So, this happened…

On Friday evening, October 27th, 2017, I had tickets to see Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band at House of Blues. I had tickets for Neal and myself, but then I splurged and bought myself a VIP experience pass. I met Josh several years prior at a book signing event when his novel, Bright’s Passage, was released and had the chance to not only have my book signed but to get a chance to chat with him briefly as well. I wrote him a fan letter a while back when I was going through a really difficult time in my life because I wanted him to know how monumental his music has been to my life – in times or darkness or light, his words have been an inspiration to me as a singer, as a songwriter, as a musician, and as a human being. Keep that in mind as I regale you of the surprising events of the evening… 

I checked in to the VIP event and received a fantastic tote bag of merch goodies and waited in line for the VIP photo opportunity, Q&A, and acoustic set before the show. After I found my place in line, I heard a woman say to the staff member checking us in to let her know when “Sharon” arrives. I kept hearing them both say, “Sharon” and wondered if it might be me. They looked around to try to find “Sharon” and I gave them a small, wimpy wave, saying, “I think that might be me. Cheryn?”. If you’ve never heard my name out loud, it’s pronounced “Shuh-RINN”, fyi. 🙂

The first woman introduced herself as Claudia, the VIP experience coordinator, and said that the tour manager wanted to talk to me about my order. While we waited for the tour manager to arrive, Claudia asked me where I was from and we chatted about the Boston weather. This was her first time in the city and being from Las Vegas, she was excited to take the obligatory fall foliage picture strolling through the Fenway area. Her brown hair was beautifully tangled and flowed to her shoulders and her smile was infectious. But her friendly demeanor and effortless conversation did nothing to assuage the building anxiety. What was wrong with my order? Are they going to tell me that my ticket isn’t valid? Am I going to get to see Josh and Zachariah and Sam and Josh K? Oh man. I’m freaking out. I. AM. FREAKING. OUT. Then a pretty woman and a gorgeous little blond toddler came over to chat with Claudia. As they exchanged fun poses with each other, I tried to calm myself. “There’s a reasonable explanation for this. Just calm down.” After the mother and daughter pair walked away, Claudia told me they were Josh’s wife, Haley, and daughter, Beatrix. I had suspected that that may be the case, but was still lost in my own cloud of anxious thoughts.

After what seemed like forever (which I recognize was probably only a minute or two), the tour manager came over and asked me to come with her. She led me through the venue, through a door next to the stage, and then up some stairs. She was tall and I had a hard time matching her pace because, well, I have little legs, people! My inner dialogue was at full freak out. Was she going to take me to a private room to tell me that my card didn’t actually work or my ticket master order had glitched and I didn’t really have a ticket? Was she going to ask for my VIP tote back? We came to a doorway and we paused. I assumed it was to let Josh pass. I tried to smile a hello to him and didn’t want to seem like a weird fan. She said hello to Josh, said “This is Sharon”, and then left. Josh looked at me and greeted me with a smile and a great big hug. I hugged him back and was both shocked and confused about what was going on.

After he released me from the hug. Wait, no. Let’s pause. If you’ve never been hugged by Josh Ritter, people, you have NEVER. BEEN. HUGGED. He hugs all of his fans, and I was lucky to receive so many of these at the book signing several years ago. He hugs you like you’re an old friend and he’s so happy to see you. The gratitude he has for each and every fan is incredible, and it’s a gratitude that seems to have endless patience whether you’re the last fan after a few hours of meeting people and signing books on a long tour. He’s truly an incredible human being.

Anyway, so he releases me from this incredibly warm hug, and then thanks me for coming to the show with the brightest smile that only Josh Ritter can effortlessly beam. He then thanked me for writing him a letter. At that moment, my very faulty brain which continually forgets important memories of my life if I don’t write them down, is searching for the contents of that letter. I’ve got nothing. I’m caught off guard by someone who I greatly admire and I can’t believe he’s thanking me for something I did for him! He went on to tell me that it arrived at a very difficult time for him and that my words were just what he needed. His eyes got a little glossy with tears and if it were not for the adrenaline running through my system, I would have broken down in full tears. Josh Ritter was standing there, telling me that my words had affected him. This man, whose words and notes have inspired me and lead me through some of the toughest moments of my life, for so many years – he was telling me that MY words had helped HIM. Was this really happening?

Then he asked ME how I was doing! In my shock, my words stumbled through sentences about how I had come to accept that certain relationships with my family would never be what I wanted them to be. I told him that I had started a new job at a biotech startup and was trying to cure cancer. I told him that I had found an incredible person to share my life with that made me so incredibly happy and supported my dreams. That I was in a much better place now than I was at the time of writing the letter.

