I’ve read Shonda Rimes’ book, “The Year of Yes,” and Sherri Salata’s book, “The Beautiful No.” But starting last fall, my teenage daughter Riley and I engaged in the year of “Why Don’t We”?
It all started at the Jingle Ball. That might conjure images of Cinderella: women in long, flowing gowns, men debonair in tuxedos, eating fancy hors d’oeuvres, and dancing in complicated patterns to classical music all in a magical holiday setting. But alas, this Jingle Ball was a rock concert.
I agreed to take Riley, who was almost fifteen at the time, and her friend to the concert. Jingle Ball is an annual holiday tour in which a variety of artists, many of which are up and coming, sing short sets of their music. It’s a great way for newer acts to get in front of audiences and gain attention. And let me say, this plan worked perfectly when it came to Riley. But I’ll get to that in a second. Our seats were toward the top of the arena. We could see the stage just fine, but we were nowhere near the stage. After the first singer finished, an usher walked up the steep stairs, asking for groups of three. Riley raised her hand and began waving to get the usher’s attention because we fit the three-person party requirement. The woman handed us three tickets, and we scrambled out of our seats and down several escalators to reach the new seats in the lower bowl of the venue close to the edge of the stage.
“This never happens, girls,” I told them. I felt obligated to temper their expectations that this kind of thing would ever occur at future concerts. After we arrived in our new seats, a group that none of us knew took the stage: a boy band called “Why Don’t We.” I don’t remember a lot about their performance that night. I didn’t know any of their songs. In fact, I’d never heard of them before. I was still marveling at our good luck in getting the better seats. I remember looking at the screen to see a close up of one of the band members, and agreeing with the girls that he was extremely cute, but otherwise it was kind of a blur.
Riley was an instant fan, however. By the next day, she was begging me to buy tickets for the Why Don’t We show in Dallas, close to our town, in March of the next year. “We just saw them last night,” I said. “But tickets are selling out now,” she lamented. And when I looked online, she was right. Apparently, everyone who’d seen them the night before was as enthralled as Riley. So, I bought tickets for Riley and two of her friends.
That is when my Why Don’t We (“WDW”) education began. Riley played their music every morning and afternoon on the way to and from school. She talked about “the boys” and their personalities. When I gifted her their book (almost as a joke), she was thrilled. Thankfully, I liked their music, so it wasn’t bad when their lyrics became ingrained in my brain. I knew all of the boys’ names, Jonah, Daniel, Corbyn, Zach and Jack, by the time the March concert rolled around, but I still couldn’t tell some of them apart by sight, which is now embarrassing to admit. I loved how happy the concert made Riley and her friends.
Honestly, I enjoyed the show too. Riley had hit on some of my favorite things: I’ve always liked live music, and the boy band phenomenon brought back a lot of memories of my dedication to New Kids on the Block when I was a teenager. She seized on that connection and started showing YouTube videos of the boys in interviews to me. Now, I knew each one by sight and personality. I thought it was cool that each of them sang lead in every song because that was not typical of the boy bands I grew up with. All the while, we laughed and sang and talked about the funny things these guys did. Then, I started listening to their music when Riley was not in the car!
We found out WDW had added a show in Memphis, Tennessee, at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in June when we were already going to be visiting my parents in Arkansas. This almost felt like fate. Elvis was my mom’s teen idol, and she had imparted her love of Elvis to me. To the point that I’d worked at Graceland as a tour guide the summer between college and law school. On the day of the show, Riley and I spent a day touring Graceland with my running commentary about Elvis, his life, and the mansion itself. Riley’s meet and greet with the band was quick, but she was elated to hug them and take a photo with them, especially when Jonah kissed her on the cheek without her even asking. We were fairly close to the stage at the concert, so that we could see their faces clearly without depending on the video screens. We had so much fun, screaming, singing along, jumping up and down. At the Dallas show, I’d been pretty staid, but I was so involved in the experience by this point that I let loose and just lived in the moment. It was a magical day from start to finish.
