December 31, 2019. Standing in the middle of Denver’s 16th St. Mall, as the fireworks light up the night sky, I say goodbye to 2019 and welcome 2020, a new year, a new decade, a new me. 2020 was going to be the year everything made sense.
My plans for 2020 were simple: tour and apply to colleges, get at least a 1250 SAT score, and go to Harry Styles’ concert at the Pepsi Center. But then, in March of 2020, COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. “Fret not,” said the government, “we’ll only go in lockdown for two weeks and then everything will be fine.” An extended spring break later, a coronacation if you will, and sh*t hit the fan. Malls closed. Restaurants only allow for take-out and delivery. There’s no toilet paper. Minimum wage work became essential. And society was locked inside. COVID-19 changed everything, and what was only supposed to be a fortnight became eighteen months —and counting.
My younger sister and I bought the tickets for Harry Styles’ concert in February of last year. The show was scheduled for August 2020, so we bought them almost six months in advance. For someone who leaves everything for the last minute, this was a big deal. As soon as we got the confirmation email, the anticipation began to build.
A month into quarantine, and things were clearly not getting any better. The death toll was rising, ICU beds ran out faster than toilet paper, and everyday we were given another rule: don’t touch your face, don’t go out if you’re sick, don’t go out unless it’s an emergency, and so many more restrictions. For months, we sat in front of a computer screen, trying to recreate human connections and create some sense of normalcy in these bizarre, unimaginable times.
December 11, 2021. We start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Restaurants start opening up capacity, first at 50%, then up to 100%. The first few vaccines become available in the U.S. for people 16 years and older. Talks of a second dose are secondary, especially when states begin transitioning back to normal. In Colorado, the mask mandate was lifted in May as vaccination rates increased. Signs were taken off of doors, and we didn’t have to cover half of our faces to go outside. At this point, my sister and I were hopeful. Restrictions are lifting, so there wasn’t anything to worry about; things were slowly starting to move forward. That is, until August 2021 when the Delta variant made an appearance and we’ve taken a step back.
As I prepared for my first year of college, the uncertainty of whether or not there’d be another lockdown made me reconsider many things: living in the dorms, which classes to take, and most important to my sister and I – are we going to Harry Styles? For some time, we talked about selling our tickets. We had seen the prices skyrocket over the past few months and knew we could make a lot of money. My sister was adamant we keep them. “I am going to Harry Styles,” she told me, “we are not selling those tickets.”
And so, the waiting game began again. Will he reschedule the tour? Will he cancel the concert? Is he going to do more shows but with smaller crowds? What is going to happen?
I have never been a fan of not knowing, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to drive myself mad thinking about whether or not I’ll go to a concert. Half of me was fully prepared to not go, but the other half really wanted to go. I wanted to be in a crowd of people, I wanted to lose my voice screaming and singing, I wanted to wait hours in a queue, I wanted to feel like a regular teenage girl, not an essential worker, not a college applicant, and definitely not a statistic.
The entirety of August was spent waiting for an email. The one that said, “Sorry, no Harry Styles for you.” Week One: Nothing.Week Two: Still nothing. Week Three: Are they going to say something?Week Four: It’s definitely happening. They can’t cancel it now.
Wednesday September 1, 2021, I got the email. Venue Information & Entry Protocol. What a relief, but also howstrange. Since 2018, I’ve been to six concerts —small venues like the Fillmore and Gothic theatres in Denver, and stadium-like arenas like the Pepsi Center (now, Ball Arena)— and not once did I get an email with entry protocols. It was all about COVID-19: masks must be worn and kept on during the entirety of the show, and everyone has to have either proof of vaccination (being fully vaccinated, meaning that at least two weeks have passed since the second dose) or proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test within 48 hours of the show. My sister and I have been fully vaccinated since May, so there wasn’t an issue there, and we wore cloth masks that, of course, matched our outfits. This was a small price to pay, considering we’ve been waiting well over a year and a half for this night.
Tuesday September 7, 2021. The long-awaited day. The day we’ve been dreaming about since February 2020 when our ticket purchase was confirmed. The day Harry Styles becomes an actual person, and not this celebrity so far out of our reach. The day Harry Styles is in the same state as I am and will be in the same building as I am. The plan for this day was simple: go to my first class, my sister will ride the bus from her high school and meet me at the UMC in Boulder for lunch at noon, and after eating and doing homework, we were to ride the FF1 to Union Station in Denver, then the W line to Ball Arena, and then wait. And wait we did. We arrived two hours before the doors opened, and four hours before the concert even began.
We had assigned seats, so there wasn’t any need to wait in line. Instead, we walked around and people watched. The level of thought put into every single outfit I saw was insane. Make-up was on point, clothes meticulously arranged, different styles matching different songs and vibes. There were rockers, wearing black leather jackets, tight leather pants, and right red tops. There were soft flowers, wearing pastels and flowy clothes. There were sparkles and bright colors and so much expression in every single person. We were all so different yet the same. We all fit in, but we each stood out at the same time.
We walked around Denver, killing time, and by 6:15 p.m., we were back at the arena. My sister and I had checked in earlier, so we walked past the long check-in line and right inside, through the metal detectors and up the escalator. We walked all the way to section 110, down to seats 11 and 12. Right in front of the stage.
The night is a blur of screaming, of dancing and of Harry Styles. His bright red pants, his brown curly hair, and his British accent was all that was needed to drive everyone insane. And as soon as he started singing, we all lost it. A year and a half of quarantine and isolation and social distancing made this experience all the more surreal. Every single person in the stadium had been waiting for this moment. We all shared the same fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 and every variant it will bring, but for a few hours in the night, we were here.
I was as mesmerized by the show as I was by the full arena. There was not a single empty seat, and we all sang “To Be So Lonely” together.