When Chad Young ’12, one of the Octet’s co-presidents, told our group via e-mail that he had some big news for us at rehearsal, none of us came close to guessing what it was: He had gotten a call from an assistant at the firm that manages Taylor Swift.
She had seen the medley of her songs that Octet had performed last spring on Youtube and wanted us to come meet her backstage at Madison Square Garden for the last show of her Speak Now tour.
We didn’t get all the details worked out until a few days before the big meeting. The concert started at 7 p.m., and since we were trying to get into the city at rush hour on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we decided we should leave by 1 p.m. Some unavoidable afternoon lectures, though, meant that four or five of us left an hour late. By the time we got into the city on the Henry Hudson Parkway, it was nearly 6:30 p.m. We were deep in traffic and receiving frantic texts from our fellow Octet members already at the venue who were saying that the meet-and-greet with Taylor was due to start any minute. When Michael Girouard ’13 called us while we were about a mile from Madison Square Garden and told us Taylor was running late, we parked the car and ran the rainy mile to Madison Square Garden in about 10 minutes, stopping only at red lights and when we’d turn around to realize we had lost James Hitchcock ’15. We got to the will call booth at around 6:50 p.m. and ran around the arena flashing our wristbands at anyone who looked like they might know where we should go.
We somehow managed to make it before Taylor got there; it was a combination of her running late and our running quickly. The room was called the T Party (“T for Taylor,” Taylor’s manager explained wisely), and it was decked out with various floral curtains, large birdcages and pictures of Taylor. We were also assured repeatedly that the T Party had existed before and was not in any way affiliated with the recent populist and ultra-conservative political movement going by the homophonic name.
Taylor arrived minutes later to greet us and the six or eight other guests at the T Party, most of whom were eight-to-12-year-old girls. She moved from group to group, coming over to us last. She thanked us politely for singing her songs last year and hugged each of us individually. Her arms were supple, and her scent was floral and intoxicating. I was dazzled, to say the least. While Matt Cranshaw ’11 tried with little success to put on his moves, I’d have to say the most romantically successful of the group was Will Speer ’13, whom Taylor praised lustily upon hearing that he arranged the medley. However, their romance was short-lived; Octet’s rock star didn’t seem interested, and Taylor had to go play a concert. But I can’t say I’d be surprised if her next ballad of unrequited love mentioned a pair of pink pastel pants.
We snapped a quick picture before she gathered everyone at the T Party together to thank us for coming. “I wouldn’t be here tonight without the support of my fans,” she said. I was glad she chose to leave out “even you creepy, 20-year old men.” And with that, she was off. Her mom led everyone besides the Octet on a backstage tour, leaving us to enjoy the small T Party buffet and the guitar picks and study advice doled out by Taylor’s father.
Mrs. Swift returned shortly to give us our own tour. While the opening act played its last few numbers, she took us past the sound booth and dressing areas under the stage. She pointed to a few small booths enclosed in clear plastic. “We call those the toasters,” she informed us over the din of the band, “because, well, what do toasters do?”
We looked around. “They heat things up?” someone ventured.
“No, no, they pop stuff into the air! During the show these are used to elevate dancers and instruments to stage level.”
There were some irritated murmurs that this wasn’t of course the primary function of a toaster, but Taylor’s mother didn’t seem to hear. She walked us out past the pit-level curtains, hugged us and encouraged us to enjoy the show. “And thank you so much for singing Taylor’s songs!” she added warmly.
The concert itself was nothing short of inspiring, featuring guest appearances by Selena Gomez and even James Taylor. Our seats were excellent, and the audience around us seemed impressed, and then eventually troubled, by how well we knew the words to every one of Taylor’s songs. As she closed with a version of “Love Story” that included her flying around the inside of Madison Square Garden in a floating balcony, the group marveled at how we had gotten such an invitation. It was, to say the very least, an interesting start to Thanksgiving break.