Riley left for three weeks at summer camp and then another three weeks at a dance intensive in Orlando, Florida. Of course, I missed her while she was gone for those six weeks. But even while she was out of town, we kept in touch about WDW. We each stayed up late in our different time zones one night in July to listen to the boys’ latest song release. In 2019, they released one new song per month, and the fans’ anticipation grew as each month drew near an end. Looking at the tour schedule, we were concerned that they would not be back from overseas in time to join the Jingle Ball tour again. Therefore, we didn’t know when we would get to another concert, especially one in our hometown. So, upon Riley’s return, we decided to squeeze in one more summer road trip for a WDW show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in spite of the protests of all the boys in our family (dad and three brothers), who said, “Again?!?” Our answer was yes. Once again, we had a great time on our road trip and at the concert.
I figured that was it. We were all done with WDW concerts, at least until we heard whether the group would be at Jingle Ball. Or so I thought. When Riley asked if she could enter a twitter contest to get VIP tickets to the boys’ performance on the Today show on Labor Day, I offhandedly said, “sure.” “Why not?” I thought. I was certain there was no way she would win. I assumed there would be a lot of entries, and even if she did tweet about the band’s latest song a bunch, it would come down to a random draw with others who tweeted. What I didn’t anticipate was Riley’s dedication to tweeting. Because that girl went all in, tweeting at any and every opportunity. I was still more worried that I would have to console her disappointment in losing after all of her effort than I was about her succeeding. On the Thursday night before Labor Day, after 9:00 at night, she looked up from her phone with tears streaming down her face. “I won,” she whispered. I cannot include the expletives I said along with, “you’re kidding me?”
We scrambled to discuss this with my husband/her father Ben. I’d allowed her to enter, she’d won a once-in-a-lifetime kind of contest. She and I would go, on the condition that Riley pay for her airline ticket in order to defray some of the unexpected costs of the trip. She gladly agreed. So, we flew to New York City (non-direct) after church that Sunday. And on Labor Day, we walked to the Today show at 4:30 in the morning. Thankfully, Riley’s name was on the VIP list. I’d feared that we would show up and something would’ve fallen through or been too good to be true.
At about 6:30, we filed into the area set up for the concert, but even as we watched the boys do sound check, I could tell Riley was unhappy. We were not as close as we wanted to be, and the barricades kept us from getting closer. As the morning wore on, and the 8:30 show time approached, I watched as Riley decided to take action. She had figured out that people with lower level passes were in the area closer to the stage, and she was not taking no for an answer. She gathered a small group of about ten people who had similar passes as ours, and began talking to one adult after another (approximately four men, in fact) until she got to someone who could change the situation. Finally, the man in charge had a police officer open the barricade for the ten of us to go toward the area in front. We stopped at the walk-out portion of the stage where we’d seen the guys rehearse one of their songs. I was amazed at Riley’s persistence and gumption. You could see the sheer determination on her face, and I was immensely proud. This moment was worth it all for me. She faced an adverse situation and wouldn’t let anyone tell her no.
When the concert began, we were able to thoroughly enjoy every moment. We appeared on national television, saying we were from “Frisco, Texas!” Jonah and Corbyn both reached out and touched Riley’s hand. After it was over, we happily walked the streets of New York and went to the top of Rockefeller Center in the rain. We flew home that night, exhausted, but feeling the trip was a smashing success.
“Why don’t we?” We asked the question over and over. Why don’t we go to shows in Dallas, Graceland, Tulsa, and New York? Why don’t we act spontaneously? Why don’t we connect over the love of music and the ties that bind generations of boy band fans? Why don’t we use almost any excuse to take mother-daughter trips, make memories of a lifetime, and deepen our love for one another? This band Why Don’t We makes this mama’s heart happy because they gave Riley and I a reason to ask ourselves, “Why don’t we?” And, hopefully, in the future, we will continue to ask the same question in myriad situations because we know that the resulting experiences might just be amazing.