As I pulled into The Commonwealth Room parking lot on March 11, 2020, to cover JOSEPH, I could already tell things were different. So different that I parked within the first three spots next to the venue.
Just a little under a week earlier I was at The Commonwealth Room. I was watching The Lone Bellow perform in front of a sold-out room. There were a couple of masks being worn, but the place was packed and people were standing shoulder to shoulder. I walked up to the box office to get my ticket and photo pass and asked, “How’s it looking in there?”. “Well, it’s definitely not a full house. This show was almost sold out.” It was clear to me that people were already beginning to practice what we would hear so much in the following year, “social distancing”.
I had told myself on the way to this concert that I would do my best to keep my distance from others just in case this virus thing was as nasty as we were hearing. It’s so strange to look back on that now. We’ve learned so much since then. A number of concerts and tours had already been postponed so I figured this would be the last or one of the last shows I might see for a while. In fact, I knew some people who were going to be attending concerts and theater productions on the 12th of March that were canceled. Little did I know that a year would go by without stepping into a concert venue.
I walked into The Commonwealth Room and it certainly wasn’t empty by any means. But the box office attendant was right, it wasn’t a full house. There were more masks on faces than I had seen at The Lone Bellow and other than the fans up against the front railing, people were trying to spread out. I ran into a photographer friend and we commented on how strange this all was, and how weird it felt inside the room. If memory serves she told me she would be departing as soon as she was done taking pictures. I saw a friend from college and we greeted each other with a hug. (How weird does that seem now?!) She seemed stressed and she was gone before the concert was over.
Minutes before JOSEPH was set to take the stage my phone started blowing up. The alerts were coming from both local and national news outlets that the Utah Jazz vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder game had been canceled due to Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19. I looked around and noticed others looking at their phones reading the same news. I got the sense that we all knew things were about to be very different. Just then the lights dimmed and I made my way to the pit to take my pictures.
I’ve got to hand it to JOSEPH. They showed no signs of worry or concern. The positivity that was radiating from the stage was infectious. They told us that there was no place they’d rather be. That when they saw Salt Lake City on the schedule they were very excited. Now, I’ve never seen JOSEPH in another city. But it felt like they were giving Utah something special.
With all of the COVID weirdness and uncertainty going on, it almost seemed fitting that this was the last night of JOSEPH’s tour. The finality of their entire tour bled into our saying farewell to live music for a while. The audience felt that. They embraced the moment because they knew this wasn’t going to be happening anytime soon.
The three Closner sisters gave it their all. They sounded incredible. Each one of them a lead vocalist in their own right, and all with varying styles of voices. They each took turns singing lead. While their voices had their own unique style, the sound and blend they produced when they sang together was my favorite. I believe they call it “blood harmony”. They poured that into each one of these powerful and emotional songs. Sometimes at the end of the tour, voices will be thin and tired, but without them telling us, I would have never guessed that March 11, 2020, was JOSEPH’s closing show.
While JOSEPH soldiered on to give us a great show, they admitted to us that they had concerns of their own. They told us that sometimes it was hard for them to be on that stage with all the uncertainty of the coronavirus at that time, but they wanted to make the most of it. They seemed so comfortable. And as the night went on, they seemed even more comfortable.
As the show went on, the crowd seemed to loosen up a bit too. Maybe a little too much in some cases. While I was standing in the back a man who was clearly inebriated came up to me and was singing in my face and putting his arm around me asking me what I thought about the show. I tried my best to not freak out. Normally I would just laugh, but again, we’re on the verge of shut down and we were still learning about this virus and how to catch it. I simply told the guy I was running to the bathroom. Which was not inaccurate. I went in there and washed my hands and face! It was so weird to be that worried, but as the night grew, my anxiety grew with it.
It’s so strange to look back on that night with a year’s perspective. I would have never anticipated a whole year going by without having seen one concert. I think about these venues a lot. The Commonwealth Room, The State Room and other independent venues like it are most likely hanging by a thread. I hope we get back to things soon so these concert venues can get back on their feet. I also hope I get the chance to see JOSEPH again under different circumstances. I’ll never forget them that’s for sure. How well they performed, how good they sounded, and unfortunately how distracted I was due to all that was going on. I’ll always know that I saw JOSEPH on March 11, 2020. The day before everything shut down due to this pandemic.