Anxiety has controlled my entire life. Last year, I was on medication and attended counseling in order to control it; and then in 2016, I stopped both.
I miss out on a lot of experiences because of my anxiety. I make plans and then cancel them at the last second, a lot.
Over the summer, I made plans that took my entire family by surprise. Even my friend’s mother didn’t believe it when she found out what I had planned.
I had met two girls, Jen and Courtney, online through our mutual love for R5, a band who we decided to follow via road trip from the beginning of their tour.
The plan was to attend the band’s concerts in Toronto, Darien Lake, N.Y., and Philadelphia.
This shocked those around me for a few reasons. First, I was taking a trip with two girls I had never met in person. The idea sounded like it came straight from a true crime television show. Second, I’m not exactly fond of meeting new people. Most people who know me can tell you that I am not a people person. Third is my issue with anxiety.
R5 is made up of four siblings and a family friend. The lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist is Ross Lynch, a former Disney star from Austin & Ally. He was recently cast in My Friend Dahmer as a young Jeffrey Dahmer, set to premier this fall. Riker Lynch is the band’s bass player, who played Jeff, a Dalton Academy Warbler, in Glee. Riker also appeared on season 20 of Dancing with the Stars, where he was awarded first runner-up. The only Lynch sister, Rydel Lynch, plays the keyboard, and her boyfriend and family friend, Ellington Ratliff, plays the drums. The band’s lead guitarist is Rocky Lynch, who produces a lot of R5’s current music.
Leading up to the trip, there were plenty of times when I thought about backing out of the plan. I already figured out that the two girls were far more outgoing than I was, so I knew there’d be times when I would feel super uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, I did it anyway. I went on a trip with two girls I met online, and I survived to tell the story of the time I followed a band on tour — and even became acquainted with them.
Toronto, ON // June 28, 2017
We arrived in Toronto on June 27, the day before the concert. We wanted to do some shopping, check into our AirBNB and get to know the area where the venue was. Our AirBNB was around the corner from the venue, and the closest parking lot happened to be right across from it. We assumed that the band would be parking their tour buses in the same parking lot as our car, since there didn’t seem to be much parking elsewhere.
While we did have meet-and-greet passes that granted us early access into the venue, Jen had us awake before 7 a.m. the morning of the concert.
After breakfast, we went to the parking lot to grab some items out of the car. As we stood in the parking lot, we became a bit baffled.
“I wonder where they parked the bus,” Jen said. I glanced around and then something caught my eye.
“Is that it?” I pointed to the large bus that was parked in the driveway of a medical center neighboring the venue.
I’m not sure why that was even a question. It was pretty obvious that it was the tour bus. However, this discovery didn’t lead to much, as it was 8 a.m., and we weren’t going to wake them up.
We went back to our AirBNB until 10 a.m., and then we took another walk around the block to the venue to see if anyone had shown up yet.
There were a couple girls in line whom we knew from Twitter, so we decided to stay in line to hang out with other fans. In the afternoon, we took turns going back to the AirBNB to change into our concert outfits.
It was towards the later afternoon when some band members decided to come out from the bus. I managed to meet Ross and Ellington before the show even started.
After that, more waiting ensued. Jen was allowed to go in before Courtney and I because Jen had bought the Ultimate VIP, which was a $500 ticket upgrade that allowed the fan to spend fifteen minutes with the band. This upgrade was cut off after five people, and Jen had bought hers just in time to be one of the five.
Jen had a hell of a time inside. Ellington even posted a video on Instagram of her rubbing Rocky’s shoulders.
About a half an hour later, fans who had the regular meet-and-greet passes were finally allowed to enter the venue. It’s safe to say, I was a wreck. I was at the front of the line and on the verge of having a panic attack. I was going to be meeting them in just a couple minutes.
When I entered the meet-and-greet area, I was greeted by Andre Recke, the band’s manager, and Mark Lynch, the Lynch patriarch. Mark took my bag for me, and I nervously approached the band.
Rydel and Ellington were the first band members to greet me in a group hug, and then Ross. But I have to be honest, I don’t even remember what he said to me. My heart was just set on telling Rocky that I was proud of him before leaving the room.
Riker was next in line. He asked me how I was doing as he hugged me, and I rambled something about being nervous. Lastly, there was Rocky. My time had finally come as the Rocky Balboa theme song played as I stepped closer to him.
