“We’ve played all the major cities of the world: London, Paris … but none of it really prepares you for Layton.”
Of course the crowd laughed, but it was less because of the Layton joke and more because of how singer Chris Isaak delivered it — that down-to-earth way of his, talking to the audience as if each us in the crowd were his very best friend.
That one-liner came in Isaak's Layton concert last year (we also got, “When you’ve made it to Layton, you’ve made it to the top”) — my fifth show with the rock 'n' roll crooner. When it comes to seeing Isaak live, I pretty much do whatever it takes to be there. So you can imagine my heartbreak when I realized that this year, I'd be attempting to hike Half Dome at Yosemite National Park — emphasis on attempting — when he plays Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre on July 26.
If you haven't seen Chris Isaak in concert, let me try to explain my sorrow: Watching Isaak perform onstage isn't just entertainment (although there's plenty of that), it’s the manifestation of someone living out a dream. Isaak’s infectious enthusiasm and love for what he does night after night shines bright — though maybe not quite as bright as his blue-and-pink sequined suits.
I first saw Isaak perform when I was 14. My parents took me to our Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, hometown's House of Blues and there I stood, as close to the stage as I could get, belting out the words right along with him. (My dad still cites my extensive Isaak songlist knowledge as one of my life’s greatest accomplishments.)
From my perspective, Isaak was having as much fun as I was, even saying at one point that he was going to continue the fun with his band after the show and go out for some drinks.
But instead, that first after-concert hour at least found Isaak signing autographs and speaking with fans. And that's when it happened: Spotting his most impressionable — and probably youngest — fan of the night, he leaned toward me, brown floppy hair and all, and imparted unexpected advice that went something like this:
“I know we talk about drinking and partying when we’re onstage, but I want you to know that I don’t touch a drop. We only say those things because we think it makes us look cool.”
For the next several minutes, Isaak went on to talk about how he often saw children and teenagers around him acting older than their age, trying to grow up too fast instead of enjoying and valuing their childhood.
His final words of advice? “Slow down!”
Isaak put black Sharpie to my T-shirt, immortalizing those words inside of a heart near the top-left corner of the souvenir shirt.
That shirt must’ve been pretty large for me back then because it fits just right these days. And every time I pull the shirt from my closet, my eyes briefly linger on the main image of Isaak leaning against the side of a light blue fence before shifting up to that special spot.
At 14, I didn’t realize it was such an unusual and meaningful moment.
Isaak didn’t have to say anything to me. He hadn’t done anything wrong and he certainly didn’t need to justify or explain his actions to me. But he did it anyway.
Maybe he does go out and drink after shows and it was all a noble lie — or maybe he was telling the truth. But it really doesn’t matter. In that moment, Isaak recognized he was in a position to influence and he sought to use that power for good.
I’m sure Isaak has no recollection of talking to me 13 years ago, but that moment meant the world to me. Today, when most interactions between artists and fans take place via Twitter and Facebook, I love to remember that moment when I felt like Isaak's best friend. This wasn't Isaak entertaining the masses onstage. He was just talking to me, and if someone like Isaak could take time out of his busy, on-the-road life to make a 14-year-old feel like a million bucks, then I knew that had to change how I viewed and treated others.
I won’t be there this week when Isaak holds that long, high note at the end of "Wicked Game," but I'm sure he’ll be back — he mentions Salt Lake City in a song, after all. But instead of wishing time would speed up so I can make it to my sixth show, I’ll just have to heed Isaak’s words and “slow down.”