Usually, delicious food and breath-taking views are the main reasons I travel, but when I headed to the United Kingdom for the first time in the fall of 2010, it wasn’t either of those things that were calling my name. No, my first time setting foot in the northern city of Manchester was caused by my rampant, often obsessive love for the alternative rock band, Muse. Yes, I was that fangirl, the one who crossed an ocean to spend a single weekend in another country, only to pop back to America on Sunday to get home in time for the first class of the semester on Monday morning.
In the three and a half years that have passed since that trip, my love for the Teignmouth Trio has died down a bit and become a bit less blind and more tenuous, but at the core, Muse is still my musical “home,” the band that I return to time and time again, no matter how disappointing their latest album was. (I’m looking at you, The 2nd Law.)
To be honest, this post isn’t going to deal much with the trip details themselves, because they weren’t all that exciting. Basically, I flew to Manchester on Friday, went to the concert on Saturday, and flew home on Sunday morning. I didn’t see much of Manchester aside from the main train station, the concert venue (Old Trafford cricket ground), and a shabby Premiere Inn hotel room. Instead, this post is going to get pretty heavy on the reminiscing.
I’ve seen Muse seven times in total, but September 4th, 2010 sticks out as my favorite gig for several reasons. For one, it was part of a huge stadium tour, one that combined massive crowds, extended playlists, and effects that were even more bombastic than the usual shows. Double the lasers, double the fun. I’d seen Muse twice before, but both times were in arenas and I’d been seated; the show at the Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester was my first time seeing Muse standing and in the pit. Obviously, the fact that I got a (very short) trip to a foreign country cranks up the fond memories, too.
But the main reason this trip remains one of my absolute favorite experiences – both of those related to music and to travel – was due to the people by whom I was surrounded. For a good chunk of 2009-2011, I was an active member of the MuseLive fan forum, until real life got in the way. During that time, I became really good friends with a chunk of the other regulars, enough so that I eventually crossed the line from referring to them as my “Internet friends” to just plain “friends.” Yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t have any qualms about starting a friendship through a computer. Maybe that makes me weird, but the global network of friends I’ve built means I couldn’t care less about the normalcy of it.
The fact that ten or so of them had been planning to go to the Manchester gig pretty much lit the fire under me to make my attendance happen. The way I saw it, this was one of my best chances to meet loads of people who were as passionate about Muse as I was. It didn’t matter to me that the closest we’d come to meeting in person was holding five-hour conference calls over Skype. When we finally did meet, there was no nervousness, shyness, or hesitation. Just lots and lots of bear hugs.
Even now, some people hold this prejudice against meeting people on the Internet, like that somehow means that at least one of the parties is hiding out in their parents’ basement and hasn’t changed out of their bathrobe in three days. I understand and realize that you have to be smart about it, but I am totally in the camp that supports making friends through the Internet. In fact in a lot of ways, I think it’s sort of similar to meeting people while traveling. You’re in the same place and start to trade stories and conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t resonate beyond that, but sometimes it can deepen into something with more meaning and longevity. And then all of a sudden, you have a whole group of people, as I did, to visit the next time you hop over to a random country. I’ve visited friends in New Zealand, France, London, and Manchester (again), and all of those friendships originated on MuseLive. When I returned to the UK in the summer of 2012, we even had a mini-reunion of about half of our Old Trafford group in Manchester. It’s funny how the world works. If it hadn’t been for that forum, I’d never have met some of the best people I know and I certainly wouldn’t have made that trip to Manchester for one of the best concerts of my life.
And so, that was how I met up with three Swedes, ten Brits, and two Welsh – none of whom I’d ever seen in person before – for a whirlwind weekend in Manchester. Sometimes you do crazy things for your favorite band and sometimes it pays off in spades in ways you’d never expect.