Reflecting on the incredible GTL journey
With founder Tom Pugh:
Five years. It’s five years since Given To Live planted its roots, roots seeded one November in Oakland at a Pearl Jam show. A woman in need, a lady with tales shared in line waiting to see my favourite band, the realization that not everyone can get to see their favourite bands, that to be able to travel to see mine was a gift and not everyone can conspire to create an idea to help others get to shows. And in the process honour them and their journey whatever they are or have been going through.
Five years and with our 50th show coming up this summer it’s been a helluva journey so far. The intention was to create something that gives beauty, hope, support and praises the individual we take to a show. Giving tickets would make for a nice photo but was that enough?
Not for those who had to travel miles to get to the show or would have to leave early to get a train home. How would a parent cope at a metal show taking their child to their favourite band? Or having to rush off to find water to administer meds? Or if buying a tour shirt would mean the family budget is affected for those on a low income and saying no would be too acute a disappointment. No, not just tickets. Not just a band that’s playing close by to save costs, but the band they want to see, their band that gets them through the dark days and magnifies the light. We’ll take you there.
We offer tickets, travel costs, a stay in a good hotel, we buy the merch, the meals. We have artists create posters for the person we take to a show, their poster. After all, Given To Live’s guests are the real VIPs no matter who is onstage that evening.
Veronika’s custom Pearl Jam poster and Aimee’s All Time Low poster
But at our very first show we could barely afford tickets and food let alone business cards. It was Foo Fighters for a young carer and thanks to social media and some remarkable FF fans we ended up with a meet and greet. To say I was out of my depth would be an understatement, I knew what I wanted for GTL but I couldn’t even afford business cards or t-shirts. I’d love to do another FF meet and greet one day and be able to see how far GTL has come.
I knew the power of being seen, of being valued and honoured no matter who we are. As someone who has been suicidal, made attempts on my life, struggled with depression, slept on the streets and let alcohol and drug addiction rule my life for years I carried a lot of shame. I still do. But each time someone has said I’m ok and I’ve been able to accept this rather than throw it away – a moment of healing occurs. It’s been thirteen years since I stopped using and drinking, since the last overdose, since I slept outside. On my journey since then, I’ve been able to share with friends and therapists who I am, what took me to addiction without being judged. I felt I mattered. This is why when GTL takes someone to a show we ask if we can write their true story. Again, a smiling photo would look good, but everyone has their story. The terror of cancer, the grief and heartbreak of being bullied, the confusion of being different and unaccepted, the wish the pain would go away. So, with permission, we tell the stories and discovered that as the GTL community grows on social media these stories resonate. That who we’re writing about isn’t alone and people from around the world offer their support, share their own experience and those who feel alone see they’re not, their difference is praised, a battle their fighting is shared. Because they matter.
Feeling like we matter is so precious and not everyone does. Sometimes broken hearts forget they’re loved, that they matter.
GTL takes Luke to A7X
So, that’s what GTL does, aims to show the person we’re taking to a show that they matter. That’s why taking people with mental health issues, with depression is something we do. We’re taking Anthony to Slipknot in the summer, a young man who if you walked past on the street you wouldn’t necessarily notice as suffering because he’s fit, physically able and most likely just another person on a street. But his depression affects him deeply and life has felt too much for him, the pain overwhelming. Nicky and Ellie are survivors of twelve years of domestic abuse, again to look as we pass them by on the street do we know their struggles? They’re having their shows in the summer and the outpouring of support for them from their stories has had a huge impact on them already. Anthony, Nicky, Ellie…you all matter.
(left Ellie and Nicky)
GTL still struggles, and we turn down as many applications as we say yes to simply due to lack of funding. We rely on donations from the general public, artists donating posters to donate, wonderful humans who run marathons, create fundraisers themselves. My depression and the voices that accompany tell me how badly GTL is doing and I’m the constant so I’m awful and if I wasn’t so awful GTL would be thriving, awash with funds and sponsors and…and…and…I’m so grateful my depression has eased and I’m in a forgiving place and can accept GTL has made a difference in people’s lives, that it’s essentially a one man band and I can’t play even instrument well no matter how hard I try.
So five years is a celebration.
Of almost 50 shows, of the messages of thanks for saving lives, of thanks for telling someone’s story so they can move gently from the shadow into the light even if it’s only for a moment.
It’s a celebration of thanks. To everyone who has supported in whatever way…sharing the stories, commenting with kindness and compassion, donating via our PayPal, donating merch and posters, walked to London, run a marathon, run a marathon dressed as Corey Taylor (see above), the bands who’ve generously given their time to our guests, the wonderful Pearl Jam fans who do far more than nothing, the magical Michelle whose keys have unlocked so many doors to wonder, Artist Waves for being on our side, Corey Taylor for simply going above and beyond and everyone who has said keep going when all I wanted to do was give up.
I hope I’m asked to write this again in five years. That will mean GTL has given many, many more people their show, that they’ll know they matter and we’ll still be changing lives…
One Gig At A Time.
And to support GTL’s current fundraiser – cylcing to the Download Festival in Amsterdam visit:
*all photos courtesy of Given To Live