At some point in this conversation, I remembered that the VIP Experience instructions had been that we were not able to request an autograph. I had planned to use the Q&A session to ask Josh if he would be willing to hand write some lyrics from one of my favorite songs for my next tattoo. So I gathered my nerve and asked him if he wouldn’t mind doing that. He smiled and responded, “Of course! Sure!” and led me into one of the rooms. As he grabbed a piece of paper and a Sharpie marker, he asked me if I wanted any water or juice. (In hindsight, I should have responded with a clever joke about Bourbon. He is the man that got me in to Four Roses, it would only be fitting.) I politely declined, and he started penning the words to a song he’s sung for so many people for so many years. He paused for a second saying, “I just want to make sure I get it right” and then penned the following, 

“Hello Blackbird
Hello Starling
Winter’s over
Be my Darling…
Been a long time coming
But now the snow is gone”

He paused, looked it over, and then added an exclamation point so that the last line read, “But now the snow is gone!”. It was perfect. He thanked me again, said “I’ll see you later. I hope you enjoy the show!”, and then hugged me. I thanked him and then the tour manager came and led me back to the meet and greet line, where Claudia was standing.

“Did you know about that?” I asked her.
“Yeah! I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, so I just told you it was about your order.” she said, all smiles.
“You gave me a heart attack!” I said, “I thought something was wrong!” She asked me how it was and all I could muster was “Amazing. I can’t even explain.”
“I’m glad, ” she said. “You’ve lost your place in line, but, you’re probably okay with that.” I was most definitely okay with that.

So I waited in line, for another hug and a picture opportunity. I may have stepped on Josh’s left foot when I went to hug him (Sorry, Josh!). Claudia snapped several great pictures, and then the VIP folk were allowed into the main room. Josh performed “In the Dark”, “Thunderbolt’s Goodnight”, “Bright Smile”, and “Getting Ready to Get Down”. And it was amazing. As always.

It’s now Sunday night and I’ve had nearly 48 hours to process the events of the evening. I can’t even put to words how I feel and nothing I’ve written above even comes close to conveying the magnitude to which this has affected me. I never thought Josh would get to read my words when I wrote them and I never thought in a million years it would mean as much to him as it would to me. But my words mattered, they mattered enough to him that he remembered my name. He figured out that I had signed up for the meet and greet, and requested that he get a chance to talk to me. My words meant something to someone whose very words have given me  the hope I needed to get through some of my toughest moments. So, even now, I find myself thinking, “Did that REALLY happen?”. Thankfully, my girl Claudia took several pictures to serve as photographic evidence. So yes, it really did happen. And I am so incredibly touched by it all.

Side note – Some Thank You’s:

Dear Haley,
Thank you for passing my letter on to Josh. His words and stories have made such an impact on my growth as a person and a singer/songwriter (although I am a cancer scientist during the day, I sing when I can find musicians to work with). I could have gone on never knowing what my words did, and I’m so incredibly grateful to you for your role in this. To know that my words mattered to someone I respect so much means more than you’ll ever know. I wish I had the chance to thank you in person!

I’ve tweeted him (although I don’t know if he’ll see it) to ask if he could please email me a copy of my letter. I can’t find it, and I would love to print it and place it in a scrapbook with the other items from the evening, including the lyrics to Snow is Gone he wrote out for me as a tattoo. If that’s okay, I would really appreciate it. In any case, thank you SO SO much!
In Gratitude,
Cheryn

Dear Claudia,
Thank you for your role in this moment as well. You kept me calm when my anxiety was getting the better of me, and your expert coordination made the night a fantastic success for not just myself, but the countless other fans in attendance. Thank you for all of your hard work on this tour so far, and all of the amazing things I know you’ll do in the future. Your smile and your charismatic personality make you the perfect person for your job!
Cheers,
Cheryn

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“Howdy! Hi there, again!” “I AM so SORRY, I just stepped on your foot!” “That’s okay!”

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Claudia, “This one is just precious!” I agree. He’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, and the image of this hug can’t possibly capture all the emotions running through my head and heart in this moment.

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Seriously, this guy gives the best hugs – and so many!

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I’m so stoked about this. Not sure if I’ll do all of the lyrics or some combination of bird graphics and lyrics, but Josh kindly provided me with exactly what I was hoping he would!

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These guys are just incredible. Thank you, Josh Ritter, Josh Kaufman, Sam Kassirer, Ray Rizzo, and Zachariah Hickman. Side note – this is the first time in years I haven’t somehow wound up behind Sam’s amazing and super nice parents!

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My girl, Claudia. VIP Event Coordinator Extraordinare! This girl is the sweetest, and can command a giant venue and herd of people with equal parts kindness and “I mean business.”

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