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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Valencia, City of Dreams Come True: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 10

Line up here to stand in the sand!
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Time moved strangely the afternoon of May 26, 2016, and Stanley and I quickly felt it was time to get back on the subway. We looked around at people—how many of them were going to the concert? When we got out at the bullring, a line had already formed with hundreds of people, enough to wrap around the bullring and down the street that’s between it and the train station. We’d been so nervous about being in such a big arena with so many people, but now that we weren’t going to have to wait in line at all I was even more nervous! The excitement of achieving this dream that had been so rudely snatched away from me!  

Just a few people in line. Photo by Jessica Knauss 
We went to the ticket booth area where we’d gone in before and called up our friend Marta. It was already much easier to do so; she started calling me guapa and I tried to pick up normal Spanish phone habits. Miguel, the bodyguard from before, came out to get us. 

“¿Qué tal? 

“¡Bien, muy bien! 

We went through the gate, as important as you please, this time going up the stairs to get into the tendido, the riser benches. Stanley had no interest in standing for five or six hours and I can't blame him. Miguel took us where he knew we would get the best seats. Wow, were they ever.

Still sunny and the place to ourselves, with the beverage station 
Miguel said we could sit anywhere we wanted in a certain section, then left to prepare to follow Manolo while he jumped around in the audience. (I’ve since seen him in videos and pictures, so serious! Oh, the questions I would’ve asked if I’d known exactly what he does.) We sat in the first row of benches, directly across from the stage, next to the front door opening where people come through to get into the sand. The only thing in front of us was railing to keep us from falling. 

The beverage people were set up at the barrier the bullfighters leap over when chased. They were getting briefed and psyched up and one of them asked is if this was going to be a private concert. We were the only people in the audience! How we were doing? he asked. Awesome, really. The anticipation was so sweet, we didn't even need any drinks. 

An hour later, they started letting people in. They admitted groups in at different times, and so in spite of the long queue, the bullring filled slowly. The places next to Stanley and me filled right up because they were so desirable. Over the sound system, they started playing the first few songs from two albums, one by Carmen and one by Ricardo Marín. When the arena seemed about half full, Carmen walked through the sand. People were taking pictures with her and shouting her name from the tendido. “I didn’t know she was that recognizable,” Stanley said.

Carmen García with fans. Photo by Jessica Knauss 
The next time her album came on, I said, “That’s her!” When we listened to her album later, Stanley thought it was fantastic, and that it was kind of unfair to have so much talent in one family. 

Great seats, oh yeah! 
Everyone was so happy—a true communal experience. A large beach ball made its buoyant way across the bullring. People were bursting out into flamenco clapping and doing the wave. As it got closer to the start of the show, some people did the “Man-O-lo” chant. A lone guy sat next to Stanley and sat there eating multicolored popcorn without offering any, and in the end he got really excited and was dancing, knocking Stanley’s cell phone so I had to use YouTube’s shakiness corrector when I uploaded the videos later. I waited until it seemed like everyone was in their place, and then visited the souvenir table.

I looked over the merch and wanted everything, anything to feel as if I could take this happiness with me. Knowing that was impossible, I bought only five items, most amazingly, a demented lollipop. It’s the graphic from the cover of Todo es ahora. When the album first came out, many talk show hosts guessed what the artwork was supposed to be, and in an interview with Manolo, Buenafuente guessed, “It’s a demented lollipop.” Manolo said, “That must be it.” It struck me as hilarious. 

Demented lollipops!! 
I got back in plenty of time, exhilarated with my booty and with the fact that this thing was happening! No gumption trap, no distance, and no petty thief managed to get in my way.

Can you find us? It's filled to the rafters! 
It started with a surrealist film featuring a lot of eggs and some chickens. Mass production and nature contrasted in the scenery. Then the lights go low and the American musicians come out and play a long, almost psychedelic introduction, during which the man himself walks out with no lights on him and stands stock-still until you think you can't stand it anymore, until just the right moment. 

"¡Tú me obligaste a sentirme bien en soledad!" Heaven in Valencia.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Then it all happens: lights, music, Manolo’s voice—“Tú me obligaste a sentirme bien en soledad”—with a rock-star swing of the mic stand and stamp of the feet. It was everything coming together in the right place at the right time. Stanley said it was an effective opening because when Manolo started to sing, a tear came to Stanley’s eye. I was so touched that the moment meant so much to both of us. I hadn’t been the biggest fan of that first song, but after seeing this, I recognize its amazing qualities. For instance, it hits the sweet spot in Manolo's voice over and over. Or maybe they’re all the sweet spot!

