Clouds. Drizzle. Wind. Rain. Hint of Sun.
It was October 2016 in San Francisco. The final year of Treasure Island Music Festival. My friends and I arrived with sweatshirts, ponchos, heavy socks, and rubber boots. It was clear that this festival wasn’t going down without a fight, and we were ready for the music, rain, and muddy surroundings.
But nothing could have prepared me for the twists and turns that one of the artists, Christine and the Queens, had in store.
Christine, whose real name is Heloise Letissier, showed up with a modest outfit (turtleneck top, cardigan, and pleated slacks) and a bold entourage (four male dancers). She was cool, casual, and ready to serve up a healthy dose of choreography. Be still, my heart.
She performed my favorites like Tilted and iT. And she made it clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop her from enjoying the day and putting on a great show. Christine told us to be whoever we want even when the world tells us we’re supposed to be or act a certain way. And that’s a message that I always appreciate hearing.
I was already a fan of her songs, but her performance, stories, and vibe made me fall in love.
At one point, Christine finished a song and I got ready for another one of her silly stories.
“I have a confession: I am a coward,” she revealed. Her fans immediately broke out in a chorus of “boos”. She asked us to hear her out and then told us that getting on stage and being a performer is part of her job. And that sometimes she doesn’t feel brave. She shared a memory that she’s not particularly proud of. I’ll do my best to retell it.
Christine was on the train and saw someone who looked and acted a little different. She never said what made him different, but we didn’t need specifics (we all know the world isn’t very nice to people who are seen as unusual or eccentric).
She remembers seeing other people making fun of him. “And I did nothing,” she said. She’d never be able to find this person and ask for forgiveness so she wrote a letter of apology.
Christine doesn’t know the person’s name but she calls him, and the song she dedicated to him, Saint Claude.
In that moment it felt like she was actually dedicating the song to all of us. To that time and place when someone told us we’re not special, not important enough to get respect, not worthy of our feelings being handled with care.
I felt myself sinking under the weight of her story and lyrics. My heart was full of sadness, joy, and gratitude. Rather than letting that moment pass and pushing down her feelings of shame and regret, she came clean with us. Here was this powerhouse of a woman sharing a moment of honesty and vulnerability when she didn’t have to.
The story was just as beautiful and unexpected as the weather. When I think about her story, I go back to the times when I didn’t stand up for someone — maybe a stranger, a schoolmate, a friend, or myself.
We are messy humans. At times we are selfish, shameful, lonely, or afraid. We don’t always treat others with the kindness they deserve. And we should be okay accepting our mess and mistakes, cleaning them up, and doing better next time.