Going to Shows Alone: A Roundtable on Living (And Partying) with Social Anxiety

unnamedIllustration by Emily D.

Lorena Cupcake (Editor of Store Brand Soda / Social Media at Do312): Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Most of the people reading this probably know this, but my name is Cupcake, and I help run Store Brand Soda. I’ve been going to shows since my face got smushed against Courtney Love’s boob at age 11, and I also am diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Salvation Emily (Editor of Store Brand Soda): Hey I’m Salvation Emily. I got a late but enthusiastic start on going to shows in my early 20s and have been at it for the last 10 years!

Emily D (Art Director / Designer / Loner at shows): Hey I’m Emily, I’m an art director / designer with social anxiety and a love for live music. I also got a somewhat late start with going to shows (grew up in rural Kansas so not a lot of opportunity) but it’s one of my favorite things to do now.

Lorena Cupcake: I think there’s this common conception of people as either introverts or extroverts. Either you find being in public totally exhausting, or it revitalizes you and is really important to you. For me, I find it’s really a combination; it takes a lot out of me, but I also get a lot out of it.

Emily D: I’m definitely more introverted than not, social situations always take a lot out of me but I enjoy situations where you are with a lot of people but maybe not actively engaging with them – i.e., going to shows alone.

Salvation Emily: I’m super unsure of myself in new places and around people I don’t know. When you add in the “cool kid” status of rock shows, it can feel overwhelming.

Emily D: Yeah, I also have this feeling of not belonging, or not being “cool” enough I guess. I’m always afraid I’ll run into someone who I sorta know and not know how to handle that situation.

Salvation Emily: I think what did it for me was I just got sick of waiting around for friends to come to shows with me and started going alone. One of the first shows I went to solo was Fishboy in Toledo in 2007. I was literally the only person there not playing that night. I didn’t talk to a single person and just bailed afterwards. But the show was great and I was so happy I got to see the band. After that, I knew I’d still have fun, and I knew I’d already had a super awkward time and lived.

Lorena Cupcake: I’ve written about this before, but I really tend to use fashion to cope with that feeling of outsiderness. I have this whole ritual, putting on a record, packing a bowl, picking out my punk vest, pregaming, putting on my new favorite band’s shittily silkscreened t-shirt or going out of my way to look fuckable.

Emily D: I do a fashion / getting ready ritual too. It’s mostly just picking out an outfit I know I feel good in. Usually a lot of black. It helps to feel confident. Having patches or a pin or something is a great conversation starter – though I think going to shows and talking to no one is also fine. At least for me.

Salvation Emily: I try not to let myself get too anxious about fashion because I don’t want to signal that I had to *try* to look cool enough to be here, but I do try to make my style match the genre of music being played if I need a confidence boost to get out of the house that day.

21939850069_8c21c13e6f_oPhoto By F. Holland Day, Courtesy Library of Congress

Lorena Cupcake: What are some things y’all do at shows to be chill if you’re straight up alone and don’t know anybody? Cause I’ve been there too, often at DIY spots where everyone knows EVERYONE.

Salvation Emily: I am the worst at actually going to DIY shows if I can’t bring a friend. I get so anxious about it and usually talk myself out of it.

Lorena Cupcake: I’ll admit I get anxious about going to new DIY venues. I’m a sloppy party punk, as woke as I try to be I get nervous about showing up at 6pm in a room of activist punks I don’t know. I don’t know how their punk time runs, I don’t know if I can drink the beer I brought or not, everybody there knows each other but nobody knows who the fuck I am.

I think DIY spots are structured a little more like a house party, and bar shows are structured, like, well, a drunk version of classical music or theater?

So if you don’t have ANYONE to talk to it FUCKING SUCKS.

Emily D: I’m usually always straight up alone. I struggle with new venues. If I haven’t been somewhere before I definitely like to find someone to go with me.

While the bands are playing it’s great because you can just feel the music but between sets is when I tend to feel awkward, when everyone stops to talk to all their buddies. I do a lot of looking at my phone, finding a wall to lean against, getting a drink.

Salvation Emily: I know all the corners to stand in and feel invisible at venues.

Lorena Cupcake: That is literally on the list from the very first meeting we ever had about Store Brand Soda, of articles we wanted to write. “Corners to stand in.”

Salvation Emily: So the Bottle is the best obviously since there’s Tall Guy Spot, the little alcove by the ramp, and then that little dip in the floor where the floorboards used to be rotted away along the wall by the stage. Sometimes gear gets piled over there and you have a fort to hide in.

Lorena Cupcake: My top Chicago corners: Tall Guy Spot at The Empty Bottle, the fan by the ground level bar in Subterranean (not my favorite venue, but my favorite fan), and leaning against the 7″s or by the Goosebumps beanie bag in Bric-a-Brac.

