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Hailey Whitters Concert: Smile, Pick It Up, and Enjoy Nature’s Flow

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Hailey Whitters Concert: Smile, Pick It Up, and Enjoy Nature’s Flow

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John Michael’s newest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise column, “Smile, Pick It Up, and Enjoy Nature’s Flow,” is about his recent time in Portland and seeing Hailey Whitters in concert at Mississippi Studios.


There Has Been Some Panic

When I first drove into downtown Portland I thought, It feels like home. I have been having some panic this Spring and, today, I won’t say has been rough, because I don’t want to label my emotions as “good” or “bad,” because they all serve a purpose. But there has been some panic.

I’m enjoying staying at a local hostel. There are a lot of like-minded people around who are mostly happy because they are traveling and on an adventure. I went out wandering around downtown this morning and I don’t really realize I’m panicked until I start to calm down. I don’t know if it was memories of being homeless here and sort of being looked down on for being a hobo? I never got in a fight back then, but I did have to block a couple of punches for whatever reason.

I also got sprayed with bear mace and drugged with either acid or angel dust at Occupy Portland by a couple of guys who were probably aspiring “antifa.” I had the thought at the time it was my own aggression coming back to me, karma if you will, but that was a very strange scary week. So, maybe the panic was about the possibility of running into those guys again?

Spring is a time of new growth, and the panic may be about me being reluctant to letting go of old defenses and facing the work in a more open, less emotionally guarded way.

Also on The Big Smoke

I drove out this afternoon to check out Mississippi Studios where Hailey Whitters will be playing in a couple of hours. I’m having a burger in the venue’s adjacent bar. The concert hall is way smaller than I thought. So, Hailey is going to see me up close. I have been very touched emotionally by several of her songs. Not even sure how I came across her music. I think it was when I was a DJ at The Outlaw and was paying really close attention to country music.

Whitters—pretty, blonde, and curvy, with some definite melancholy hanging around her—is an Iowa girl who moved to Nashville when she was 17 to pursue a music career. She’s got a song about it called “Ten Year Town.” They say it can take ten years to make it in Nashville, “I’m twelve years into a ten-year town,” she sings. Whitters was also nominated for a songwriting Grammy this year. Because of that, I was maybe naive thinking it would be a packed house with a ton of people familiar with her music. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. As of this afternoon, the show wasn’t sold out.

There is a few authentically country type people here and maybe a group of small town girls way too dressed up. Mississippi Avenue is maybe the new cool street in Portland. Lots of quirky restaurants and shops. So, plenty of Portland scene people are in the bar as well.

I had to get a COVID test to get in as I’m not vaccinated. It was a drive-through at Walgreens. I was honestly a little nervous about it. But I got to swab my own nose. It wasn’t bad but I’m surprised it still stings a little. I’m here by myself, which is fine, I do lots of things by myself. I’m less self-conscious than before, but still shy about what to do and how to carry myself. My tough, fuck-you-hipster face faded a long time ago. I’m looking for people to be kind to, but I’m still shy and awkward about it.


Smile, Pick It Up, and Enjoy Nature’s Flow

I almost sang with Hailey Whitters …

I was off on a picture-taking ramble yesterday around Portland and one of my first thoughts I had was to flow with nature, which made me wonder if the hobo way isn’t as ancient as mankind. I remember many times while homeless just roaming around town, searching garbage cans for treasures, bottles, and food; there is just no way you couldn’t eat and drink well.

I do miss hoboing and when I saw an orange in the middle of the sidewalk I just had to smile, pick it up, and enjoy nature’s flow.

It’s a gorgeous night in Portland and there is a lot of lovely people out enjoying the city. I took a long nap this afternoon after staying up late last night for the Hailey Whitters concert. I was talking with the Hostel owner this morning, a woman from Germany who still carries an accent and is probably older than her youthful appearance would lead one to believe.

Her hostel made it through the pandemic just fine, but she said COVID forced many small hostels, and even some large ones, out of business. There were a bunch of eager young folks out picking up trash this morning (the hostel cleans the neighborhood twice a month) and that touched me somehow. She said that when they first started again after COVID they filled a construction-sized dumpster.

What a lovely time I had at the Whitters concert. People kept pouring in during the opening act and the hall was packed by the time Hailey and her awesome band took the stage. She had the audience in the palm of her hand after starting with a rocking ditty.

People kept pouring in during the opening act and the hall was packed by the time Hailey and her awesome band took the stage. She had the audience in the palm of her hand after starting with a rocking ditty.

I mentioned before how I felt awkward and shy at the show. I was watching people closely for a bit and that is the human condition, we long for a deep connection but don’t know how to get it. I had the thought, engage people, which I didn’t want to hear but started to look for opportunities for conversation. Finally, I got things started with a fellow smoker who had lived in Portland all her life but whose family was from Arkansas. She said she was a combination of those two places and that it suited her well in her life.

Toward the end of the show, Whitters wanted an audience member to come up and duet with her on “Islands in the Stream” that Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers made famous. Only women were raising their hands, so I poked mine in the air and she points me out. I thought, “my life is getting surreal.” She asked me if I knew the whole song. I didn’t and said so. I said, “I could probably do some Merle Haggard,” which made her smile. A couple of women got on stage and Whitters said I could come up anyway. I got to the edge of the stage, “but my silent fears have gripped me.” That quote is from The Police song, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”

But when I was at the front of the stage, I noticed she had her set list taped to the floor and it didn’t include one of my favorite songs of hers, “One More Hell,” about the death of her brother. So, I asked her if she would play it. The look on her face was one of surprise, I think she was maybe expecting the Portland crowd wasn’t too familiar with her catalog. She told me after the show, when I was picking up some merchandise, she had only booked Portland because she had family in the area.

Anyway, she let the band know about the change and, this may sound cheesy, but I said, “I cry every time I hear it,” which is true. She said, “Now you’re making me cry.” As she played, she looked at me a couple of times and we were both crying and smiling as was half the crowd.

I had a good conversation with a couple of young women who had traveled about six hours from Northern Washington for the show. One of the women had lost her brother as well and was just incredibly grateful for me asking for that song.

At some point during the evening, when I discovered how shy and ashamed we all are, no matter the various defenses we use to navigate the world, I don’t know, I just felt a little safer to love people and to love myself.


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John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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