge. Over forty people crowd this space. Some are at the bar over to the right side. Others are sitting around drinking, smoking, or just talking. In the corner I see a guy with three large boxes on a little table. A cardboard sign with “Merch! $15 per shirt!” on it is duct taped to the table.
“I’ll be right back,” I say to Cole.
I walk over to the table. In each box sits stacks of t-shirts. The one furthest to the left has gray shirts with Rockwell Rockers across it. Obviously a local band. Their design is pretty bland, with their name in a simple font with clip art instruments surrounding it. Next up is a black shirt that is running a bit lower in quantity than the first. Must be more popular. The design is more interesting, with Antifa in big bold letters, surrounded by red roses with sharp thorns. Definitely better than the first shirt. In the final box, it’s not only shirts. Wristbands flood the sides of it. I pick one of them up. It’s thin and black, with the words Bad Love Makes Black Hearts. I almost chuckle to myself with how over-the-top with edginess it is. Their shirt is also black, with bright red lettering with the same statement across it in an edgy font to match. Not gonna lie, it’s the best looking one of the three.
It’s the merch salesman. I turn towards him.
“If you buy their shirt, you get a wristband for free.”
I take out my billfold and remove a twenty dollar bill. I take a size large from the pile, picking up a wristband as well.
“Thanks, man,” I say to him.
“No problem. Don’t lose an eye in there!” He answers, smirking.
As I walk away, I see Jason motioning to me by the entrance to the main area where the music is coming from. I quickly walk over to him, sliding my new wristband on my left wrist.
“Who’s playing in there right now, Jason?” I inquire.
“Uh… Rockers I think is what I heard some dude say. I’m not really sure. They just finished playing a really bad metal version of “Country Roads”.” he replies.
“Man, I wish I could’ve heard that. Oh well. I’m gonna head in. You coming?” I ask.
“Yeah, let me go get Cole.” he says.
“Where is he?” I ask.
“Getting food over at the snack bar.” he answers.
I look over at the opposite corner from the merch table. Cole is being handed an entire carton full of chips, nachos, and what looks like bottles of soda. He starts over towards us with his assortment.
“Hey dudes, check out the haul!” he exclaims.
Jason and I look into his box of heavenly delights.
“Well don’t be shy guys, grab a bag and a bottle!”
Jason grabs a Mountain Dew Code Red and a bag of Funyuns out from the box. I reach in after and take a bottle of A&W root beer, followed by an irresistible bag of Bugles. Cole gladly rips open a bag of nacho cheese Doritos. By the time he goes back in after his Mountain Dew, half his bag of Doritos have already been devoured.
After we plow through our food, we jump into the mass of sweaty guys making their way back into the main stage area. I overhear some guys talking about the next band being a couple of young guys. Maybe I’ll recognize them from school, or from the bowling alley.
We move up as close to the front as we can. Luckily the guys in the two rows ahead of us are just about our height, so I can still see the band. Suddenly the lights come on and shine down, revealing the instruments on the stage. Four guys walk out, each going to their instrument. When they turn towards the audience, I can’t believe my eyes.
D.J. and Adam are on the stage. I don’t recognize the two guitar players, but they look about my age. D.J. had always mentioned being in a “garage band”, but I never took him seriously. Half the shit he says is so far out in left field that it’s hard to decipher what’s fact and what’s filler. To his credit, he’d definitely make a good comedian.
The sounds of fast punk rock fill the room. Cole and I jump up and down, violently head banging and throwing our hands up into the air. The whole crowd is basically a huge mosh pit. In the very middle, a circle guys start running around in a circle. The air smells like a weird blend of pot, beer, and sweat. It’s kind of beautiful.
D.J. and Adam clearly practice a lot. They’re always on tempo throughout the entire song. Their guitarists aren’t bad either. Watching them having fun makes me wish I was in a band. Sometimes I write songs during lunch and study hall, but I’ve never actually done anything with them. It looks like so much fun to be up on stage doing what you love and others loving it as well. Such a beautiful chemistry.
After their fourth song, D.J. runs up to the mic before exiting the stage.
“Thank you all for coming out! We’re The Blackhearts. Have a great night!”
After a brief break of about ten minutes, Antifa sets up and finishes out the rest of the show. Their music is super loud, with lyrics commentating on themes such as anarchy, and rising up from whatever is holding you down. Basically pure mosh-pit heaven.
After Antifa finishes their set, the three of us gang back up to head out. Sweat drips off my nose and trickles down my neck. My hair and clothes are soaked. I look over at Jason and Cole. They are both in the same boat. All I can smell now are our newly produced cases of B.O.
As we walk approach the exit of the barn, I notice D.J. and Adam over to the side talking with some fans. I approach them, giving them each a handshake and telling them how much I enjoyed their performance. Adam notices me wristband that I put on earlier.
“Dude, did you buy some of our merch?” he asks.
“Of course I did!” I exclaim.
“Thanks so much man! It really helps us out a lot. We’re trying to buy some program to help us actually put out some music, not that it’ll do us much good.” he says.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“Well, we still don’t have a singer yet. It sucks. We practiced with a guy that messaged us on Facebook, but he had a country accent and that was not about to happen.” he explains.
“I could totally be your singer!” I jokingly reply.
“Ha, yeah right. If you want, you can stop by whenever. We usually practice every night at around 6.” he offers.
“Okay, I’ll have to check it out.” I reply.
“Right on. Thanks for coming, Kyle.” he says.
“No problem, see you around.” I answer.
I walk back to the exit and go out to find Cole and Jason. A haze of smoke occupies the moonlit area. All I can smell is cannabis. Eventually I find the car, and hop in. The overhead light illuminates as I open the car door. Cole looks back at me with red eyes, and begins to speak with long pauses in between each sentence.
“Hey man. Where you been? We’ve been waiting here for, like, hours.” he asks.
“Dude, shut the hell up. You’ve been in here for like five minutes and you’re already stoned out of your mind.” I retaliate.
“No way man. I haven’t smoked the whole time.” he replies.
He slumps over, staring at the blinking light coming off of the plugged-in phone charger. I hear him faintly go “whoa” to himself, followed by a slight chuckle. Yep, he’s long gone. Jason looks back at me in the rear-view mirror and smirks. Even he knows.
“Did he?” I ask Jason.
“Nah, but he ate a half bag of brownies from this guy in a tie-dye shirt.” he responds.
“What a dumbass,” I say.
Cole fixates his attention on the condensation forming on the passenger side window. He slowly runs his finger across it, making a line.
“Are you guys seeing this?” he mutters with amazement.
Jason and I do our best to contain our laughter.
“What should we do with him?” I ask.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him,” Jason replies.
We drive back down the same dirt road from which we came. On the way home, we talk about our favorite moments, with little input from Cole. Jason drops me off at the edge of my driveway. I thank Jason for a great time, and begin my journey back to the house. I check my phone to see the time. 3:23 AM. I turn on my flashlight and walk back down to my escape tree.
I climb up extra carefully, not wanting a repeat of what happened earlier. Hoisting myself up, I slide the window back open. With a swift leap, I make it back inside. The warmth is a nice welcome compared to the freezing wind outside. The television still plays, and everything appears to be just how I left it. I toss my new shirt over the top of my door. After that, I change into my pajamas: a tank top and old basketball shorts. My alarm is reset for 6:00 AM. I lay down, and within minutes I’m fast asleep.