July 4th, 2016- Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
Ziggy’s eyes locked on mine. “You have to get a wand from Ollivanders,” he said with too much enthusiasm.
I glanced at the line snaking its way down the sidewalk. “I’m not standing in that line.”
“But you have to!” He tugged on my arm like a little kid, and I hid my smile, not wanting to encourage him. “The wand chooses the wizard, Daron. Come on.”
Damn the person that turned him on to Harry Potter. “Yes,” I said reasonably, “we can go in the store and buy a wand so we can do all this magic-y stuff while we are here, but I’m not standing in line to have one specially chosen for me.”
“Oh, believe in magic, you Muggle,” he said in a huff and waltzed past me into the store.
That did make me laugh. The thing is I do believe in magic. How could I not? Magic is what Ziggy and I make every time we perform together.
I followed him into the shop, and purchased the obligatory wand, and almost got attacked by a vicious book. What the hell? Then, we meandered through Hogsmeade, buying strange candy shaped like mice and slugs and other weird shit. We stopped at a stand that looked like a barrel and bought butterbeer. (If you ever have the chance to try it, the frothy one is better than the frozen one.) Ziggy stared longingly at the Hogwarts Express, a train that would take us to another part of the Harry Potter park, Diagon Alley, but we didn’t have much time so we couldn’t ride it. Instead, we made our way back to the enormous Hogwarts castle and rode a few roller coasters.
We found Bart and Chris exactly where we’d left them. They both had the distinctly windswept look of anyone who’d ridden The Incredible Hulk ride several times in a row. Chris ran his fingers through his hair to get the tangles out. Bart wore a cheesy grin and told us we missed an awesome ride.
When we arrived back at CityWalk, Carynne nodded to me and gave me a thumbs-up sign. Everything was fine. The stage was a weird set up, being kind of at the convergence of three walkways with the lake behind us. There wasn’t much of a backstage area for us to cool our heels until show time, so we walked over to Margaritaville and got drinks (mine was a Jack & Coke minus the Jack). By the time we got back to the stage, Carynne was giving us the signal to get ready.
I have to admit when Carynne first called me with the idea, I thought she was nuts. I didn’t think they could pull it off so quickly. Barely three weeks had passed since the tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub. How could they pull together a charity event like this so fast? But they did.
We took the stage to loud cheering and applause. In that brief moment before the lights came up, I got a look at the crowd. Looked like a good turn-out. Then the lights came on and we were in our own world again up there on that stage.
Ziggy welcomed the crowd as only he can. Even after all these years, he still knew how to get a crowd energized. The cheers grew somber when he mentioned the reason for this show, but were loudest when he invited them to stay late because all the restaurants and bars along the CityWalk were also making donations to the Pulse victims and their families.
I was pretty sure he planned to say more, but he stepped away from the microphone and took a couple of deep breaths instead. I started the intro to our first song to cover for him. His eyes met mine and I could see the emotion there. Maybe this wasn’t the best song to start with.
We’d chosen a song Ziggy and I wrote in the days following 9/11. If you think ‘Candlelight’ can shred us, well, this song is worse. The attacks on 9/11 were on our home, New York City, the place we both claim more than any other. We weren’t the only artists to make a song about that event, and we weren’t the only ones to donate the royalties from our song to the victims’ families. The song was emotional and heartfelt, a good song, and sometimes, like then, it hurt like hell to play.
Ziggy was still trying to get himself under control enough to sing, so I looped around and played through the intro again, and Bart and Chris followed suit. When I got to his part the second time, he gave me a brief nod and joined in. His voice tore me apart. I was already on the edge, and he was just enough to push me over. The crowd sang with us, thousands of voices lifting up, purging this pain from our hearts. There’s your magic, Zig.
The lights went out for a few moments at the end of the song. We really should have saved that for the finale or something. Ziggy’s cheeks were tear-streaked, and there was more than just sweat on my face. I bet the crowd was in a similar state, but it was hard to tell before the lights came back up.
We went through the rest of our set. We played old Moondog Three songs, some of Ziggy’s songs, some Star*Gaze songs, and some other stuff we’d done more recently. The show was great. The crowd was phenomenal.
We finished just before sundown. As I was slipping my guitar off my shoulder, I got a good look at the crowd. What I saw was a bunch of people, just…people. No labels. Then, a group caught my eye. They were all wearing Moondog Three 1989 tour shirts. I didn’t know if those were originals from the tour or remakes. My eyes found Ziggy’s and I knew he’d seen the shirts, too. He had that mischievous grin that usually ended up getting us in trouble. Bart and Chris nodded in unspoken agreement.
We climbed down the stairs off the stage and went straight to Carynne. I don’t know how she knew, but she was prepared with Sharpies in hand and a body guard for each of us. This may have been the dumbest thing we could possibly do in the unstable environment of our society, but we had to meet these people, as many of them as we could, but especially the people in the Moondog Three shirts.
We ended up talking to a good chunk of the crowd, and signing everything people put in front of us. Ziggy signed a woman’s breast and she swore she was having the signature tattooed on. I signed a million copies of every album I was ever part of. I think I got the better end of that deal.
Something strange happened to me as I heard those peoples’ stories. Most of them were not from the area, didn’t know anyone involved in the tragedy we were raising money for. Many drove or flew from great distances to be here tonight. They were from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different belief systems. Most of them were not even LGBT. They’d gathered today to hear a concert and to give to communities where they were not members in any way.
As Ziggy and I climbed back on the stage, dangling our feet off the edge to watch the fireworks over the lake, I thought about that. As Chris and Bart joined us, each with a girl on his arm, I thought about how our society comes together in times of tragedy, how we help total strangers because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of what we have in common or how differently we think or feel.
That night I felt a little piece of my faith in humanity restored.
That night I felt hope.