Witnessing intimate performances gives couples new ways to discover the art form—and each other

The first time I saw Shawn Mullins live, I cried.

And not a gloomy cry—they were tears of joy, reflecting Shawn’s genius songwriting and performing; also, equally important, the setting of Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga., was and is the quintessential place to listen, receive and create those memorable “peak experiences.” Ten years later, hearing his song “Shimmer” in person is still like a poetry reading set to guitar.

“true love it is a rock
smoothed over by a stream
there’s no ticking of a clock
that truly measures what that means”

The first visit, planned by my then-boyfriend Dennis in 1996, turned into a moment that unlocked a thread of myself I didn’t know existed—and it changed me for the better, permanently. I’ll always be grateful to him for that. Emotionally, experiencing Shawn (and so many others since then) at Eddie’s opened my aperture in ways I’m still discovering—and allowed me to connect with Dennis—and later significant others and friends—on a much higher level.

“If both people in a couple enjoy live music then it can be a really special thing to do together,” says Dr. Will Meek, psychologist in Vancouver, Wash. Meek used to tour on guitar and vocals with indie-punk bands The Square Mile and Thousandaire. Now head of the Washington State University Vancouver Counseling Services, Meek has a private practice in Vancouver and is planning a return to performing this year.

Specific stats on local venues are hard to find, but I did land on this page that shows a steady increase in concert revenues—to a projected $12.1 billion, up from $8.2 billion in 2006. Even through the great recession, it seems, we are seeking out our favorite artists.

Meek says live concerts can spark lasting change in a couple’s relationship.

“I think there’s always something special when a couple can experience something fun or meaningful together—but with live music there is something more,” he says. “Specifically, I think the emotional component of the best live music can create a unique shared event. For all couples, including gay couples, I think the ultimate experience is when there is something about the music that speaks directly to the core of the relationship.”

My first visit to Eddie’s became an articulation of new music tastes and reminded me of my days singing and performing (more on that in a minute). I got to thinking about how listening affects us in unseen ways; how music can elevate our wellbeing through conscious action, and that you couples out there can better yourselves by making it a permanent part of your emotional repertoire (yes, pun intended).

Music infiltrates us on a cellular level; it cleanses and educates, soothes and challenges; it turns our brains into an elastic version of ourselves, replete with curiosity, calm and openness. Far too often we listen passively, too, without discernment of lyric or engagement in the storytelling. While I’ve yet to find a venue quite like Eddie’s Attic on the planet—it’s appropriately billed as a “listening room” where folks come to be quiet and enjoy terrific talent —any off-beat locations can allow you to enjoy acoustic, indie-rock stars like Willy Porter, Matthew Kahler, Rockwell Church, Christine Lavin, Buddy Mondlock, Eliot Bronson, Caroline Aiken and so many others.

Included in that prized group is my great friend Alexis Vear, whom I met through a MySpace connection (we are both fans of Eddie’s Attic). She is a mom of two; a wife to Kevin of 18 years; and a rocker/folk musician who has allowed me graciously into her life as a performance artist, friend, confidant and creative inspiration. She dragged me on stage with her at a benefit concert to sing a cover of “I Still Haven’t Found what I’m Looking For,” and we’ve promised to collaborate on other things as well. She helped and motivated me to finish my first song, “Light of Love,” that I hope to perform live someday.

Alexis says live music creates an extra level of awareness in spectators. “When you’re listening to music, and you both have the same reaction, you’re aware of nothing but that,” she says. “You look at each other, and you know what you’re feeling because it’s an unspoken language. When you’re touched by something, you don’t have to describe it. You just know it.”

To wit: Jason and I visited Eddie’s with friends for a Susan Werner concert (if you haven’t seen her, make sure you do—she’s an incredible performer and personality). During her deep and soulful “(Why is Your) Heaven so Small,” I looked at him and knew that we were witnessing a wistful statement about how religion can sometimes exclude people.

“Well i know you’d damn me if you could
but my friend, that’s simply not your call
if god is great and god is good
why is your heaven so small”

That concert is now a permanent, common marker that he and I can refer to and revel in. I loved Jason just a little bit more in that experience. And we bonded in ways we wouldn’t get over dinner, at the movies or watching TV.

“Live music is a communal experience between signer and audience,” says artist and entrepreneur Lisa Ferreri, owner of Wiffledust in Philadelphia, a live performance venue and online social community where independent musicians, crafters and thinkers share inspiration. With live shows, she adds, “nobody knows what will happen next, and nobody can fix a mistake. You can’t get that level of energy from watching a rerun of Seinfeld. Which is why Seinfeld still performs live.

“Performers consciously and unconsciously alter their music based on the energy of the listener, and the end result is a magical conversation,” Ferreri says. “Anyone present in this environment witnesses an exchange of energy that is nothing less than humanity at its best. A couple sharing this experience is not only creating a memory together, but actively witnessing and participating in its creation.”

So check out your local market music sites. Or better yet, design a trip where you can visit some of the more far-flung music houses around the nation that will give you great music as well as a taste of the local town. You won’t soon regret it—and you’ll love your partner just a little bit more.

“Think of yourself as a giant lake with a dam,” Vear says. “You’ve got to release the dam sometimes, to let fresh water come in. That’s what live music does for people.”