As you may have gathered with last week’s contest, something was afoot with my travel schedule if I was shoving things into a bag and braving TSA. I have been a fan of Dessa, who is one part Minneapolis based Doomtree (Hip Hop Collective) rapper and record executive, one part author as well as one part professor and commencement speaker since I first heard her discuss the music industry on NPR. And it took me 3 times to meet the artist. I was entranced by not only an idea that hip hop warrants a place in academia, but that rap could be a contemplative and personally therapeutic form of expression.
Dessa has a knack for drawing out the niche art of introspection in her early releases. Her newest record “Chime” presents more as a silver lining playbook than the music one would listen to “bleeding out to” (as described by Dessa’s mother at one point), being caught up on an ex. Chime is also a response using the experience of learning how to reprogram the rapper’s mind to no longer feel emotions of love toward an ex that she spent the last decade attempting to reconcile. But, be advised that this is not a “let’s torch the car” kind of record. It’s an honest accounting of the human condition moving on from a life once known.
I left Houston via an Easter weekend in 2017 when I found out that Dessa was playing a set of shows around my birthday with the Minnesota Orchestra. It was a natural choice to see one of my favorite MC’s playing with a world class orchestra (despite also wanting Dessa to check out the Houston Symphony scene, cough,cough). Most of my friends carried a “Why Minnesota in April?” look on their faces when I talked about it.
Admittedly, a plane ticket to Havana, Cuba was the same price as flying to wintery Minneapolis in April, but I was making this journey for myself and dreams don’t always make sense to self or our peers at first glance. Inherently, that is part of what makes up the sum of dreams; things possible yet improbable when weighed with tools like logic and feelings of adulthood responsibility.
The plan was for this trip to be a quick weekend stay with an Airbnb booked and a couple of other Minnesota destinations earmarked. My arrival was rainy though safe, the way that only realistic travel becomes. One Uber from the airport and I settled in my room, grabbed a bite, and prepped for the show.
Doomtree published a coffee table book of art and stories which I had purchased a few years back and acted as a stowaway in my carry on luggage for this brief trip. I swear, this thing is a good 6lbs, which my bathroom scale recently just confirmed. If I was short a dumbbell at an aerobics class, this is good information to know for possible supplements. I gripped a sharpie tight as I rode to the show, pre purchased drink tickets in hand, along with this gigantic textbook size hardback.
The rain had died down to a mist and I arrived, smile wide across my face as I had made it to the show 1000 miles from home. I paced the lobby, taking in the sights of the merch booth, a few bar options which had specific craft cocktails designed for the event served in custom lowball glasses, and mingled with other artists signed to the label supporting their friend. (All of whom I saw were gracious enough to sign my 6lb text)
The show itself was phenomenal; acoustics surpassing the hype I bolstered in my mind that this would be. Upon the shows completion, the lobby started to fill, every concertgoer hoping to meet the performers and dwell in the shining smiles all around. Dessa came out to get a few quick photos with fans and then was quickly rushed out when it seemed that she was being swallowed by the controlled chaos of an eager crowd.
I missed my opportunity to meet Dessa in Minneapolis. I was fortunate to catch up with Matthew Santos and Aby Wolf after the show, but there was a lingering sense that after traveling that far I had missed a major part of the experience.
On my way to my next stop stop at a Tiki Bar in the twin cities area, as I waited for a ride outside of the Orchestra Hall, I saw a young woman in her mid 20’s crying as a male around the same age was verbally aggressive. I have a hard time even remembering specifically what he was saying other than the lingering impression that this “bro” provided was nothing but unwelcome.
I don’t consider myself the hero type, nor do I specifically choose to involve myself in domestic drama. But something told me to speak up in that moment. I asked the young lady if she was ok and if she needed any help. She responded that she was ok, slipping by my right side along this sidewalk. Her companion was not thrilled about someone saying anything and proceeded to threaten me, allowing the young lady to escape to a nearby apartment lobby, even if momentarily.
I stood my ground the best I could, wondering where I would get treated if this moved to a physical level. Thankfully, he staggered after the desire of his affection who was at least entering an elevator as best I could tell.
There was an older gentleman who remained quiet throughout the encounter, with whom I had hoped would have provided witness in the event something more was sparked.
After the altercation, I hopped into an Uber and made my way to the next destination. The following day, I found that most of the other destinations were closed due to the Easter weekend.
I flew home, with a weight on my chest about what happened that night, though I only had told my ride from the airport of the altercation. To everyone else, that birthday trip was defined by the high of seeing an amazing performer in their element.
The next time that I tried to see Dessa perform was at this year’s SXSW festivities in Austin. I lacked an official badge and made it to Maggie Mae’s on 6th where there was an official showcase which I would attempt to rub elbows to make my way into. Rain started to be a factor and I made a decision to cut my losses, enjoy a few other parts of the city and then head back to Houston.
By comparison, seeing Dessa in Colorado was a breeze. The arrival was also rainy and cold as May in Colorado and April and Minnesota share a kindred temperature. Monakr, fronted by Matthew Santos opened at the mid size theatre. The 6lb weight of a book was leaned up against one of the theatre walls on the left side of the converted opera house esque venue near railing to lean against separating those who had probably arrived as the doors opened and those of us who grabbed a slice of pizza before entering the venue.
What shocked me most about Bluebird was the lack of screen time that 98% of the crowd had during the performance. I jokingly call myself 3 shot Ryan at most concerts, because I enjoy the experience in the moment and rarely take more than 3 photos. The older I become and the more technology leaves me behind, the more I see concertgoers who are filming the show to relive the moment later. I do not possess such a desire through the lens of a phone. I’ve never once thought to myself that “wow, Apple has finally done it; fully transported me to a time and place solely through a 2D photo or video source.” But this Bluebird crowd understood concerts the way I do, which is to shut the phones off and just enjoy.
Both sets were great and afterward, I was finally able to meet Dessa, thank her for her work and get some merch signed. There was a line and a lack of order, but I made sure as I clutched onto the textbook in my arms that I would not leave without having a conversation.
I felt like a weight had been lifted, as I described parts of the journey I had been on to see her. She was generous with her time and even excited about the 7″ RSD single I asked her to sign as she had not yet seen one pressed.
I took the photo with the boombox before the show and was able to sing along to each song with a triumph of what the journey had become in a little over 13 months. The dream, the obstacles, and the path itself.
“Nothing stops the dreams…”