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Departing the Suburbs 

by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast weekend, a young woman approached me in Riverfront Park, handed me a flyer and informed me that Ben Folds was coming to Spokane. A few years ago, that woman would have been me -- a die-hard Folds fan spreading the good news that my favorite man from Winston-Salem would soon be dropping his piano bench on little old Spokane. So where was my stack of flyers, my emphatic "Hell, yeah, he is!" response, and my special pre-ordered ticket?





A few years ago, my friend Jake and I were flying down to Los Angeles to catch Ben's show at the El Rey. During this time, we could have arguably been considered Ben's biggest fans in north Spokane. We were nerdy in our fandom: Weekly e-mails were exchanged discussing new EPs, sharing links to articles about the latest Folds album, chatting endlessly about this music that actually went somewhere. We'd gush about Ben's raw and defiant voice, pounded piano, kicked beer cans, occasional lullabies, and bridges so striking they were still giving me goose bumps years after I'd first heard them in high school.





At some point, though, even fans reach a saturation point, a point when we stop tracking tour dates and staying on top of unexpected celebrity collaborations like Shatner and Weird Al. The point we take "Rockin' the Suburbs" out of our road trip rotation. The point, frankly, when we find out from a stranger in Riverfront Park that our beloved Ben Folds is performing in our own backyard.





Just as musicians have the right to move in new directions, fans do, too. So how does Ben Folds retain those of us who first globbed onto him and the Five while we were going through puberty in 1995? What might entice people like Jake and me -- both a little embarrassed to admit that we've seen more Ben Folds concerts in the last handful of years than any other artist -- to attend one more?





It's not that we're no longer fans. But after having filled a small, exhilarating portion of our lives watching Ben beat the piano with his arms and piano bench -- after standing in the audience as Ben directed everyone in singing "ah's" in three-part harmony on "Not the Same" -- we're just moving on to the next stage of fandom. We know he's amazing. We've seen it.





Jake and I -- and fans like us -- have just retreated to a more subdued stage. It's kind of like that point in a relationship when you've been with someone for so long, it's no longer about butterflies or proving your love, but about appreciating new stages of life as you grow old together. The lyrics to "Smoke," for instance, make a lot more sense to me, now that I'm 26, than they did when I was 16.





Now I realize that Ben's been paving the way for Jake and me, giving us a preview in his music of what it's like to move on and grow up a decade before we'd have to. And yeah, Ben, it sucks. We're still fighting it.





Ben Folds with Ben Lee at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday, April 25, at 7 pm. Tickets: $25; $20, students. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.
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