I remember my first concert well—the first of many, the first time I experienced the high of live performances that would keep me returning to clubs like the Cabooze and First Ave for a variety of artists and experiences. My first show, though, stands out clearly in my memory because I was fully in the “obsessed tween” mode, and my energies were—at that time—focused on the Owatonna-bred pop-tronica star Adam Young of Owl City.
I saw Owl City at the Cabooze as a 13-year-old in September 2009, one of his first concerts in the Twin Cities after the release of his debut album, Ocean Eyes. I had been listening to Owl City’s earlier EPs Maybe I’m Dreaming and Of June for about a year when his full-length album was released, and not too long afterwards my adolescent fangirl dreams would came true—my brother asked me if I wanted to come with him to the Cabooze.
We went to the show with two other friends, and arrived early to wait in line for a good spot at the front. I remember seeing some of the people who were standing in line and reassessing my definition of “fangirl.” I was just another brace-faced teenager with colorful eyeshadow and neon bows in her hair compared to the woman using a Sharpie to decorate her white Crocs with owls and lyrics.
As the doors opened and everyone swarmed the floor I noticed that the average age couldn’t have been more than two years older than me, with most of the crowd comprising other squealing teens. The openers were lively and engaging—Kate Havnevik a calm, acoustic start to the show and Unicorn Kid warming up the crowd with heavy electronic/techno influences—but they both knew who these adolescent girls were here to see.
I’m unashamed to admit that the moment Adam Young stepped on stage I completely lost it. Granted, I’m much more subdued at concerts now, and I haven’t listened to an Owl City album since probably 2010, but that night was the culmination of the biggest obsession of my middle-school years. As far as I was concerned, Young was an A-list celebrity, even though most of his listeners outside of Minnesota had only heard his hit single “Fireflies.” (It’s still far and away the biggest-selling single ever to come out of Minnesota.)
The band played every song from Ocean Eyes, and some others from the EPs, but even with such a lengthy setlist I remember leaving the club before 10:00 p.m. Some highlights from the night include my brother jumping on stage to give Adam Young a high five, and my friend’s mom (who drove because we were all too young) having a drink with Havnevik.
That night I didn’t sleep—my ears were ringing, my feet were sore, and my face hurt from smiling. It didn’t quite seem real that I could have just spent hours with the person who crooned to me through my skinny blue iPod Nano (yes, it was that long ago) and whose dreamy, goofy, and imaginative lyrics helped me tune out the tumultuous world of junior high.
After the concert I continued to listen to Owl City, and I even bought a book of the sheet music from Ocean Eyes, so I could play my favorite songs on the piano. But by age 15, my music tastes had significantly shifted, and I rarely listened to Owl City anymore.
This hiatus from Young’s music lasted a few more years until I went to see the Disney movie Wreck It Ralph, which featured an Owl City track, “When Can I See You Again?” I downloaded it right after I got back from the movie, which led me to rediscover the artist who played the soundtrack to my coming of (teen)age.
As cheesy as it sounds, the song was pretty reflective of my relationship to Owl City’s music. I’ve made deeper connections to many other bands since that concert in 2009, but somehow I keep getting small reminders every once in a while that draw me back to Young’s music. No matter how much time has passed, I still wonder when I’ll get another nostalgia trip and travel back to my 13-year-old self.
I suppose my repeated returns to Owl City speak to my relationship with the band just as much as they do to the resilience of Young’s music. I still find his music relatable even though he has a reputation for drawing younger audiences—and there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy his new album as well.
Owl City’s album Mobile Orchestra is released today. Madie Ley is now studying journalism and art history at the University of St. Thomas. She writes about music and art.