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Beyoncé and JAY-Z's 'On The Run II Tour' stop in Vancouver was full of lessons

Da’Shan Smith

 // Oct 11, 2018

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For the past 11 days, I embarked on my first journey through the west coast of the U.S. Since the Carters announced their "On The Run II Tour," I had the bright idea to see them outside of my home base of New York City. Recently, I developed a new hobby of attending concerts in different cities because I was somewhat tired of the same event humdrum the Big Apple had to offer. I thought Vancouver would be the perfect location to witness the royal American music couple, while simultaneously immersing myself in foreign culture.

What originally had been an excuse to finally vacation in Canada expanded into a more grand musical journey. I realized I could have easily bought floor seats to "OTR II" and a few night stays at a downtown Vancouver hotel. But, then I thought about having once in a lifetime opportunities, the cost effectiveness of booking multiple cheap flights on Priceline and Google Flights, the reduced prices of Airbnbs that closely resemble hotel rooms, and the fact Bolt Bus crosses the border into Canada for under $20.

Before I would see the Carters in their element, I spent a weekend in Seattle and after their Canada stop, Portland and Los Angeles would also receive the “Nightshawn101” treatment. Not only that, Beyoncé and JAY-Z weren’t the only recording artists I had on my itinerary to see. I planned on attending a show in every city I stayed in.

Four days prior to my flight to Seattle, the news came out that Childish Gambino broke his foot and he had to cancel the remainder of his "This Is America Tour." I saw that moment as a blessing in disguise. Originally planning to attend his concert with Rae Sremmurd that Saturday Sept. 29, I noticed that when I was on a ticket hunt, the 90s alt-rock band Garbage also had a show the same night. It would have already been an out-of-the-box experience witnessing how northern pacific natives responded to the "Atlanta" A-lister and his Mississippi-hailing opening act. But, the thought of vacationing in the capital of grunge music -- better yet, the birthplace of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- and attending a 20-year anniversary concert of alt-rock legends seemed a bit more appealing.

Not even 12 hours after I arrived in Seattle, my entrance to the performance venue, Showbox SoDo, I was greeted by the guitar chords and Courtney Love pleading “Don’t make me over” on Hole’s “Celebrity Skin.” Ironically, I cued that song up earlier in the day on my flight’s playlist and making a cliche movie moment of listening to one of my all-time favorite grunge songs, as the plane touched down on Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tarmac.

As I situated myself in the very back of Showbox SoDo— waiting for the DJ’s playlist to cease for the headliners— I noticed I was one of the sparse black concertgoers in the crowd. In fact, my whole experience in the hotspot cities of the West Coast resembled this reality. In the middle of the show, that magical thing happened where the only black people in the room somehow find themselves spectating everything together. I had been puzzled by this guy -- who claimed that he was "involved" in the mosh pit fight Shirley Manson previously halted the show to address -- as he said he never travelled outside of Seattle, let alone the county. He attributed this to his daily interactions with tourists being enough worldly experience, which made me ask him, "But, don't you want to see the blocks that they come from?"

While soaking in Garbage -- and declaring to myself that “Special” would become my new karaoke anthem -- I noticed the cacophony of various genres seeping into their music. It was hard to pinpoint the band’s sound to just grunge. It contained elements of country: Some songs included the instrumentation of cowbells, which nicely complemented the twang of lead vocalist Shirley Manson. Some parts embodied the new wave genre of the 80s, as others matched an energy close to UK rockstars of the 60s and 70s.

It wasn’t until my walk to the Space Needle the next day that I realized how important that moment truly was. Of course, that came with listening to “Kiss It Better” and “Same Ol' Mistakes” from Rihanna’s Anti. Seeing the Garbage show made me further appreciate Rih’s present magnum opus, as that album is one of the most successful in recent music to meld those same exact sounds into one body of work. In Seattle, I had experienced a time-traveling conundrum of sorts: Reliving the glory days of Gen Z and 80s babies millennials who had CD copies of Garbage’s Version 2.0 when it first came out in 1998, and as a 90s baby millennial relating the advancement of our present music to “out-of-comfort” experiences like these.

Crossing the border into Vancouver, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think that depression would be one of those feelings. But, as I stayed three nights in Canada that emotion was felt through my pure excitement. Enjoying my vacation, I also wanted to experience the culture of each city I visited— not wanting to do all the tourist cash-grabs, but my own local exploration. That’s when I noticed how everything had been a bit more pleasant— and smooth running— north of the border. Simply put, everything in Canada had been perfect!

