La Grande, called so after the town in Oregon of the same name. The local Art Center happened to have connections to Laura and planned to showcase the musician and her band in a unique, CD release event.
I live in La Grande. There are few big deals that happen around here, save for the recent fiasco surrounding the dolt-ish mayor and his anti-gay comments from his Facebook page.
Slurs and pigheadedness aside, The Laura Gibson show, through its initial planning stages, was shaping up to be a big deal. Nay, it was becoming a huge deal. The Art Center has grown in popularity in recent months, with growing childrens' art class enrollments, well-attended gallery events, and the occasional fundraiser. The success of a show like this could make the Art Center into something even bigger.
But on the eve of the concert, doubts lingered. Was it going to be a big deal? The presale tickets numbered in the dozens. As in, one dozen. Laura and her bandmates were posting images of their travels on Twitter leading up to the show. Well-traveled by the time they would arrive in La Grande, any snags could potentially sour a relationship between the musician and town she came to love and eventually name an album after.
The band barely made it over the pass on the way from Pendleton. Sound check took longer than expected. Feedback from the microphones was awful. The opening band, local favorites Correspondence School, had their equipment off to the side of the stage while folks started wandering in. There wasn't enough wine. There weren't wristbands to mark of-age patrons, there weren't enough volunteers to take tickets.
With everything seemingly going wrong, with patrons arriving late, with the show starting late, with the feedback, the, well, everything going the way it was, what happened once Correspondence School took the stage was truly magical.
Outside the Art Center, the snow fell. The town stopped. By eight or so, more people stood to watch Correspondence school than had ever stood in the Art Center at one time. The feedback stopped. The wine showed up. The crowd quieted. All of the setbacks didn't matter in the face of the music.
Laura Gibson and her band took the stage a little after nine and, in a way only an acoustic ensemble can, blew the roof off the place. Her birdlike voice and welcoming banter between songs helped the crowd welcome her as an honorary La Grandian for the night. At times, the crowd grew loud amidst the quiet songs from Gibson and her band, but by the end of the night, one of those rare, transcendent moments happened that people have a hard time recollecting, but never forget.
The snow fell and the set wound down. Laura pulled the microphone from its stand and addressed the crowd. "We've got one more song for you," she said. "It's a sing-along song. And there aren't even any words to sing." She sang through the "oh oh oh ohhh" twice for the audience and everyone chimed in for another bar.
And the song started. There was no break, no advice when to sing that part and when to stay silent. It just happened. And with "The Rushing Dark," with everyone singing, the chatter subsiding, the eyes focused on the performers, the collective voices of much of La Grande combined to create this one artistic event that, in my humble opinion, seemed very unlike La Grande. This concert ceased to be that, a concert, and instead transformed into an event.
Laura Gibson, her band, "The Rushing Dark," and the rest of the set that night showed people what can be accomplished through true artistry, understanding, and ambition. She didn't have to name her album after our town. Many–the uninitiated, mostly–would wonder what someone from Portland would even find interesting about our quiet mountain town.
But with this show, we all figured it out. We're special. Our town is special. This music is special, like a gift that only an artist can give to a place, because it's not really a thing. Now, for those of us who were at the Art Center (yet another truly special part of our town), that gift only exists in our minds and in whatever grainy photos or videos might remain in the years to come.
So, thanks to Laura and her band for being sweet and friendly, the Art Center for its ambiance, and thanks to this town for making at least one person, Laura–an outsider, no less–come to realize what we've got. Through that, we were all able to realize it ourselves when that one person came to town to show us what it is that we've all got. And we get it every day.