24 hours in the jet-lagged life of Sarah Lipstate: From London's Royal Albert Hall to the New York Guitar Festival Marathon at The Met Cloisters

This past weekend, I played two of the most spectacular venues in the world within the span of 24 hours.  It all started in London, on Friday night.  I’d been on tour as the support act for my favorite punk rock icon, Iggy Pop.  London was my last date on the tour and our show that evening was at the legendary Royal Albert Hall.

I’d been looking forward to this performance since February when I’d been asked to join Iggy’s tour.  Also in February, I received an offer to play another spectacular space- The Cloisters in New York City as part of the NY Guitar Festival.  As chance would have it, these two dates happened to fall back to back, but at the time I didn’t give the tight scheduling much thought.   Playing these venues is a once in a lifetime opportunity- Of course I would do both!

I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall early on Friday to take in the incredible space and give myself time to acclimate to the grand stage.  The hall was swarming with people.  A film crew was setting up in the wings to capture Iggy’s performance.  My soundcheck kept getting pushed back but I didn’t mind because my set was well rehearsed and I wanted to keep things fresh for my performance.  Backstage, I asked Josh Homme to make me a cocktail.  He and the rest of Iggy’s band always had several bottles of tequila in their dressing room that they were fortunately very generous with.  He told me that he makes his drinks very strong and that when you drink with him, one drink is all you need.  I drank just enough to calm my nerves and then made my way to the entrance to the stage.

The tour’s production manager, Bill, was waiting for me.  We’d grown close over the course of the 15 shows I’d opened on the tour.  He told me, “Listen kid, don’t ever change what you’re doing.  You’re unique and talented and you’re a good person.  Have a great show.”  With tears whelming in my eyes, I walked onto the stage and grabbed my Fender Jaguar guitar and began my first song.

I played the first two songs of my set in a daze.  I almost couldn’t breathe as I looked out on the expansive hall.  The lighting in the ceiling was dazzling and there were so many tiers and so many people.  I felt myself getting faint, but luckily my focus turned inward as I began my third song and for the rest of my performance I was completely in the moment and relishing the experience of filling the Royal Albert Hall with my music.

Post-show the backstage was full of people.  Friends, fans, and celebrities were all basking in the afterglow of Iggy’s enormous presence.  I made my way through to crowd to pack up my gear and begin saying my goodbyes.  I was choking back tears the entire time as I told Josh “Goodbye forever” and turned down Troy Van Leeuwen’s suggestion of staying up all night partying instead of going back to the hotel for a couple hours of sleep.  I knew that I was going to have to be up in a precious few hours catching a plane back to NYC for yet another epic experience.

My flight left London at 8:40am and landed at Newark Airport at 11:00am.  I had traveled back in time to begin a new day in sunny New York City.  I washed my face and did my makeup in the ladies room at Newark Airport.  When I went through passport control the homeland security officer asked me what had been the purpose of my European trip.  I responded that I’m a musician and I was traveling playing concerts.  He asked, “So, you were playing coffee shops and things like that around Europe?”  I gave a little laugh and replied, “No, actually I was playing the Royal Albert Hall.”  The officer gave me a blank stare followed by a shrug.  “Never heard of it.”  I swallowed my pride as he returned my passport and I made my way to passenger pickup.

The drive from Newark Airport to The Cloisters was a long one and I had the chance to reflect on my journey, evaluate my current level of sleep deprivation, and steady myself for my next performance.  Arriving at The Cloisters, I was struck by its cobble stone beauty and how it almost seemed like I was back in Europe.   I followed the museum staff through The Cloisters' winding corridors past room after room filled with brilliant tapestries and ancient relics.  My performance space was open-air near the gorgeous medieval garden.  My eyes were growing a bit hazy but it gave the majestic surroundings a soft glow that was pleasant.

The Cloisters was full of people when I began my performance at 4pm.  I focused my eyes on a window in the stone wall to my right that framed some beautiful trees swaying in the wind.  I found that if I closed my eyes while I was playing I got dizzy due to my lack of sleep, so I cast my gaze on the beauty surrounding me.  Despite my delirium, I felt completely in control of my instrument and each song seemed to form effortlessly as I built loop upon loop.   I gave every last bit of energy to my performance and in return I received a truly transcendental experience.

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