Acoustic Mornings at The Indie Alley with Justin Furstenfeld

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While Fairfax has long been regarded as a breeding ground for rock legends, it isn’t everyday that a current, platinum-selling artist can be found wandering the streets of our small town. Even less common, I’d imagine, is that same artist being whisked off of his tour bus just as it enters San Francisco, being shuttled across the Golden Gate Bridge and escorted through the doors of a small community workspace to perform a private, acoustic set on an otherwise-average Marin morning.


But last week, that is exactly what happened.


Tucked away in the back corner of The Indie Alley, marveling at the design of the space, the quaint corners, and the community effort, Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfeld stood, looking show-ready—his tattoos and freshly bleached hair framed perfectly by muted walls and up-cycled art. After a brief recap of his long-standing and deep-running friendship with Indie Alley owner Steph Harty, Furstenfeld was ready to play.


“If you guys have any questions between songs, let me know,” he casually instructed. And then he launched into his set, complete with detailed explanations of every song he’d written, how broken down he’d been, how he’d hit bottom, how he’d lost it all…but more importantly, how he’d found a way to push forward — how he’d found light, found sobriety, found love, found life.


We heard about his children, his wife, his simple plan to love himself again…to lead a good life. “I just try to make one small shift in the right direction everyday. Just do one small thing.”


Then he played one of the band’s biggest hits. A song many of us recognized instantly, but few fully understood.


“I wrote this one while I was on a cruise,” he admitted. “I hate cruises. Stuck in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of strangers. I couldn't help thinking what it would feel like to just jump off."

I want to swim away but don’t know how
Sometimes it feels just like I’m falling in the ocean
Let the waves up take me down
Let the hurricane set in motion... yeah
Let the rain of what I feel right now...come down
Let the rain come down
— Blue October "Into The Ocean"

The feeling of desperation in his voice was palpable. We were with him on the boat as he contemplated the jump — contemplated leaving it all behind. By the time the song was finished, we were all done being polite, done being shy. This was group therapy and every song was medicine. There were secrets being shared and tears being shed. What was supposed to be a simple acoustic performance soon turned into something much more profound. As he played through the hits and we played through our experiences of the music, we touched on everything from how to address mental illness within our small community, to how money and corporations and rock stars have the power to affect change and provide hope, on a broader scale.


Somewhere in the middle of the set, Justin stopped playing and started singing a cappella - every word bursting forward, a melodic pounding — pulling, grasping, begging to be heard. Like so many of us who have lost our way, or struggled to find our voice, Justin was before us, broken, but fighting. And in a world that can so easily silence us, it felt good to hear someone screaming back.


Amanda Sheeren