Rocky pulled me in for a hug, and I started to ramble.
“I’m so proud of you, Rocky! “Lay Your Head Down” is so beautiful,” I said. He pulled away and looked down at me with the biggest smile on his face, and I nearly melted into a puddle of anxiety.
“Aw, thank you so much! I’m glad you like it!” he said.
With my sole mission accomplished, I got back in between the band to take our pictures. They were taken in photobooth style, meaning we only had two seconds to pick a pose for each of the three pictures. This also meant that the possibility of looking like a dork in these photos was good. And I’m sure you could guess who looked like the dork … me.
After taking the pictures, I retrieved my silver holographic backpack from Mark. As I was grabbing my bag from him, it caught Ross’s eye, and he told me that he liked it. I smiled and thanked them, and then walked out the door.
And that was it. That’s what I was freaking out about.
In the hallway, the ultimate meet-and-greet fans and the ones who went in before me were talking about their experiences. We had to wait in the small hallway until every fan had gone through their meet and greet. Jen, Courtney and I were standing in front of the door that led to the stage.
The door suddenly opened and hit Jen. A crew member, who I later learned was a guitar technician, apologized and noticed it was Jen he’d hit.
“Out of all people I could hit with the door, I hit you,” Brent Diamond said.
Diamond already knew Jen, which was no surprise since Jen had already been to nine R5 concerts. Diamond was one of the coolest people I met on this trip.
Once all of the fans had made it through, we were released into the wild — or rather, the venue. We were told not to run, so we very briskly walked to the front of the stage. We managed to snag spots directly in front of Rocky, and then Jen went to the bar to get a shot of whiskey. The band told those of legal drinking age (which is 19 in Ontario) to take a shot of whiskey in the beginning of their song “If.” They were insane if they thought I would risk my barricade spot for some alcohol.
As a self-proclaimed avid concert-goer, I’ve been to many concerts. However, this concert was the first time I had ever been front row, and it was quite an experience. The entire band dedicates themselves to performing the best show every night. I never understood how artists could say, “This was the best concert of the tour,” but it seriously comes down to the performance. R5 attempts to make every performance the best; their energy generates even more energy from the crowd.
After the concert, Riker jumped down and picked up the two guitar picks that had been throw
n to the crowd but had not met their intended target. He threw the first up into the crowd, and the second he handed directly to me.
Yes, I swooned.
Post-concert, many fans tend to hang around the bus because there is usually a guarantee that the band will come out for selfies.
The three of us had decided against it for two reasons: 1. The band had told Jen during her meet-and-greet that they weren’t sure if they would be able to hang out after the show. 2. We were exhausted.
The adrenaline rush was fading, and my feet never hurt so much in my life. I looked drunk walking back to the AirBNB, yet I was the only one in the trio who wasn’t.
We later regretted our decision. Around 1 a.m., posts on Twitter confirmed that the band did hang out after all. Instead of giving into the temptation of walking back to the venue in our pajamas, we stayed in. That night, I read a tweet about Ross, who had been walking barefoot outside of the venue after the show. Apparently, he likes the feeling of grass on his feet.
Toronto, ON → Boston, Mass. // June 29, 2017
One thing I’ve learned is to never say yes to something that you have no context of, which is why I was hesitant to answer when Jen asked, “You good with that, Kaylee?”
I hadn’t been paying attention. We were heading to Niagara Falls, where we were staying until the next concert in Darien Lake.
“What?” I asked.
“Just say yes,” Jen said with a devious smile.
Once she realized I wasn’t going to just say yes, she explained that they wanted to drive to Boston for the next concert, which was the following day.
The idea was crazy. From Toronto to Boston is an eight hour drive. However, I was not about to say no. I had never been to Boston, and I wanted to be able to say I was in Boston on the five-year anniversary of the Aerosmith concert.
Before leaving Canada, we stopped at a Duty Free, a retail outlet exempt from local or federal taxes, where I happened to find a very interesting product, turf flip-flops. They had artificial grass on the bottom, so the wearer would feel like they were walking on grass. I couldn’t find them in a larger size, but I bought them anyway. I knew my next mission was to give them to Ross, because he had said he enjoyed walking on grass.
Between our stops and getting lost a couple times, the eight-hour trip took about 11. We listened to the same five songs on R5’s EP “New Addictions” the ENTIRE way.
