The Organization That Gave Me Everything

Full stop: as a recovering English major, I hate using clichés.

However, sometimes the simplest way to get a point across is also the best, and the phrase “remember where you came from” hits home this week.

I’m not in Nashville right now. Specifically, I’m spending the next week in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s where Underground Music Collective found its beginnings as the hyper-regional music blog, Lehigh Valley Underground (LVU, for short). The fact that we got our start in Bethlehem is no coincidence: not only is it the small, but plucky former steel city where I went to college, but it’s the place where I returned in 2014 to get a little more serious about my pursuit of a life in the music industry.

That was made possible due to an organization called ArtsQuest. Their flagship event, Musikfest, is the nation’s largest free outdoor music festival. I was brought on as seasonal event staff for the 2014 festival. That led me to eventually move back to Bethlehem, where I remained a year-round member of the ArtsQuest team up until, literally, the day before I moved to Nashville.

Five years ago (already?!), I detailed my journey back to Christmas City, when our LVU era was just gaining steam. I recently stumbled upon that piece again, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on that time in my life. Likewise, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the journey since then, and how different things are here in 2021 — in my life, for this publication, and everything in between.

The common thread? Just as our early, rough-and-tumble LVU days wouldn’t have been possible without Musikfest, I’m still convinced that my move to Nashville — and UMC itself — doesn’t happen without ArtsQuest.

My appreciation for ArtsQuest goes beyond the fact that they paid me to work some cool events for a few years. It even goes beyond our eventual collaborations on festivals and other events, and all of the interesting stories along the way.

My gratitude for this organization has everything to do with the fact that it — and the greatest “work family” I’ve ever known — was the one constant throughout the most tumultuous period of my life; one that built my resolve and, ultimately, lent me the courage to take my biggest risk by packing up my belongings and heading to a brand new city to start over, at the ripe old age of 31.

The road to get there? It was fraught with challenges. In the process, it gave me a true sense of community.

My mother passed away unexpectedly in 2015. To say that she was my best friend and my champion is a complete understatement, but that’s a story for another day. I worked my first show after her passing eight days later. It was Dr. Dog, inside of the Musikfest Cafe. At first, I felt a hesitation to jump back in — it felt so weird to think about entering a festive atmosphere with live music, while dealing with such heaviness in my life. Not only did being back to work — and right in the pit — give me something else to occupy my mind, but the comfort and support of the team, that night and in the months ahead, helped me feel like it was OK for life to proceed.

When I launched LVU, and needed to take much of Musikfest 2016 away from the team to focus on its growth, there were no questions asked. Just support.

When I went through the particularly rough end of a seven-year relationship in 2017, I was again met with unwavering support from my team. As I navigated other challenges — professional and personal — throughout that period, I was able to lean on the steady presence of my event staff job at ArtsQuest. I truly looked forward to coming into work, more and more. There’s no question that that job offered me a change of pace, sparked ideas and, at times, helped me stay out of my own head, if only for a few hours at a time.

In the summer and fall of 2018, I came to terms with the notion that my days in the Lehigh Valley were numbered. As I began my preparations to depart for Nashville, I was met with complete understanding. I was given the opportunity to work as much as I needed that fall, and every shift undoubtedly gave me the financial boost needed to make a move feasible. There was uncertainty around when I’d actually be leaving, too — come October, it was anytime between “next week” and the New Year. My team supported me and took it in stride, and kept me in the mix for as long as I’d be in Bethlehem, with the understanding that I could be gone as suddenly as The Cub Who Should Have Never Been Traded. When the plan finally solidified, and I moved the Monday after Thanksgiving 2018, I was again met with nothing but support, encouragement, and an open door to return whenever I’d like.

2020 was rough on all of us. The entire entertainment industry faced uncertainty, and ArtsQuest was not immune. As I watched my “work family” navigate this uncertainty from afar, I wanted so badly to help however I could. I donated, I spread the word, and I even made sure we shared last year’s Virtual Musikfest updates on our socials. I wanted to help bring about Musikfest 2021, live and in-person, in whatever small way possible. It was the least I could do, for all ArtsQuest has given me.

Now — thanks to an entire community of support, and a lot of hard work from the folks behind the scenes — it’s here.

I knew that I had to be here for it, too.

This year, I walked back through that open door, and I’m back with my team for this year’s Musikfest. It’s a bit different from years passed; I have no camera in tow, and I won’t be covering the festival in the “media” sense. I’m simply rejoining my “work family” for the next week, because this is an occasion to be celebrated together.

After all we’ve been through — together and separately — it is and always will be my honor to be a part of Musikfest, in any way possible.

Especially this year.

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