Their fast food tasted fresher, came in larger portions and had variety. When the SkyTrain said it was coming in five minutes, it came in four and waited thirty seconds before closing the door (a sharp contrast to the faulty MTA system of NYC). The sidewalks were as clean as the SkyTrain and the roads lacked potholes. Their prices were cheaper, which was an added bonus for my 0.78x stronger American dollar to the Canadian. If homelessness existed, I didn’t see it on the sidewalks, the SkyTrain, or tourist hotspots. Some of their attitudes matched the likes of some snarky Degrassi characters I grew up watching. As I sipped their better tasting rum and cokes at a bar, their citizens warned about higher taxes, which made the frustrated American in me pipe in “At least you know your taxes is going towards something!

The destined night of the "On The Run II Tour" in Vancouver finally came: Tuesday Oct. 2. But, it further thrusted me into a purgatory of anxious emotions . Foolishly, I waited until the very last minute to purchase my ticket. With other concerts, I’ve had better luck with buying tickets with a cheap price the day of. I would recommend not doing that for the Carters because I almost didn’t make it.

But, there I was sitting in the 400s section of BC Place, AKA the stadium’s nosebleeds. Suddenly, I was rushed with feelings of selfishness and a brush of ungratefulness to the point where even I had to personally check myself. Honestly, it felt a bit weird to be covering a concert from nosebleeds. I combated that notion with the factuality that I wasn’t entitled to press access and that being fairly new in the media industry -- with my barely 600 Twitter followers -- isn’t particularly on brand with the realm of the Carters.

Still, I believe my frustrations had stemmed from who does get that exclusive access. There have been countless times of scrolling my social media timeline and seeing other black writers, especially those from black media companies, complain about publicists ignoring them in favor of mainstream publications that don’t cater to black readers. And although I understand the functionality of business with targeting and expanding demographics, I wholeheartedly relate to the talking points of my peers. I sat in my seat, wondering how these said publications gain closer access than us. Especially when there is very few of us consistently writing in-depth articles celebrating the legacy of music anniversaries— instead of quick write-ups on new releases that don’t get revisited beyond the immediate clicks.

Through all of that, I snapped out of the funk when the screen on the stage flashed “This Is Real Life.” Me attending the "OTR II Tour" had in fact been real life. In the moment of the Carters entering on stage to perform “Holy Grail,” I let all those frustrations exit. I realized my Vancouver moment wasn’t necessarily meant to cover the concert. It wasn’t an assigned obligation. But, just an added career perk and ambitious challenge I gave myself. I almost missed sight of the vacation’s original purpose: To be in the moment. I had to really let it sink in. I said to myself: “I’m finally in Canada, watching a legendary couple -- who has soundtracked most of my growing up -- perform. I'm getting paid to write about this, something I've strived for since college.” Snapping into this mode, I acknowledged that many in my position won’t have the ability to experience something of that magnitude.

Another reason Canada had been so perfect in my eyes is because its version of “nosebleeds” is like the American version of sitting in the 200s, or second tier of a stadium. It only took two to three camera zooms to see Beyoncé “Ring The Alarm” to her husband’s “Takeover,” or shout along, “I’m on to the next one.” I fanned-out to the “hello, hello” part of “Black Effect,” “skrrttt”-ed to the “Everybody Mad” Beychella dance break, and completely lost it during “APE$HIT”(my phone was already dead, so I couldn't record Bey’s rap verse). Both acts glowed on stage, and again, as one of the scarce black members of that crowd I basked in our melaninated existences.

What’s always fun about concerts is digesting how the audience reacts to certain songs. I had been very surprised at how well versed the Vancouver crowd was when it came to JAY-Z. They took a liking to his Magna Carta Holy Grail cut "Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit" and "waved, waved, waved" to “Show Me What You Got.” The moments that landed best for the crowd were his rock-skewing singles “99 Problems” and the soft-rock crooning of “Young Forever.” As per usual, every hipsway, camera pan, and dancestep garnered Bey a “woah” from the crowd and more cheers. I would have never fathomed “FREEDOM” from Lemonade would manage church lines of blonde Canadians clapping along, but that also happened.

The most poignant moment came during the visual aid of “The Story of O.J.” As the iconic images of JAY-Z in animated Sambo-form flashed on the screen, most of the audience quietly consumed the short film, even booing to the line, “O.J. like, ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.” What I speculated drew audience members into the powerful moment was the jazz instruments underscoring Nina Simone’s roaring voice.

During my stay in the pacific northwest, I heard and witnessed many instances where hip hop played a prevalent factor in their ongoing lives— but more particularly east coast boom bap, nostalgic hip pop of the 90s to early aughts; and jazz-centric, underground rap. Whether that be finding a $2 vintage CD of Puff Daddy and the Family’s 1997's No Way Out at a half-priced bookstore in Seattle, or hearing Canadians blast Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” on a boombox at Victory Square Park.

