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‘So alive, never been more free’ - Jenny Jelen

It's funny how a melody sounds like a memory. As Eric Church tapped the first key on his piano at the beginning of the song, my eyes instantly began to sting. I looked over just in time to watch a tear roll down my best friend's cheek.
Jenny Jelen Photo
It's funny how a melody sounds like a memory.

As Eric Church tapped the first key on his piano at the beginning of the song, my eyes instantly began to sting. I looked over just in time to watch a tear roll down my best friend's cheek. As the entire stadium sang along and swayed with lighters held high, we stood there, numb.

This was the moment we had been waiting for. Google maps said it took us 18 hours to get to Murray, Kentucky — in that instant, it was entirely worthwhile. The song Springsteen was our summertime anthem.

Nights on beaches with guitars, lazy afternoons, people watching from the hood of our cars, sewing broken hearts back together and a bit of young and dumb fun all happened while this song was reminding us that everything was going to turn out just fine.

No matter what was happening during the summer, good or bad, happy or sad, we would sing our hearts out when this song came on. It was like a call from a friend, telling us that we would be OK, no matter what.

When a casual browse of Church's website revealed a list of American tour dates, my might-as-well-be-sister Amy Lou (Hill) suggested we go to one of the northern cities for a show. The thought of seeing a live show was so exciting that we decided to make it happen.

Unfortunately, timing wasn't on our side — it simply wouldn't have been possible to see Church play anywhere in the top half of the country. So the next logical step was to check dates for shows a little further south. After little thought and some haphazard deliberation, we decided Kentucky would work just fine.

The backseat off my car, (aka Kitty), was piled high with blankets, duffel bags and shoes for any occasion, and the front seats were lined with candy, CDs and more shoes.

About an hour outside Niagara Falls, we realized we would have to rely on our rough estimates of American geography and directions from strangers whose replies were usually along the lines of “See that telephone pole?

Right before it, look to the right and ask the fellow leaning on the black truck,” in order to get there. On the plus side, we had a cellphone snap shot of a map. And road signs.

After a whirlwind night in Niagara with a team of old friends playing tour guides, we began the trek south. Somewhere in Pennsylvania around 2 p.m., someone jokingly suggested we make it to Nashville, Tennessee for last call.

We parked my trusty Kitty off Broadway under a neon sign of a cowboy, decked out from hat to boots, in time to stretch our legs on the dance floor of Tequila Cowboy.

One turn up a supposedly “barricaded” street, a friendly officer from Nashville Metro gave us directions to a truck stop where we could safely park for the night.

Waking up to a warm southern breeze was incredible. Being back in shorts and summer dresses brought back a flood of "discount shades, store-bought tan, flip-flop and cut-off jeans" memories. We wandered around Music City, listening to boots and guitars hoping to make it and took goofy pictures next to giant novelty guitars.

We watched as the red carpet was rolled out at the County Music Hall of Fame, where Garth Brooks would be inducted later that day. We saw places we had only before heard about in lyrics.

Not really ready to leave, but well aware that our tickets said our concert started at 7:30 p.m., we found our way back to Kitty and headed north. Ten kilometers outside Murray, we were on a narrow windy farm road surrounded my fields and patches of trees.

The town itself ended up being quite small, which made the concert experience that much more spectacular. There couldn't have been more than 2,000 people inside the university gym. Our seats weren't really what one would call “good,” but given the intimate environment, they weren't bad either.

We danced until we sweat as Kip Moore opened the show with Crazy One More Time — a song we had listened to about three times on the way up from Nashville.

By the time he finished his set, we were soaked. Waiting for Church to come on left just enough time to cool off, for his first song to give us goosebumps.

He played probably the loudest and brightest show I'd ever seen. There was flames, smoke, gun shots and Jack Daniels. Amy and I had created quite a nice space around us with our sweet dance moves (that's a joke, for all those who have never seen us shake it) up until the very end. That's when he played Springsteen.

Tears mixed with sweat as we stood there, unable to move. The show was over, the lights had come down and the technicians had moved everything back on to the tour bus by the time we could convince our legs to move.

Being Northern girls, the next most logical step was to find a dock next to a lake and reflect on what just happened. Staring at the stars, we had a hard time finding words. When we decided to call it a night, it was a little easier to find a hotel.

Just because the show was done didn't mean our adventures were. We had promised friends pictures from the Louisville Skatepark, which Amy found after careful navigation through a delightful neighbourhood where liquor stores windows were covered in chain links and houses and vehicles were held together with broken sheets of plywood.

Yes, our windows were rolled up and the car doors were locked.

Once we made it out of that charming community, we pointed Kitty towards Lexington. Amy and I are both lifelong horse lovers and riders, so missing out on the Kentucky Horse Park would be unthinkable.

Arriving after visitor hours meant we got to roam around at our will, and take in the most spectacular Kentucky sunset imaginable. We petted noses and read about legends as the sky turned every shade of orange.

By the time it was dark, we decided to take a zillion wrong turns in the city of Lexington itself before stocking up on food, fuel and a few bottles of fun.

Right now, it is 3:30 a.m. We are somewhere in Ohio, heading north. American highways are beautifully smooth, and conversation is light and easy. We've already talked about what's going to happen when we hear Springsteen next. Country radio stations have spared us from it so far, and neither of us dares to play the album.

I know I'm going to get misty-eyed when it comes on, and I know Amy will, too. It goes without saying that before Kitty plunks into a Sudbury pothole, we will have had to listen to it, but I'm not yet sure where or when that will be.

Just hearing it on a stereo anytime before this adventure would make me stop and take in every note, every word. I can't imagine how much more its going to mean now.

I do know, however, that as I sing it, and Amy sings it back, the exact emotion we will experience: So alive, never been more free.

Since returning from this adventure, Eric Church announced Canadian tour dates. Those dates include a show in Sudbury. He is playing the Sudbury Arena Feb. 19. I'm not entirely sure how we're going to make getting there an incredible road trip, but I'm sure we'll figure it out.

Jenny Jelen is the lifestyle and entertainment reporter for Northern Life.