As a journalist there are times I am surprised by what I learn on my travels and other times by what I learn near home. Navigating a crowded Congressional hearing, avoiding insurgents in Fallujah, and driving through a drug gang neighborhood in east Baltimore is one thing. Braving the waiting line for a sold-out concert by a 15-year old Australian heartthrob is another.
I agreed when my 13-year old daughter asked me to accompany her and a couple of friends to a Cody Simpson concert at the six-month old Fillmore concert hall in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Simpson is not a mega pop star and the folks at Entertainment Weekly may not even know his name, but he is definitely an A-lister for 10-to-16 year old girls. He ranks alongside Greyson Chance, Victoria Justice and British boy band One Direction ("1D" to those in the know) -- all well known by today's teens.
It is refreshing in an era when so many rappers preach misogyny or violence toward cops or when international stars have their lives cut short due to drugs or alcohol abuse (here, here) that there are wholesome and well-behaved performers for the young to idolize.
The Simpson concert was general admission, which translates into just how early are parents willing to arrive and stand in line prior to the doors opening one-hour before the 4:00 p.m. show? We reached the Fillmore at 11:30 a.m. with drinks, snacks, folding chairs, a blanket and a generous supply of Hot Hands chemical hand and foot warmers.
About 75 concertgoers were ahead of us. About two-thirds of them were standing on the sidewalk along Colesville Road in front of the theater entrance and -- most importantly -- in the sun. We were in the line that snaked around the corner onto Fremont Street, which was in the shade with the afternoon sun heading in the wrong direction. The 5-10 mph breeze and 46 degree temperature made the air feel much chillier.
My daughter and her two friends were not appropriately dressed for the weather. But neither were any of the other of the hundreds of girls in attendance. There is a very distinct uniform worn by the teenybopper segment of the population. Leggings or blue jeans and a T-shirt from any of Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister with a smattering of American Eagle and Tommy Hilfiger were present. Anything adorned with the Old Navy logo is so yesterday.
A plurality of girls were wearing homemade fan t-shirts with the standard "I (heart) Cody Simpson" inscription in florescent craft paint sprinkled with glitter. This proves that GOP presidential candidates attacked by homosexual activists aren't the only ones wearing glitter this time of year.
A pair of high-top Converse All Star sneakers or Uggs boots and a North Face jacket completed the ensemble. A few girls wore the brightly colored Pastry-brand high-top sneakers. Simpson aficionados know that Simpson's younger sister models the footwear.
The other distinctive physical feature of these girls would make an orthodontist proud. There was a virtual sea of braces and retainers each time they smiled. Apparently, families content with crooked teeth don't attend Cody Simpson concerts.
Countless girls carried signs professing love and loyalty and offering matrimony.
Most of the attendees were from the Baltimore-Washington metroplex such as Annapolis, Bel Air, Mt. Airy, Severn, and Upper Marlboro in Maryland, and Alexandria, Arlington, and Burke in Virginia. Some drove longer distances. Two sisters and their parents from Frackville, PA (about a three-hour drive) were first in line, having arrived at 11:30 p.m. the night before. They pitched a tent for the evening.
They were closely followed by five high school-aged girls from Hanover, PA who arrived at midnight and by four girls from Front Royal, VA who got in line at 1:00 am.
The tired looking Frackville dad sheepishly confessed he couldn't come up with a good enough excuse to turn down his daughters' request to attend the concert with them. He should have felt proud of himself since the typical teenage girl would have preferred her dad stay home.
(It is unknown if the Obama Administration will shut-down the entire town of Frackville, accusing it of contaminating central Pennsylvania's water supply.)
There were a few other dads in line, but not many. Most adults were moms. Teenage boys were also rare although the one standing near us was there because his girlfriend asked him to join her. He also told anyone willing to listen that he looked just like Cody Simpson. He actually did bear a strong resemblance.
Periodically, he would walk to the end of the line and give a pop star wave to recently arrived attendees in the hope he would be mistaken for the afternoon's main attraction. High-pitched screams quickly dissipated when girls realized he wasn't the real deal. The look on his girlfriend's face suggested she didn't approve of his antics.
No doubt most girls in attendance suffered from an affliction known as "fangirling." It already has an Urban Dictionary entry and the term is also a common Twitter hashtag (#fangirling). For those uninitiated in the world of Twitter this is a popular topic that is tweeted often. Mostly by youthful entertainers.
Fangirling is any activity characterizing a girl's obsession with an object such as the Twilight series of movies, a boy band, or a teen singer. Attending concerts, buying and wearing concert paraphernalia, creating Facebook fan pages, following their objects of desire on Twitter, downloading the latest songs from iTunes, and buying teen gossip magazines with pertinent stories are but a few of the symptoms. Hyperventilating, faces contorted with joy, screaming, and crying are some examples of fangirl emotions. Think of how the media behaves toward Barack Obama (here, here and here) and you have a perfect image of fangirling.
My daughter and her friends abandoned me to hold their places in the line and slipped off to the back of the Fillmore where they saw the tour bus and met -- the tour bus driver! They excitedly informed me they actually spoke with the man who adjusts the air conditioning and turns on and off the bus turn signals when Cody Simpson is on the road. Fangirling.
Just after 3:00 pm, when the doors to the Fillmore opened most of the girls -- seemingly in unison -- whipped out their cell phones to check battery life like a gunslinger inspecting his six-shooter to ensure all chambers were loaded. The only thing worse than not attending a Cody Simpson concert would be to get in the door and be unable to take shaky photos to later post on Facebook or tweet messages and pictures to their friends while the concert was underway.
I waved goodbye to the girls as they entered the Fillmore and then found a quiet place to warm up and ponder how I will survive the next adolescent concert tour that comes to town.
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