Looking back at “The Story of O.J.,” I marveled in the fact that a foreign audience was paying attention to our story, more so than some of us do ourselves. Oddly enough, I felt comfortable amongst the neighbors up north— even feeling some sympathy for a tipsy, high-heeled concertgoer after the show who yelled, “Oh no, she didn’t sing ‘Halo.’ Wait, where’s ‘Halo’? ‘I can be your Halo, Halo, Halo.” As I exited BC Place, a group of guys started rapping a JAY-Z line before turning to me and suggesting in hand motion to dab. I played as if I was confused, knowing exactly what their endgame had been, which was with JAY-Z saying “still a nigga” echoing in my head. It’s safe to say I dabbed at my wits when they were out of sight.

Traveling back to America and into Portland felt like a strange episode of Twilight Zone. The utopian-Black Mirror futurism of Canada had come to a screeching halt at the Surrey border. It took ten minutes to get a bus full of travelers into Canada. But, this time leaving ranged close to two hours. Then, I made the error of canceling my Airbnb a day before after spotting a better deal at a hotel. (Some additional advice, don’t do this! It takes longer than 24 hours to get your refund back).

I noticed how the negative images we often see depicting black America in media had been central in Portland, but for the city's predominantly white residents. There were those nodding off in the parks (possibly from heroin usage) and yelling about "crack" on the public transportation system. At night time, the city turned desolate and a bit eerie. Everything closed early with barely any nightlife attractions. At a local video poker spot, which I visited for last minute food after a show, I imagined the amount of lives suffocated by possible gambling addictions. The difference in their situation was a lack of police presence. Essentially, the residents of Portland lived in an American pocket of Amsterdam— not being bothered by law enforcement. A sharp contrast to our realities.

In Portland, I saw Nick Cannon’s "Wild N Out Live" tour at the Moda Center. Already getting lost on Portland’s TriMet system, I arrived late to the show, but had the chance to upgrade seats. "Wild N Out" had always been unique for fusing hip hop with comedy. But, that night I realized how I had outgrown their particular brand of humor. Emmanuel Hudson of “She Ratchet” fame took the stage for his standup routine and although I wasn’t personally offended, his jokes about trans-identity and dating seemed like low-hanging fruit.

As the audience laughed along, it made me wonder, “Are we still falling for this kind of ‘humor’ knowing the present state of existence in 2018?” I understood this routine was a part of his shtick and his set's ending punchline. But, it had also been alarming that seat-ushers were asking audience members to not record during that particular set. It was almost as if the whole crew knew this was wrong and didn’t want to cause controversy with the wrong parts being recorded for public consumption.

In that moment, I felt awkward and borderline uncomfortable. I wondered if any trans-identifying fans of "Wild N Out" sat in that audience and if they were offended or laughed along. I wondered why someone so creative and talented as Hudson or Cannon would go that route. I wondered if maybe I was being too sensitive, feeling guilty for believing what a collective black audience should and shouldn’t laugh at. The culture of -- as Khia would put it -- “roasting and gagging” has taken a hit with a plethora of “woke” movements online, even policing to a degree the comedy coming from black entertainers. I hope this discomfort wasn’t me being too serious in a jovial moment, but rather being cognizant of the times we live in today.

At the end of my journey, I ended up in Los Angeles. Everything looked exactly like how it's depicted in the video games "Grand Theft Auto San Andreas" and "True Crime LA." I spotted the Hollywood sign from my friend’s West Hollywood apartment, located familiar street signs from the b-roll footage of the sitcom "Girlfriends" and even noticed the gold domes of a building "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" often cuts away to. Being in the city that makes stars, Nightshawn101 felt the most relaxed— especially when he saw the extensive CD collection Ameoba Music had to offer.

In L.A., I was supposed to see Tekashi 6ix9ine as another out-of-the-box experience. I wanted to witness in realtime the fanbase that propelled hip hop's present troll to controversial new heights. He, too, had to cancel his tour because of an FBI investigation. Now without any priorities -- excepting trying In-N-Out Burger for the first time -- I had another chance to reflect on where I’m at in my career. Something about seeing architecture centered around Hollywood dreams and fame motivated me even more to continue what I'm currently doing. I was not only feeling the effects of living one dream of many, but also being in a position to manifest those into a reality after grinding hard.

The ultimate highlight of the entire trip came on the final day of my trip while playing Scrabble. Awaiting my turn, I noticed I could spell out “monarchy” thanks to a “y” from another word. My hosts' neighbors were blasting some rhythmic hits the radio when “APE$HIT” suddenly came on. Thinking about how I conquered the west coast on my own terms, me and Beyoncé both sang “I can’t believe we made it, this is what we’re thankful for!


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