The Summer of 2020 feels like a different lifetime. Businesses were shuttered. Restaurants were at best operating under massive capacity limits. Interstate and international plane travel was severely limited, making summer vacations and trips to Grandma’s house next to impossible for many.
Mask-covered faces were everywhere. Social tensions were boiling over. Cities were aflame and suffering unyielding vandalism. With even outdoor amphitheaters like Red Rocks closed to the public, live music was hard to come by.
Fortunately, in the past two years restaurants are reopened at full capacity. Summer vacations, while bogged down by record-breaking gas prices, are feasible. Live music has restored excitement to bars, restaurants and theaters. While political tensions persist and we seem to remain a tinderbox in many ways, the onset of summer reminds us of one, big thing: we all need a break.
As a talk show host and columnist, I often tire of the unavoidable division and angst. Politics is a contact sport; it has the potential to bring about the best for people but too often descends into the most conniving, power-hungry traits of human beings. The oftentimes contentious political primaries, especially on the Republican side — now complete with, as we learned this week, Democrat organizations meddling with TV ads financed by high six-figure funds — are emblematic of that which can wear you out.
We face countless issues that deeply matter: the safety and quality education that children deserve yet aren’t getting because school districts keep failing them; the economic opportunity that has been squandered by government officials; the agony of our mental health crisis ignored by policy makers who pay it lip service.
Government is exasperating. Life is hard. Pain is real.
That’s why there’s music. As I wrote last April, “Music is food for the soul. It’s not Republican or Democrat; it doesn’t care about politics, race, gender or ethnicity. Live music literally brings people together of all walks of life, gives us a break from the stresses of life and gives us a chance to cut loose and have fun. It fuels musicians, venues and souls alike.”
As a gigging harmonica player fronting my own Jimmy Junior Blues Band, performing is an extraordinary way to channel my energy and passions, depart from political tensions and simply entertain audiences craving for release from the pressures of life.
There is nothing like being on stage, letting the music flow and feeding off the energy of the crowd as they move on the dance floor. It is in that moment that you know you’ve broken through the barriers and reached down into the soul.
In a very real sense, music can be the purist form of self-expression. The late blues legend B.B. King, who passed away seven years ago last month, knew this better than anyone.
“Playing the guitar is like telling the truth,” he once observed. “You never have to worry about repeating the same (lie) if you told the truth. You don’t have to pretend or cover up. If someone asks you again, you don’t have to think about it or worry about it because there it is. It’s you.”
While we cannot see this manifest itself in our day-to-day lives — lives riddled with manufactured narratives on TV, vicious food fights on social media and a serious challenge in figuring out what’s real and unreal — we can see it in music.
As the late Stevie Ray Vaughan put it, “Music is a good reason to care…It’s a way to try and give somebody something that you feel. If trying the best I can isn’t good enough, I’ll just have to try harder next time. It’s all I can do.”
These days, how many people have let political differences sever the ties that bind friendships and even families? How many of us have at times neglected to consider the impact of our words or our deeds because something somebody said ticked us off big time?
How often is the ideal of free speech, expressed through respectful discourse, being dismissed because the powers that be feel an idea is too “uncomfortable” to hear or to tolerate?
Music entertains, but it also teaches the values of trust and respect — respect for ourselves and for others. The more opportunities I’ve had to perform on-stage, the more I’ve learned about respecting other musicians and when to weave the harp into a song (or when not to!).
To share in music is to share in the pain or the joy of the musician – to reach a deep, mutual understanding with one another.
These are fundamental life lessons, too. As a member of the Arapahoe County Election Canvass Board for the fall 2021 and 2022 primary elections, I’ve represented my county’s Republican Party. Even with our clear political differences, my Democrat counterpart and I have gotten along well, even forging inside jokes. I’ve dined with elected officials and activists who I probably wouldn’t vote for, yet we enjoy meals or coffee and exchange opinions with a smile.
If you really think about it, that’s the way things should be. Whether it’s going out for live music, sharing a meal or talking over a drink, there is so much value in shedding those summertime blues with others.
As the King of the Blues himself sang, “You only live but once, and when you die you’re done, so let the good times roll.”
Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” Saturdays from 6-9am on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.