“You should never meet your heroes,” or so the old saying goes.
I second, third, and fourth guess a lot of my decisions, but if someone told me I could meet John Paul White if I shaved off my eyebrows…my brow hairs would probably explode/shed off of my face before I could even get my hands on a razor.
And I know it seems like I’m being dramatic, but one: Leos have an innate flair for the dramatic and we could not suppress it if we tried, and two: John Paul White is my number one hero of all time and I never thought I would get to see him perform live.
I remember the day I was introduced to his music quite well. It was summer 2013, a Saturday, and I was doing some chores around the house. I had one of those genre-specific music channels playing on the living room television to keep me motivated while I cleaned.
And then I heard the most passionate, tragically beautiful song—”The One That Got Away” by The Civil Wars.
It was delicate, powerful, impassioned, and pained all at once.
I googled them immediately and discovered The Civil Wars, the three-time (now four-time) Grammy award winning indie-folk duo consisting of John Paul White and Joy Williams, had been on hiatus for nearly a year due to irreconcilable differences.
And then, a year later, they disbanded permanently.
I was devastated and, at this point, heavily obsessed with their music, so I looked into their individual discography.
Prior to forming The Civil Wars, Joy Williams was a Christian pop singer. To be frank, her music was 102% not my cup of tea. I came across John Paul White’s first solo effort The Long Goodbye (no relation to Raymond Chandler’s detective novel) and was reunited with that warm lonesomeness The Civil Wars had instilled in me.
But at this time, it seemed John Paul had no intentions of making more music. He left The Civil Wars because the fame he and Joy accumulated was cutting into his time with his wife and children.
But last week, while I was chatting with John Paul after the concert, I expressed how devastated I felt after he fell off the grid. I thought I had lost all chances of meeti— YEAH, MY FRIENDS. THIS HAPPENED.
John Paul is on tour to promote his new album Beulah (follow this link to read the blog post I wrote about it) and, as you can obviously infer, I was fortunate enough to attend his Chicago concert at Lincoln Hall last Tuesday thanks to my dear significant other.
Not only was this my first time seeing my freaking HERO in concert, but this show was also my first 21+ show and my first show at an intimate venue.
Seeing my hero in person + beautiful and emotional music + social setting with less people than usual + alcohol = ideal Katerina environment.
I won’t bombard you with the plethora of potato quality photos that I took, but the night was definitely magical.
John Paul kicked off his set with a haunting a cappella cover of “I Remember You” which has been sung by many other musicians (though I am most familiar with Frank Ifield’s rendition). In addition to playing songs from his album Beulah he also covered Dan Seals’ “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” which was my favorite cover of the night.
Here’s some footage of JPW performing the cover from one of his previous tour dates:
If the night had ended here, I would have been entirely content. But I feel as though I should probably explain how I came to chat with (yes, for the millionth time) my hero.
After the concert had ended, I decided to just linger in hopes that I might be able to encounter John Paul off-stage. Friends of mine have told me amazing stories of getting to chat with and buy their favorite band members drinks at the end of concerts they’ve attended, and I knew I had to give it a shot.
Immediately, dread settled in. I felt like a total kid. I was the youngest person there, I was new to this whole “mingling at a bar” thing, and the thought of casually being in the same room as (yeah, you guessed it) my biggest inspiration made me anxious.
After a while of waiting, I noticed people with passes walking upstairs which could only mean he was up there.
I knew I didn’t stand a chance to meet him now. However, my significant other encouraged me to ask the crew man who stood at the bottom of the steps if someone could run the poster and set list (which I sneakily removed from the stage) up to have John Paul sign them. The worst he could say was no, right?
I handed over my poster and set list and held my breath. The man walked up the stairs and returned unusually quick. He handed both items back to me, unsigned, and told me to, “Come on up!”
If you’re wondering what my surprise face looks/looked like, it’s exactly the same as Ben Wyatt’s “stupid surprise face” from Parks and Recreation.
I climbed the stairs and was utterly relieved to see there were a few people in line before me—because I sure as heck was NOT ready. I was so visibly nervous that John Paul’s drummer, Reed Watson, kept repeatedly telling me to, “Just chill, y’know? Hang out.”
I tried so hard to chill, but all I could think about was how ridiculously fast everything was happening. I could not think of a single relevant thing to say to John Paul! I had imagined this moment so many times in my head, but I never expected it to happen—certainly not tonight!
And then it happened.
It was my turn and I cannot, for the life of me, fully explain who I became when I conversed with John Paul. A relaxed smile formed on his face as we made eye contact and he offered me his hand, “Hi there, John Paul,” he expressed casually.
I fought the instinct to excitedly shout “LIKE I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE?” and instead took his hand and replied sheepishly, “Katerina.”
“What a lovely name,” he said. I tried to ignore the screaming, crying, and overall freak-out that was manifesting in my mind and thanked him.
I decided the only way this could go smoothly is if I was honest with him.
“I feel like everything I’m about to say is gonna be wrong.”
He put up his hand in protest and reassured me with the calmness of his voice, “Well, let’s not talk,” he paused and smirked, “let’s just hang out.”
At this point, I probably needed a nurse to check my pulse.
To my surprise, we continued to talk for about 15 minutes. I admitted what an honor it was to meet him. He, as expected, was incredibly flattered, humbled, and sweet in accepting my sentiment.
We spoke about so many topics in such a short time, and it felt so natural. I asked about his kids. We chatted about how he’s enjoying being back on tour, what it means to produce work you can be proud of, our favorite Chicago music venues, and so much more. He even thanked me for buying a t-shirt, and I admitted I bought two because I’m a huge brown-noser.
It was an absolute dream.
If you know me well—and some of you who have read some of my previous posts may already know where this going—I am an absolute wreck when it comes to socializing.
Eye contact makes me anxious. I constantly worry about making a fool of myself—whether it’s saying, doing, or feeling the wrong thing.
And the worst part is, having anxiety makes you feel like everyone around you knows it and they’re scoffing at you for it.
My heart was pounding out of my chest as we chatted, but the interaction felt natural and engaging—like catching up with an old friend. I didn’t have to think about what I was going to say; I just said it, and it was enough.
They say meeting your heroes is a risk you shouldn’t take because we tend to put these people on a pedestal only to, in some instances, realize they aren’t who we imagined them to be.
But John Paul exuded more warmth and charisma than I ever could have imagined. It was an honor to chat with someone who has had a tremendous impact on my life, both musically and emotionally.
And none of it would have happened if I had given up and decided not to ask to have my poster and set list signed.
Before our interaction ended, he thanked me several times for my support and expressed his hope to see me come out the next time he visits Chicago.
Thank you for everything, John Paul.
I know I promised not to provide any shoddy quality pictures, but I couldn’t resist.
P.S. – Shout out to my lovely significant other, Justin, for putting up with me, my nerves, and my incessant fan-girling over another man all day/night. I love you, dearest.