Emily D: YES! That is totally my spot at the Bottle. I know exactly what you are talking about.

Salvation Emily: I like anywhere along the (house) left wall at Beat Kitchen. Again, instrument fort, coat pile. My Sub-T corner is the corner in front of the sound board because I’m so underground that corner is actually empty.

21938742210_7863663385_oPhoto By F. Holland Day, Courtesy Library of Congress

Lorena Cupcake: I love the spot right behind the soundboard, you can usually find a chair and still see/hear the band. Sub-T is scary because if the underage kids decide they wanna mosh, like, you’re trapped in there. Know what you’re getting into when you approach that stage. My coworker told me a story last night about getting cold-clocked in the pit and getting a bloody nose in exactly that way.

Salvation Emily: Oh jeez. Yeah I would never be in front of the sound board at a Sub-T show if I thought the pit might top 20 kids.

Lorena Cupcake: It’s always ok to hang out in the back! Sometimes you can find good sightlines that way, better than being crushed in a crowd. This goes for any venue.

Salvation Emily: You can usually find a spot that’s far enough up that you don’t have some bro conducting a real estate transaction in your ear but far enough back that you don’t get your teeth kicked out by a tween.

Any tips for people who are looking for ways to feel more comfortable aside from having a beer or two?

Lorena Cupcake: Jes Skolnik wrote this great piece about social anxiety and bringing a book to shows, it was actually a huge inspiration behind asking you guys to do this roundtable.

I LOVE to bring something that makes me look cool, to be honest. Go to shows and bring No Friends or Please Kill Me or Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and the Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. I’m always like, half-reading old Judy Blume books and shit, and I admit I’m embarrassed to bring those to shows.

Emily D: Ah cool! Sometimes I bring a little notebook and write down thoughts. It’s something to do. Makes you look mysterious. Although the last time I brought a notebook to a show, I accidentally marked on my face with a pen, so the whole looking cool thing backfired.

Salvation Emily: These ideas are helping me get over my whole “not wanting to look like I’m trying” thing.

Emily D: But I’m also fine with not talking to anyone. I usually wait for someone to talk to me. I follow Mitski on twitter and she had this really great tweet about going to shows alone just for the music and not talking to anyone and how that was ok.

Also, I would like to say that you should always charge your phone! I mean yeah using your phone as a crutch in social situations all the time isn’t cool, but it’s nice to have. Like I emailed my mom back when I accidentally showed up to a show early. Which I wouldn’t recommend either haha – so much time to kill.

Salvation Emily: Oh that’s a whole other thing! Venues that are inconsistent about start time! I super appreciate when actual start times are posted so I don’t run out of internet to check before the first opener.

Lorena Cupcake I sometimes make notes on events in the Store Brand Soda calendar, I don’t know if anyone’s noticed: “This is the time they listed but I really doubt it,” “no punk time,” “super punk time,” etc.

21938584420_6a3daa0d7c_oPhoto By F. Holland Day, Courtesy Library of Congress

Salvation Emily: Have we talked much about like how to talk yourself up before you go out?

Lorena Cupcake I’ve always lived with looping intrusive thought patterns of how I’m worthless and terrible and should harm myself or be harmed, and likely always will; it’s literally hardwired into my brain. Whenever I have a negative, bummer thought occur to me – even just “you look like shit today and don’t belong here” – I have taught myself to just automatically parrot it back except opposite day: “you’re cute as shit and everybody loves you.”

Emily D: Sometimes I dance in front of my mirror. Maybe I actually give myself a pep talk in the mirror. I like to make sure I’m wearing something I feel confident in, I like to go for “mysterious” vibes, I feel like that’s the best I can hope for as a loner at a show.

I feel the negative thought patterns, I’m still working on ways to get around it or not get trapped in a loop of negative thoughts. I’ve definitely let those thoughts control my life before and that’s part of why going to shows alone is so important to me, it’s about breaking that pattern and doing something that is actually really scary and it’s like – it is always fine, I’m always glad I went. (I mean unless the band sucked or something.)

Salvation Emily: And when the band is great it’s amazing. Live music is super therapeutic. I always feel amazing when I leave a show I really enjoyed.

Emily D: Yes! It is such a great experience. It really invigorates you.

Salvation Emily: Yeah. If I’m feeling really stuck in a rut, going out to a show alone is usually exactly what I need. That’s probably the best advice: focus on how good it will feel to be hearing the bands live.

Emily D: Also I feel proud of myself for little things like that, like just breaking the pattern. I definitely have the thought “you don’t belong here” all the time, and it’s like you have to keep reminding yourself that you do.

Salvation Emily: Real talk, you do belong here. Whoever you are. There are so many nerds and weirdos and shy kids at shows! You’re among your people even if you don’t know them by name.

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