At midday on Aug. 21, we watched from our office windows at Main Street and Midland Avenue as Thoroughbred Park started to fill up. Parking was gobbled up quickly, and driver began to find spots on empty lots and in nearby neighborhoods.
Similar scenes played out at the Arboretum and the Kentucky Horse Park as people gathered to watch the solar eclipse. Some were seeking surprisingly scarce eclipse-viewing glasses, but most were just getting together to watch the celestial show.
Here’s the thing: All you really needed to watch the eclipse was glasses, or a similar viewing device, and a view of the sky. For the vast majority of us, seeing that is a mere matter of walking out of our homes and looking up, or even looking out a window. There were no primo seats to grab, unless you were heading to Hopkinsville, or one of the other spots in the path of totality, where the moon would completely obscure the sun.
But even New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, places that didn’t get anywhere near Lexington’s 95 percent coverage, people gathered in large groups in public spaces to share the experience.
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All this getting together came at a time we are told that we are gathering less and less. Attendance at many entertainment and sporting events is down, and organizers worry about further erosion. The movies are experiencing a dreadful summer, box office down 14 percent as numerous franchises, previously thought to be tried-and-true, flopped, and few original offerings gained traction.
Now that people can watch nearly anything and everything at home, shortly after it comes out, on a screen as big as your living room wall, why hassle with traffic and crowds? Everybody is looking at their phones, and no one wants to communicate in person anymore.
The eclipse was the latest proof that despite all our technical advances , we crave experiencing things in person with other people, even if it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable.
In July, I went out to Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, an uncomfortable land of lines, heat and not always cooperative humanity, all to hear some music. For the most part, those were shows that you had to go out to see.
And that’s what our fall arts and entertainment calendars are full of: unique experiences to gather together to see, whether you want to pack into Rupp Arena for the Foo Fighters, see a play in one of our numerous theaters, or peruse galleries and museums.
My son and I experienced it just this week: taking in the first main-stage concert of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, having that shared experience of marveling at the musicianship before us, chattering with others about what moved us.
As I write this, I know that later today, several thousand people will gather at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, despite probably tropical rain, for the opening night of Red, White & Boom (Note to Luke Bryan: The Bluegrass has gone through a lot to see you over the years).
Yes, we have more ways to see things, more conveniences and options. But nothing will replace the shared experience. There is so much more to life than looking at a screen.