I had no idea what was in store. Naturally, Ryder somehow did. He had that look in his eye, that same look of enlightenment I’d imagine one would get after finding the key to life as we watched the band sail through the set. Every moment felt heightened. Ryder and I were feeding off of each other’s energy and Ryder’s refilled instantaneously.
It was only after the show that I found out how important that night was to him. It’s a strange thing, because at first, when we were simply experiencing the night I didn’t have the knowledge of the extent of the band’s role in fighting back the cancer. Only when his mom broke down as we watched him address the crowd, empowered, mic in hand, passing on his story to the hundreds in attendance of his cancer days and ESMZ’s role in helping him through it, did I begin to understand the impact that night had on him. And that only marked the half-way point of the night. After Ryder gave his peace and love to the crowd, as he gave the mic back, he somehow shanghaied a backstage ticket as they finished off the last chorus of Home, a song that for me, will forever be tied to Ryder in memory.
As the show ended and the crowd emptied out of the tent, Ryder’s parents, our dear friends Bella and Andrew, and I made our way to meet him by the stage. Just as we made eye contact he motioned for us to follow him. Thirty short seconds later we were being ushered back stage. Oh, the power of the pass! Bella couldn’t speak. She was instantly starstruck. (If you read this, I love you Bella.) Andrew and I had our eyes wide and band members were crossing our path at random, back and forth, every which way, as we pretended we belonged while Ryder, the eager beaver (it’s cheesy, deal with it), itched to get face time with everyone, literally. After 5 minutes and grabbing a drink, the only objective that made it look like we had a purpose being there, Ryder was off.
For the next hour or so, he was back and forth, checking in every 10 to 15 minutes, face lit up, failing to hide it, working hard not to explode in excitement. One particular scene stuck out. It was toward the end of our time backstage when we were standing in a closed off circle in the middle of the buzz that, strangely, made it feel like we were on the periphery, minding our own business, when Ryder’s face lit up… what we call a brain blast, and with great fervor pronounced he wanted to jam with them. In the heat of the moment, before any of us had the chance to laugh at the obviously absurd impossibility, he turned around only to find Jade, one of the band members walking by (hey, whaddayano…classic Ryder). “Jade!” He exclaimed, “I want to jam with you guys.” Straight to the point. That was his style. To be honest I have no idea what was going through her mind. My best guess is she saw the honesty in his proposal and without any hesitation said, “Yes. What are you doing tomorrow night?” I was slack jawed. I looked to Bella…so was she. Andrew was simply laughing. I think I know what he was thinking…”Yup, that’s Ryder for you.” We were only beginning to believe what just happened when he turned back around as Jade walked off and, with a satisfied look on his face, said quite simply, “Very cool…” hinting at what he just did, assuming we didn’t just see the ENTIRE thing happen right in front of us. That was the moment. It stood for what Ryder was all about. He was out to discover new possibilities and that was his gift. He made you see them and then took a step further to make each one an experience.
Walking out, we ran into Crash, another band member who recognized Ryder from a previous encounter. They had a quick exchange and Crash, instantly trustworthy, said his name, “Ryder Buck…! Ryder Buck” three or four times, as if reinventing the phrase each time he spoke it and, in a twang said, “I can’t wait to see you fly Ryder Buck!” referring to the previous conversation he had with Jade, and as quickly as he appeared, disappeared. So did we. It was a perfect ending to an extraordinary night, a night Ryder told me was the best time of his life. Later that night Ryder told me he could die happy knowing he met the band and that he wouldn’t trade it for anything…the universe works in mysterious ways. I’m just glad I got to spend the time with him.
We returned Sunday for the matinee show. About half way through, I believe it was one of Jade’s family members, an older cousin or godmother, hopped up on stage and said, “There’s nothing better than watching someone’s dreams come true.” referring to Jade and the band’s success. Ryder was on the brink. But knowing he got to meet the band and spend some of his last time that way, at least one of those dreams was very definitely checked off the list. He stayed for the evening show and jammed afterwards backstage with some artists present at show. He was on top of the world, no doubt. What a weekend.