Our Magic Music Night Seeing Hiss Golden Messenger Almost Didn’t Happen – Twice

The show was announced way back in August. That same day, I bought 2 tickets and sent a calendar invite to Kris to save the date.

The show would fall just a couple of weeks after our 20.5-year anniversary, and she’d really enjoyed their show last year with me at Terminal West. And this one would be even closer, just 20 minutes away at a venue we’d been visiting since high school.


From August through November, life went on. Back to school, colds, travel for work, the full serving of life in progress.

Since I follow HGM on twitter and instagram, I’d see updates about their tour, and I’d be just as excited all over again.

When they announced “our show” had sold out, I congratulated myself on my (1) excellent taste and (2) wise early-bird purchasing habits.

Less than a week prior to the big night, I realized with horror that we hadn’t asked our favorite sitter if she could stay with the boys. Kris was spending a week out of the country, so I deep in the subsistence one-day-at-a-time bunker of single parenting. Totally not conducive to planning ahead, or any of the executive functions (unless falling asleep at 8:45pm counts as one. And if it doesn’t, I don’t want to hear abzzzz zzz zzz.)

But luck was on our side! Our saintly sitter was available. SET PHASERS TO ROCK.

The Big Day Arrives

A couple of hours before our planned exit time, I take care of final preparations:

  • Load my wheelchair, saying a quick prayer of thanks for the clear skies (the joys and sorrows of having an external lift!)
  • Move the car so the sitter will have a place to park
  • Pack my small wallet
  • Fish my winter gloves out of the closet
  • Check venue site for suggested parking spots

Then, I opened my email to print out the tickets.

And my email said, “What tickets?”

Search results - justice@ejjustice

Oh, must have had a typo. Try again, please.


Change up my search terms: full artist name? Venue? Date?


Go straight to ticket seller site to check my purchase history.


In desperation, I went to my bank’s site and pulled up the 3 month old statement, looking for the transaction that I KNOW I made.


But by that time, I was not familiar with anything. My own kitchen faded out and spun away, like in a bad dream. I was speechless. But…? How…?


With the sitter due at 6pm, I confessed to my wife my revelation that I must be an idiot. Somehow, she did not seem as surprised by this revelation as I.

Go easy on me, honey, I’m not doing too well
Do you hate me honey, as much as I hate myself?

– “Heart Like a Levee,” Hiss Golden Messenger

Like most parents of small children, we don’t get a lot of nights out together, and we didn’t want to cancel on our sitter and have her lose the planned income. A chain of sorrows.

Time to scare up a Plan B. There must be something else happening on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.


In this city of nearly 6 million people.


In this, the 9th-largest-in-the-nation metro area.



And I don’t mean “nothing as good as our original plans.” Our goal for months was to see HGM – nothing could match that.

I mean “nothing” as in “not a single thing.” Every events calendar was cleared until after Thanksgiving.

JFC. What do people even do after 7pm?

Movies! What’s playing?

Oh, that’s right – NOTHING.

Finally, in disgusted resignation, we buy two tickets to Geostorm twenty miles away. With the movie holding at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend to have liked it. This was the best of the bad outcomes.

Seeking company for my misery, I tweeted my disappoints out to the world.

EJ Justice on Twitter_ _TFW you've been

EJ Justice on Twitter_ _@hissgldnmssr Please.png

A minute later, I get a reply notification. Unusual, because even my nearest and dearest treat my tweets like the elevator farts they are: best to politely ignore them, hoping I’ll stop soon or leave.

But when I check, the reply was from MC.

! ! ! ! ! !

The next minute was a blur. DM, reply, an email, and he put us On The List.

A bolt from the blue of pure grace.

We drive to dinner a couple blocks from the show venue, dine, and toast to my undeserved good fortune, to the grace of artists working from love, to a wife who doesn’t hate me as much as I hate myself.

We roll toward the venue at doors open. There would be no opener, and it’s easier to maneuver my chair before the crowds reach max capacity.

Sit-down Setback

We arrive at the venue’s entry, where the opening door is up a half-flight of brick steps.


When the door swings open, we can see 2 more flights of steps leading up to the venue proper, the listening room.

As I mentioned, we’ve been to this venue off and on for the last 20 years – but not in the last few, not since I’ve had my wheelchair.

After the couples in front of us file in, we coolly ask the door man, “Where’s your wheelchair entrance?”

“We don’t have one.”


“Sorry, we don’t have one.”

Kris and I exchange dubious glances. Is he new? In possession of a remarkably dry sense of humor? Is it backstage, so they keep its use tightly restricted?

“But…but…how do you get gear and stuff in?” I stammer.

“Carry it.” And he shrugged all of his many muscles, some of which appeared to shrug their muscles.

Well, son of a bitch. We made it this far — through the Forest of Wait and the Bog of Buying Brainfart, to On the List, to the literal Doorstep of the Venue — and there was No Way In.

We move back to regroup. A few walkups get told it’s sold out and leave. A few more ask about the band anyway, which I tell them is great (hence sold out) and can’t help pettily throwing in “and it sucks that they put me on the list, and neither of us knew I wouldn’t be able to actually get in.”

