I saw Regina Spektor a week ago Friday, on St. Patrick’s Day, at the Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina. Spektor is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter, a lyricist on par with the best of them.
by: Aaron Mandel
I was fascinated by the composition of the crowd. I should acknowledge, I’m not from Charlotte, nor have I spent any significant time there. As a denizen of the long regaled as dirty, dangerous Durham, N.C.1, I know you can’t judge a book via the cover, but also that there tend to be kernels of truth inside the shucks, husks, and jibes of stereotypes.
The crowd was all ages, majority but not predominately women. I saw multiple pairs of Moms and daughters attending together. The audience was predominately, but not exclusively white.
Regina Spektor could be a renown classical concert pianist and yet has written top 40 hits. While not someone with the mass culture appeal of Lady Gaga, she does carve out a unique niche. How many rock and roll shows does one attend where multiple audiences members can be observed not only tearing up, but out right weeping?
Maybe a few.
But whom else do you see a 1,500 member general admission audience shushing each other over so that they can hear the between songs patter.
Spektor kept her chatting on the microphone to a bare minimum. She was too busy leaning evocatively into the piano keys as she played old favorites like “On the Radio” and “Better” as well as songs from her new album and one Leonard Cohen tune in tribute.
She did talk to us(the audience) about one particular theme and tell us one particular anniversary story which is the crux of what had me thinking about Charlotte and North Carolina. Regina Spektor is a Russian émigré. She told us last Friday in Charlotte, St. Patrick’s Day, was the anniversary of her becoming an American citizen. She was in high school. Having immigrated to New York at the age of nine with her family, she said the rest of them had become citizens by then. Regina, about ready to head off to college, wondered at the age of seventeen why she hadn’t heard from the State Department. She knew these things were sometimes slow, but having no timetable at all was starting to worry her. She knew she wouldn’t be heading off to college in the Fall without the financial aid for which citizenship was necessary.
When she pursued her case she was shocked to find that her application paperwork, along with hundreds of other records, had been lost when a State Department office flooded. They had no record of her. Luckily she was able to produce the necessary duplicate documents, she had the diligence and resources to move the process along, and was able to become a citizen.
In Charlotte, her delicate voice strident, she dipped into her personal fear and journey to tell us, she was an immigrant. The crowd cheered. She was a political refugee (of Soviet Russia). The crowd cheered again. She said things about America being a welcoming place for all. More cheers. About all of us being immigrants to a land who’s natives weren’t expecting us. About how not everybody had the resources to fight back but everybody must be protected. More hearty cheers and applause from the crowd.
As she dropped into song her fingers tickling the white piano keys, I was left to ponder. Charlotte was cheering for a pro-immigrant message? Even if it was at Regina Spektor show, I thought we were a solidly red state with a few dots of blue like my beloved Durham, like Asheville, like Chapel Hill, and maybe some parts of down-east dominated by African-American voters?
If it was confusing, it was uplifting. To be in Charlotte, amongst a crowd cheering strongly to reject hatred. Cheering strongly to support the immigrant. Cheering strongly backing the notion that we were all once immigrants. In a Red State that voted for Trump, in an audience of women, the majority of whom ostensibly voted for Trump.
In a crowd of all ages, with very few brown faces, strong support for the Other. Hurrahs for the love of one another.
It was heartening. Way to go, Charlotte!
Thanks for sharing, Regina. Lovely music as well.
1 And before that, the rarely derided New Jersey.