Thursday afternoon. March 22nd. The Bronx. Even though I had said I would attend that night’s opening keynote with Angelique Kidjo, Santigold, Heems, Esperanza Spalding, and Ann Powers, I was still debating whether to go. It was 4:00 pm and I was already dressed, but I still was unsure about heading into the city. I was tired: days before my trip to New York I had finished revising my dissertation draft. After revisions, I packed up my daughter’s and my things and flew to New York City to spend time with family before the conference. That Thursday was the first Thursday in a long time where I could just sit and be. It wasn’t just the exhaustion of months of nonstop working. It was also nerves. The EMP Pop Conference was the first conference I would present at after a two-year hiatus from conferences, and I was a little concerned. I felt like I had returned to middle school again, and my nerves were getting the best of me.
Eventually I left the apartment, hopped on the 4 train, and made my way downtown. I didn’t make it to the Opening Reception at Le Poisson Rouge, but I arrived at the Kimmel Center in time for the keynote. I registered, walked to the Eisner and Lubin Auditorum, and put my game face on. From what I had heard, EMP was the conference for the cool pop music folks, a conference I had longed to go to ever since my mentor had first suggested I attend after I wrote a paper for her class several years ago. After that last year of coursework, I had fallen down the rabbit hole of my dissertation, but here I was, years later, and presenting on the same topic I had written for that course years ago. I had decided to pick up the material again because I still loved it very much. Presenting would be an excuse to continue working on the topic. But I still felt unsure about whether I was at the right place at the right time.
I made it to auditorium. There it was, the stage for the keynote roundtable. I found an empty row toward the back, to the right, with four empty chairs. I sat there, pulled out my iPhone, and tweeted that I was waiting for the keynote to start. Hashtag: #PopCon. One of my followers on Twitter asked me if I had finally met another friend that we had in common; this third person was supposed to be at the keynote too. She included our friend’s twitter handle in her tweet, and in a matter of seconds, our friend replied that she was already there and that we should meet. She stood up in the crowd, I surveyed the audience, and when our glances met we waved. I made my way over to her side of the auditorium, and there she was with another Twitter friend of mine. Everything would be okay.
That evening’s keynote still stands out to me, perhaps because I was in the same zip code—the same room!—with two women whose work I admire, Santigold and Ann Powers. But it also stood out because it was an in-depth conversation about music, about songs, about memory, about soundscapes, with five highly creative and highly intelligent people. The room listened to Angelique Kidjo recreate memories of her childhood in Africa, Esperanza Spalding wax poetic about Portland, Oregon, Heems discuss the melting pot that is Queens, and Santigold share what it was like to grow up in Philly surrounded by different musical genres. I was fascinated to hear them talk about the influence on their music of the cities that make up the landscape of their memory. Plus, we had the chance to view the video to Santigold’s latest song, “Disparate Youth,” the song that replayed itself in my brain so many times I ended up buying it on iTunes on my way to the conference Sunday morning. If you have a penchant for ear worms, you may want to stay away from this one:
Twitter was an important part of my conference experience. For one, I could read other people’s observations of other panels I couldn’t attend. For example, that’s how I found out that Spike Lee attended the panel on Musical Crossroads on Saturday morning. More importantly, Twitter gave the conference a sense of familiarity for me. Whereas at other conferences I would simply walk around from panel to panel, asking questions or writing down observations, I found comfort after the keynote in the fact that I knew there were people I spoke to on a regular basis on Twitter who would be there. After the opening keynote, I felt a little more at ease at #PopCon. Several people I spoke to in between sessions or at the conference party Saturday night at Von started conversations with because they had seen my tweets, or I would recognize their name from Twitter. Several even attended my roundtable panel (and I am happy to report that, considering it was the last day of the conference, we saw a great tournout).
Although I never would have thought that a large-scale conference such as EMP would be the best way to ease back into the conference circuit, for me it proved to be a positive experience. I can’t wait to see what EMP has in store for 2013.
Managing Editor of the Sounding Out blog, Liana Silva is a PhD candidate in the English department at Binghamton University who recently relocated to The Midwest. Until recently, she taught first year composition at a community college in Kansas City, MO. She is currently working on her dissertation, a study of representations of New York City and the idea of home in the cultural works of African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Liana comes to sound studies from the angle of pop culture and cultural studies, where she wonders about the music we listen to and its sociocultural implications. When she’s not writing and thinking deep thoughts, she is busy defending pop culture on an intellectual level, recording her daughter’s latest babbles on her iPhone, listening to her favorite podcasts, and asking people where “home” is.