We arrived in Boston around 8 p.m. on the beautiful Newbury Street. We knew the band was at a recording studio there, so Jen and Courtney wanted to surprise them. The band knew we planned on following them for a few cities, but they weren’t expecting us at the Boston concert. We happened to run into them that night, but we decided not to bother them.
Overall, it was a very long night. Our last-minute trip made it difficult to find a hotel, and by the time we got a room, it was after 2 a.m. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and I had even contemplated buying a plane ticket back home.
I was glad I didn’t.
Boston, Mass. // June 30, 2017
The morning of the Boston concert was pretty uneventful, other than us driving around for an hour trying to find parking. We were in line by 11:30 a.m., and I managed to receive one hell of a sunburn.
Inside, the three of us took our photos with the band together. I managed to get split up from Jen and Courtney in the crowd and started to feel claustrophobic, so I moved up to the balcony.
I noticed about halfway through the concert that Lynch’s mother, Stormie, was also watching the show from the balcony.
After the concert, I met up with Jen and Courtney, and instead of crowding around the bus with the other fans, we sat back and waited for the crowd to clear out. While we sat, we watched the crew pack up the equipment, and then Diamond noticed us sitting against the building.
“Name three songs by that band,” Diamond demands, looking at Jen’s shirt.
She had changed into a Led Zeppelin shirt post-concert. I tried to help her out by whispering her answers, but it wasn’t working.
“Ask me,” I said to Diamond, gesturing to my Aerosmith shirt I had been wearing purposefully because I was in Boston.
“Oh, I would have asked you if I would have noticed. Go ahead, name three,” Diamond said.
“‘Walk This Way,’ ‘Walk on Water,’ ‘Seasons of Wither.’ Would you like me to go on? We might be here all day,” I answered.
Diamond nodded his head in approval and said, “Impressive. Want a souvenir?”
He handed me a drumstick that Ellington had used and broken during the concert. Before I realized, it fell in two pieces on my lap.
Eventually, the crowd around the bus cleared out, but we just stood around while other fans talked to Rocky and Ross. Ellington came off the bus and noticed us immediately. He shot us some gnarly finger guns and came over. I asked him to make a video for my cousin because she really wanted to go on the trip with me. Safe to say she was pretty excited about it.
After chatting with Ellington for a bit, we started to mingle in with the crowd and talked to Rocky and Ross. Ross had us all sign his shirt. And with Jen being the only member of our trio of legal drinking age, she got to go into the bar with the band, their opening acts and crew to have a few drinks with them.
Jen, Courtney and I were talking to Ryland, the youngest Lynch, and the only brother not in the band. Mark Ballas, a professional dancer from Dancing with the Stars and one-half of opening act Alexander Jean, noticed Jen’s shirt. He approached us to talk about Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist.
Alexander Jean is an indie group formed by Ballas and his wife, BC Jean. The group had been opening for R5, and when I originally found out, I was admittedly just as excited to see them as I was R5.
I was a huge fan of Ballas, whom I knew of before I knew of R5, and was so excited to even be in his presence.
“Not like she’d know who that is,” I said to him after his remarks about Jimmy Page.
“She’s wearing the shirt,” Ballas said, looking at me dumbfoundedly.
“Yeah, so?” I laughed.
“You don’t know who Jimmy Page is?” Mark began to question Jen, before demanding that she change her shirt.
“At least I know who Steven Tyler is,” I said in reference to my Aerosmith shirt.
Ballas high-fived me but held my hand in the air.
“What band?” he asked. I realized he hadn’t noticed my shirt, which made me feel dumb for bringing it up in the first place.
“Aerosmith,” I said awkwardly, and he let go of my hand.
“She’s wearing the shirt,” Courtney said.
I then got to tell Mark how much I appreciated his work, and it was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We talked to the band and the opening acts until 2 a.m., which was their bus curfew. They knew we were also heading to Darien Lake, so we planned to follow the bus to get there. So we waited in the car for them to leave. Jen and Courtney put me in charge of waking them up when the bus left. I had dozed off at first, but woke up to see the bus leaving around 3 a.m. I woke them up and we were off to the next stop of our trip.
Read the conclusion of this story in Part Two, coming to apnmag.com this fall. In the meantime, be sure to check out R5’s latest single, “Hurts Good.”