I have been on a Motown kick lately. I thank my mother for this. Growing up, I spent many a summer morning with open windows and the radio playing. She introduced me to all the greats: The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5. She turned up the volume as I sang into dust wands and danced around the kitchen, all in the name of “helping” her clean the house. These moments were light and fun and transformed into core memories that resurface each time the opening bassline of “My Girl” begins.
That is the beauty of music. It is the ultimate influencer, impacting our moods and feelings, what we choose to watch and purchase, and the tempo at which we shop or eat. For me, it even plays a factor in how I exercise. Many of my weekend mornings consist of sitting on my Echelon stationary bike, searching through each instructor’s music choices, and determining which will win the next hour of my life. Quite often, Jama Oliver’s perfectly curated playlists are the ones that keep me returning to her one-hour endurance rides.
A Little Background
I met Jama Oliver purely by accident. After an injury led to a hiatus from the gym, I wandered back into spin class, expecting to see my regular instructor, only to meet Jama, who took over from my past teacher. She instantly won me over by incorporating personal stories into each session and possessing the make-me-work-without-feeling-like-I-am-really-working capabilities while encouraging me to believe I “am stronger than I think.” So, when the pandemic shut down the gyms, and I remembered that Jama had become an instructor with Echelon Fitness, I knew my first pandemic-fueled purchase would be a spin bike. This is where I found myself one Saturday morning as I tried to cycle and sing along while listening to Jama tell the history behind her collection of concert tickets.
After hearing her share about her first concert experiences and knowing her love of music, I wanted to ask if she had kept that concert ticket. However, as I conducted the interview and sat to write the final version, I realized this dives deeper and is much more profound than a collection of concert tickets. The items we collect and treasure often represent significant parts of our journeys and healing. In her story, these aren’t just event tickets. They are representations of the restorative power of music. This interview is special; I hope you gain as much from it as I did. Thank you for sharing, Jama, and I will see you in class soon!
PPT: Ok, let’s start at the beginning. What was your first concert, and do you still have that ticket? Can you also remember what you wore?
Jama: My VERY first concert was by Kenny Rogers when I was three. My parents took me because my mom was a fan. I saw a few more between then, but the first concert I chose was New Kids On The Block in Winston Salem, NC, seven years later. Yes, I still have the ticket!! I only had one NKOTB shirt at the time, so I obviously wore that.
PPT: I love that you have tickets dating back that far. How many have you saved in total?
Jama: I’ve only kept up with my biggest concerts over the years, and now that tickets are digital, it is hard to save them! But now I want to see if I can list all the shows I’ve been to and whether or not I still have the tickets.
PPT: I know you live in a home filled with musicians, and attending concerts is a family affair. What has been your most memorable one to date?
Jama: The most impressive show I’ve ever seen was Prince in 1997. I had no idea the magnitude of the show I was going to; only that I liked his music, won tickets, and my mom let me go! His performance, though, was mind-blowing. Prince was by far the most incredible performer I’ve ever seen live. My Chemical Romance has been the most special. I’ve adored them for so long, and they have been such a large part of my life and recovery that seeing them was an absolute dream come true. But my most fun and impressive recent performance was New Found Glory in October of 2021. The energy was incredible! I was in the pit for five hours with no desire to leave. They were so engaging and fun – my ears rang for days afterward.
PPT: Ok, so I envy the Prince concert! Have you ever ventured backstage to meet a band?
Jama: I met Kenny Chesney after a show before he became famous, and I’ve tried to meet others but have never had the chance! I even hung out at the Backstreet Boys’ tour bus but had zero luck. Oh! And my son got to meet Prince Daddy and the Hyena after a show which was incredible for him. I was so happy to be part of his meeting some of his musical idols!
PPT: If you had to frame any of your tickets which ones would they be?
Jama: My Chemical Romance, for sure. The incredible joy that show brought me is still so fresh. The clothes they wore, what I wore, the buildup to seeing Gerard for the first time – and the fact that it was a band I never dreamed would tour again. I would frame the ticket, and the artwork my oldest son did for me after the show.
PPT: Finally, can you give me your favorite concert memory?
Jama: Seeing My Chemical Romance on stage for the first time is my all-time favorite. They built up the beginning of the “Foundations of Decay” for what felt like an absolute eternity. When I finally saw them in the flesh, I burst into tears. All those years of feeling these big feelings and their music came out simultaneously. I felt gratitude for their talent and willingness to share their art; they had helped me so much – it was overwhelming! I remember crying, laughing, and hugging my son, who had said he wouldn’t sit beside me because he knew I’d be a little bonkers – but then he did! I hope I never forget the joy of that moment.