March 9, 2012. It was four in the morning and I was sitting in a nearly empty bar, the heady aftermath of a five-hour-long concert still fresh on my mind and clothes.
Onstage, Chris Carrabba was twiddling his thumbs on a borrowed guitar, looking all bright-eyed and chipper in his trademark getup: a button-down plaid polo, slicked-back hair and a smile on his face. As if he hadn’t just played a full, heartrending set at the said concert a few hours earlier. Disposition forecast: perennially sunny. At freaking four in the morning.
“What song do you guys want me to sing?” Chris asked his captive, if a little bleary-eyed, audience. I could’ve requested any song on earth but my brain drew a blank. “Screaming Infidelities.” “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears.” The national anthem. Anything, actually, as long as he kept singing.
It had the laid-back look and feel of a typical New York bar scene, or at least, how I’d imagined it to be. It was intimate, inviting and interactive; no rock star/fan discrimination, just the artist, his instrument and an audience absorbed in silent, semi-sober appreciation.
But the thing is, I wasn’t in New York. Heck, I hadn’t even left Manila. The acoustic dream sequence on my concert bucket list was unfolding right before my eyes, and there was no better artist to star in it than this gifted American songsmith who’s hailed as a demigod by heartsick music fans everywhere.
Granted, he’s as normal and friendly as any normal, friendly human being can get. But the moment he starts making music, the sound that comes out of his hands and vocal cords is just otherworldly. And, good God, the man is handsome.
But that’s not all there is to love about him, as I was about to find out that night.
The Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever frontman had just come from the Smash Project 2012 music fest, and he’d wanted to go out with his crew for a nightcap to celebrate the show’s “smashing” success. Through a bizarre turn of events, I’d ended up tagging along with them to Seventh High in Bonifacio High Street.
Call it dumb luck, but my string of Chris Carrabba moments began when I’d caught him backstage for some quick quotes. “So, how did you find the show?” I’d asked, putting on my serious writer face. “Tremendous,” he’d said, then started raving buckets before I could turn on my recorder.
He had nothing but praise for the local and foreign bands he’d shared the stage with.
But it was the audience he couldn’t stop talking about. He’d said that the Pinoy crowd never ceased to amaze him as they sang along to every mouthful of his lyrics, word for word. He’d been especially floored by the reaction he got when he’d played “Stolen.”
“‘Stolen’ is my wedding song,” I’d said without thinking, and he’d broken into a huge grin. “Really?! Congratulations! When’s the date?” “Er, no, I meant I want it to be played at my wedding someday, but I’d have to find a groom first,” I’d amended, wanting to kick myself repeatedly in the head. “Ohh. Well, in that case, I know several guys who’d be interested …” he’d trailed off, slinging an arm around my shoulders.
Then he’d turned to his bouncer with a good-natured grin. “How about Raymond? He’s a nice guy!”
Failed kilig moment aside, it turned out that that encounter literally became my ticket inside the club. An hour later, when Chris saw me chatting with his entourage by the Seventh High entrance, his doe eyes lit up in recognition. “You coming up?” he called out, and heads swiveled around to look. I am now, I mentally told him, giving him a hearty thumbs-up instead. Never mind that the doormen were eyeing my flipflops-clad feet warily; I got in, and that’s when the real fun started.
The regular Thursday night crowd at The Lounge area had no idea about the mind-blowing surprise they were about to have, and neither did we. Before anyone could even process what was happening, he’d already hopped onstage to jam with the house band, who looked completely shell-shocked to find themselves performing “Stolen” with the guy who’d actually written the song!
When people finally gathered their wits, Chris was instantly besieged with photo ops, to the bemusement of his manager. And just like that, The Lounge had come to life at closing time.
Chris is the rare type of celebrity who makes these priceless moments happen. He’s a genuinely good guy, and anyone who’s worked with him—from concert promoter to burly bouncer to smitten Pinay road manager, whose names he apparently knew by heart—can attest to that.
After what felt like eons, he finally made it back to his seat, leaving the still-stunned band members to do their own thing. I reached over to hand him the beer he’d left at the table. “Oh, that’s mine? But they gave me another one,” he began, looking at the fresh bottle in his hand. “No problem, we can just sell this one on eBay,” I replied. His crew chuckled, but Chris looked genuinely mystified. “Who on earth would want to buy that?!”
I was only joking, of course.
He sat back in his seat, looking contented. It was apparent to anyone who happened to be watching him that he was truly enjoying himself, the appreciative smile never leaving his face as the band let rip a few R&B tunes. This clearly was a true music fan right here, one who refused to be confined to one genre and who had real respect for other people’s craft.
When the band finished their set, he got up for round two, borrowing a guitar from one of the members. I could’ve sworn the man had energy drinks flowing through his veins. He teased the crowd with a few bars from Rihanna’s “You Da One,” then asked for song requests.
“If you’re gonna get me to do cover songs, then it’s gonna be something you’ve never heard of in your life!” he said cheekily, then proceeded to sing Cory Branan’s folksy tune “Tall Green Grass.” Branan is a fellow American singer/songwriter who’s his recurring tourmate and good friend, and that song was featured on Chris’s solo EP, “Covered In The Flood,” which had only been available during his solo US tour late last year.
He capped off his impromptu gig with the ever-reliable “Vindicated” before leaving the stage for good, amidst wild whoops and cheers.
Spotting me all by my sleepy-looking lonesome, he sauntered over to my end of the booth. “Scoot over so I can sit down beside you,” Chris nudged me, and I obeyed in a flash. Drinks in hand, we watched the last of the club’s guests trickle out the door in a happy daze, probably still reeling from their incredibly good fortune at having watched Chris Carrabba perform for free. I knew I was.
Blame it on the alcohol or imminent brain death, but by that time, I’d completely forgotten the fact that I was sharing a beer with a rock star. I even forgot the fact that I’d never even liked beer to begin with.
“Do you know you’ve just made their night?” I asked. “Well, they made my night,” He smiled, and I knew he meant it.
I could’ve asked him about anything, like how he could still nail those high wailing notes after all these years, how he writes such eloquent lyrics that could wring tears from a rock, or what toothpaste he uses to maintain those blinding pearly whites. Instead, I found myself explaining to an oddly attentive Chris why beer is served with paper napkins covering the bottle mouths in this country, among other inanities.
Hardly the profound, intellectual conversation I was hoping to have, but the situation alone already defied logic. Besides, this wasn’t an interview. As far as both of us was concerned, we were just having a nice conversation. A little weird, yes, but nice nonetheless.
We sat in companionable silence for a few more moments, two music fans basking in the afterglow of a most surreal night. Then I remembered what I’d been dying to ask him the entire night. “How do you do it, Chris?” I shook my head in awe. “Where does it all come from?”
“Right here,” he said simply, and tapped his fingers over his heart.
With that, he’s stolen mine. “I’ll drink to that,” I said after a while, and our San Mig Light bottles clinked in approval. Here’s to one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met … And to one of the best nights I can ever remember, hands down.