LIFTing with Ben Harper
In the social sciences, there’s this concept of communitas that you recognize only when you feel it. It’s a collective, hopeful sense of harmony and belonging, and as Ben Harper played the final chords of his final song to a sold-out Wolf Trap crowd, I felt it.
Ben, you see, had opted to close out the concert with “Better Way,” a final, resilient anthem that he dedicated aloud to LIFT. Wholly in love with this organization, I held up a LIFT sign and swayed with the crowd, communitas running into and through me like blood. I was seduced by the hope in Ben’s words – hope for myself, yes, but also for every LIFT member I had ever met with, and for every member I was yet to meet.
Take your face out of your hands
And clear your eyes
You have a right to your dreams
And don’t be denied
I believe in a better way
I was surrounded by a contingent of LIFT staff who had come out to the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts to support national board member Ben Harper, now embarked on his reunion tour with the Innocent Criminals. For the entire night, the LIFTers danced and sang and absorbed, our smartphone cameras too weak to capture the electric atmosphere Ben and his bandmates curated. They played years’ worth of music, and the crowd couldn’t help but rise and fall with each song, breaths and bodies as finely tuned to the band as the acoustic guitar in Ben’s lap. His music had been the soundtrack to my high school years, and nearly every song he played tugged at a specific memory once faded with time but now colorful and pulsing and alive again. To listen to him was to reconnect with those lost parts of myself, and it felt good.
After the concert, in a private room deep in the underbelly of Wolf Trap, the LIFTers met Ben and his bandmates. What do you talk about with a Grammy award-winning musician whose music got you through your awkward teen years? Pop culture, of course! For nearly an hour, Ben and the LIFTers traded theories about House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and other of-the-moment shows. Around midnight, after last minute quips about Claire Underwood and the way she closed out Season 3, we said our goodbyes and slipped out into the dark Virginia night.
It’s been a few months since then, but if I let myself remember that night, I can still feel a glimmer of communitas. We were all connected that night – Ben, the crowd, the LIFTers, the band. We had shared something, and out of our collective experience came renewed hope in a better world. Few musicians can inspire like Ben Harper, and it was nothing but pleasure to be able to see his live show. Thank you for LIFTing, Ben Harper – and please please please come to Wolf Trap again!
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