I might have said that last part extra loud so muscley doorman would hear. *angel on my shoulder blushes*

But it worked. *devil on my shoulder grins*

This man of few words said, “Well, we’ll get you in there if you’re on the list. What if we carry your chair up? Can you get up the stairs, then sit again when we get it to the top?”

“My [power] chair weights 130lbs!”

“And I weight 260,” he countered good-naturedly.

“I weight 220, but I can’t lift it.”

I am thoroughly skeptical person, and also this female salmon. But. If they’re offering. And if it’s really the ONLY WAY…

There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

So I relent.

Kris offered her arm to my death grip, and I clawed the bannister with the other hand. I step, step, rested, step, dragged my weak leg and large ass up too many stairs to count.

Showed my ID to the list holder, got stamped, and staggered in.

Down below, Doorman recruited two other willing guys and brought up my big, bulky wheelchair.

I was too ashamed to look back. I was mortified they had to do that for me, and flooded with appreciation that they would anyway, and terrified they’d hurt themselves or the chair in the process.

It’s a basic-ass power chair, but it took me a $1,000 co-pay and nearly a year of time to get it. A replacement would cost over $6,000 because my insurance company doesn’t shop on Amazon.

Eventually, it arrived, and I sat and tried to breathe slow and not cry. (Not tonight!)

But the lack of elevator was just the tip of the inaccessibility iceberg. There was no designated seating area for chair users, so we were left to strategize our own spot. We picked one at the end of the bar, next to the (low) tables where standing people would be less likely to block my view.

The crowd fills in moments later and fills the place up. I will not be able to go anywhere until it clears out again after the show – unfortunate news to my neurogenic bladder’s every 20-minute schedule, but again, no choice here.

It’s hard, Lord
Lord, it’s hard
Everybody in the whole damn place has gotta have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

Lights up

Band in. Show starts.

And in that alchemy, the mess, the strife, the shame of getting there melted away.

We groove like only HGM can groove.

We laugh. We sing along. I chair-dance myself sweaty.

And also countless people trip over the footplate of my chair (and my feet). I have to pee for an hour and a half, leaving me praying the show never ends and ends right now. Bitter and sweet, sweet and bitter.

They play all my favorites.

I’m amazed at the energy the band can bring to this last stop on tour.

I’m humbled at the sacrifices they make to come bring this experience to us. Thousands of miles and dozens of days and countless loved ones left, just to fill us with the gospel of the jukebox.

It’s like an oil change for the soul. The toxic sludge drained out, the life-giving power of connection restored.

Hallelujah anyhow.

Requisite low-quality phone snap that completely fails to capture the power and glory of the experience

We applaud the contiguous encore. It’s the mature choice, logistically and conceptually, and it makes perfect sense.

Finally, finally, it’s over. We wait a minute for the aisle to clear as quickly as it had filled, and I beat it to the (inaccessible) bathroom. Relief.

When I come out, they’re waiting to take my chair down. I grapple-plod-step-rest-plod back down, and plop on a bench in the clear, cold air outside to await the chair arrival.

When the eagle lands, Kris and I head back to the car, to home, to bed.


The story would end there, but it doesn’t quite, because there was magic afoot, remember?

To home, to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Perchance to not be awakened by either kid before dawn. And so it went!

In the morning, I rolled over to try to shift the pain from one hip to the other, to keep the pain down enough to pretend I might sleep for 15 more minutes.

But that never works. I open my eyes and was transported instantly back to the stage last night.

blue sparkly jacket in my closet
The wholly impractical blue sequin jacket I thrifted last week in a fit of Opry fever

A shimmering blue column of power and persistence catching the sliver of weak sun, transforming it beyond recognition.

A pulse of light in the darkness, just like HGM in the November early darkness on that empty Sunday evening.

I’ll rise, I’ll rise
I’ll rise in the morning
Take the good news
And carry it away
Take the good news
And spirit it away

– “Drum,” Hiss Golden Messenger

And in that flash, I knew: there is enough love to go around.

That songs are stronger when more people sing them.

That live music is the raw edge of community – our synapse, ifyouwill –  of community with every thing that makes life good, and with each other.

And it’s a “we” that makes life good.

There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

I had a good time. A great time. An epically awesome time.

Even with the roadblocks, the self-imposed and the systematic, amor vincit omnia.

Thank you, MC.

Thank you, HGM.

Thank you, Eddie’s Attic strong men.

Thank you, Kris, for 20.5 years.

Thank you, legs, for getting me up the stairs one last time.







2 thoughts on “Our Magic Music Night Seeing Hiss Golden Messenger Almost Didn’t Happen – Twice”

  1. I love this story. I’ve never heard this band but now i need to know them, because it feels like i was at the show with you. I’m so glad you got to go. ♡♡

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You had me hanging on every last turn of this story.
    Love that they put you on ‘the list’ (soooo fancy) and that the strong men used their muscles for good. And thank the good lord there wasn’t a line for the bathroom, b/c that’s exactly what I feared was coming next in the story. Now, to go look up this band to discover their music.

    Liked by 1 person

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