The sound was incredible at our seats. We were all, thousands of people, submerged in this experience, without it hurting our ears. I couldn’t hear people singing along like you can in the YouTube cell phone videos afterward. I found myself singing along—it was an obligation!—and cheering and shouting and all the algarabía de alegría. A wonderful loss of control, a surrender to the moment. Stanley and I got to sit there with no one standing in our way. We took some videos with the sensation simultaneously that the moment was eternal and that we needed to record everything because its end was imminent. And that they were the best videos ever taken at any concert, except for the fact that Manolo likes to go off randomly into the crowd. It’s terribly exciting, but you can’t follow him with the camera to save your life! Sweet madness. Sometimes I would watch the moment and just hope the camera was capturing some of it. 

Here you can see the agile person dressed all in black who
captured images for the giant screens. 
With a lot of premeditation, thinking we would be last in line and up in the top gradas (nosebleed section), we’d brought binoculars from the States. I might have used them more if it hadn’t been a pain to take off my glasses and keep track of them while using the binocs. We didn’t strictly need the binoculars, in the end, because we were plenty close. Crazy Manolo was in good form—where does he get the energy? He threw the mic stand in the air. Stanley said he was going to get injured doing that kind of thing. But he’s been doing it for thirty years, so he understands the physics. Even some men were shouting “¡guapo!” 

Manolo would often talk with the audience, and I think those were my favorite moments. Before “Estoy alegre,” he declared that being happy is the most important thing. There was a fireside chat about people with diseases you can’t see, and lots of current Spanish politics before “Subo escalas, bajo escalas.” 

“All the good songs,” Stanley said at one point. And it’s true, song after song of wonderfulness, no clunkers ever, and what excellent playing, and that voice never even sounded tired. 

During an intermission while they changed the set instruments, they showed pictures of the audience on the monitors with some kiss cam moments. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but people got clapping and chanting again, always wanting to see their Manolo. They don’t know he belongs to me and I was just lending him. (wink

Starting the second half with the flamenco version of "En el batir de los mares"
complete with acoustic guitars and Juan Carlos García on cajón.
Photo by Stanley Coombs

The second half brought out the Spanish musicians who always tour with Manolo and are recognizable in their own right. It also featured the earlier albums and even a few old gems from before Manolo went solo. People can never get enough of their favorite old songs, it seems, so this was where people really lost it. 

My favorite from before the latest album, "Rosa de Alejandría," surprised me because the audience went almost as crazy as I did for it. I had no idea it was one of those crowdpleasers. What a thrill to share my little song!

Before "Somos levedad," Manolo talked about how good it feels to sing, and oh did it ever, to sing the ahaaahaahahh part with thousands of people.

"Prefiero el trapecio" was the pretend end. Manolo introduced the band and said good night, and after a bit of screaming and chanting, he came back out and asked if we want more. “¿Seguuuuurrrrooooooos?” (Are you suuuurre?) We convinced him easily. 

I tried to film "Sobre el oscuro abismo"—which I later found out has a verb conjugation error in it! But it was utter chaos with Manolo all over the crowd.

By the time they get to "Viernes," everyone was totally nuts, onstage and off. The backup singers took over the vocals for some of the song so Manolo could fly all over the place.

"A San Fernando" was an opportunity for massive improvised solos and general yelling and screaming that was completely different in every concert. 

Oh, that there could be such joy in the world. 

Taking their bows with a few laughs 
After more than three hours of music and several changes of shirts as Manolo soaked them through with sweat and passion, high on performance and possibly a little on the pot we smelled, Manolo brought both bands on the stage. They were being silly, and when people were already filing out, he gave his valediction, “¡Buenas noches, haced el amor!” (Good night, make love!) We were to see the same human being again in two days. What an amazing sensation, to be winding up the best thing you’ve ever done and know there’s more to come.

All these people left before we did. 
We had to wait to get out, and by the time we were on the street, all the taxis were gone from the stand. Stanley saw some people snagging the taxis farther up the street, which meant the people waiting to do it legit at the stand would be waiting a long time. So we went up even father than those naughty people and before I had time to think we would have to walk back, we were in a cab. Where were we going? Hmm… We were going the right direction, and we glimpsed the hotel out the window, and I said, there it is, and that was when the driver turned off to who knew where. Um, it’s back there. Sorry, sorry! We're just so tired. We walked into the lobby and there were people milling around, but it was quieter than anything before in the history of the world. We took sleeping pills, but I still don’t think I slept!

And there you have it. I hope this suggests something about what it’s like to want something for a really long time, and get it, and have it be even better than you could've dreamed. It was that way when I met Stanley, too. I knew I wanted true love, but had no idea what it looked like until he showed me every minute of every day we were together. 

We'd built up this high for the whole trip, and having reached the summit, it didn't come down until I was on the nasty plane rides home. I can see how the feeling might be addictive, and why some people go to every concert they can. 

Next time: Sevilla! Three loves in one place! Another unique concert! 

Catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here