The Story of Our Engagement

Last Saturday, July 2, on bended knee I asked Janice Lai to marry me. We were in a small club in downtown Columbus, Ohio. On stage, Jared Palomar, the bass player for the group Augustana, had just announced what I was about to do. What were we doing in Ohio, and why was this musician helping me to propose? That's the story this Web page attempts to tell ...

Janice has been a positive influence on my life in many ways. Thanks to her, I dress a little better, go to bed earlier, eat healthier, and know the importance of exfoliating and moisturizing my skin. And music, especially live music, plays a larger role in my life now. Before we met, I had probably been to two or three concerts my entire life. Last May alone, Janice and I saw three shows. So when we learned that Columbus was the nearest city to DC that Embrace — a British band and a favorite of Janice's — would be playing in, we didn't hesitate to purchase tickets. The fact that Augustana was opening for Embrace made the decision even easier. (We first heard and enjoyed Augustana, an up-and-coming band from San Diego, during that May concert blitz.)

Around the same time (early June), I resolved to propose to Janice before she flew back to Hong Kong on July 26 to visit her family. I started thinking about how best to pop the question. I wanted it to be a complete surprise (which ruled out shopping for an engagement ring together), and I wanted it to be a memorable experience we could proudly retell. It occurred to me that a newer, lesser known band like Augustana might be willing to help out a fan.

Jared Palomar's voice mail message
I saw on Augustana's Web site that they had a profile on MySpace, so I created my own profile and sent the band a message. I told them we really enjoyed their performance in May, and their single "Boston" had been sitting at the top of our Top 25 Most Played playlist in iTunes ever since. If they could help me propose to Janice during their Columbus show, Augustana would earn two groupies for life I wrote. A few days later, to my surprise and delight, Jared left me a voice mail message.

When I called him back, Jared asked me a question I couldn't immediately answer: how did I want them to help me? I knew I wanted their help in a general sense; I hadn't worked out the specifics. So we agreed I'd think about it for a few days and send him an e-mail. Below is a portion of what I wrote on June 28:

On July 1, the day before the concert, I spoke with Jared one last time to confirm the plan. He told me Augustana would play a six-song set with "Boston" being the finale.

I was surprisingly calm during the 7-hour drive to Columbus. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation; we had gotten up at 6 AM. We checked into our hotel room with enough time for an afternoon nap. My nerves started to kick in, but I still managed to sleep a bit. It was a short cab ride to The Basement, the concert venue. The doors were still locked, and guys that looked like musicians were goofing around outside the club. I had only a vague idea of what the Augustana band members looked like. I feared they'd recognize Janice and me from my MySpace profile, inadvertently acknowledge us, and ruin the surprise.

Jared's on-stage announcement
The Basement turned out to be a very cozy, clean, and smoke-free bar — a nice place to listen to music and pose a life-altering question. We found a place to sit just a few feet from the stage, and I quickly started drinking beer to try to calm myself down (with minimal success). After Augustana began their set, I concentrated so hard on counting the number of songs played that I began to doubt my number. But in the end, I was ready with the camera to capture Jared's announcement.

What an idiot I was to stop recording after Jared finished! Had I just set down the camera and left it on to record the audio, you would have heard my tearful proposal, Janice's wonderful response ("Of course!" was her reply), congratulations from the band members, applause from the audience, and then the opening notes of what has officially become our song, "Boston". Janice and I held each other through most of the song. Just as I predicted, we were both blubbering messes. I closed my eyes and tried my best to soak in the moment; I wanted this memory to be stored in the part of my brain that doesn't easily forget.

After the song ended, we approached the stage. A few audience members offered us their congratulations as we passed by. I thanked Jared and introduced him to Janice. Later, while the band Long-View was on stage, Jared pulled us outside to meet the rest of Augustana, chat, and take photos. Back inside the club, Long-View finished their set, and Embrace took the stage, but it was hard to concentrate. Janice and I found some empty bar stools against the wall to sit on. I drank more beer — no longer to calm my nerves but to celebrate. I opened a tab for Augustana and instructed the bartender to not let any band member pay for a drink (never mind that all of them were under age). Jared presented us with an impromptu gift: an Augustana poster he had pulled off the wall and had everyone sign.

When it was time to head back to the hotel, some of the band members were nowhere to be found. We ran into Justin, Augustana's soundman, outside the club and asked him to say thanks and goodbye to everyone for us. Perhaps a little drunk off my tab, he gave us two e-mail addresses and told us anytime, anywhere we wanted to catch an Augustana show, we only needed to send an e-mail to let them know we were coming. I'll be doing that in a few weeks actually: the Augustana/Embrace tour was extended, and they are appearing in DC on August 2. Janice will already be in Hong Kong, but I'll surely be there to hear them perform our song.

Christopher Jewell
July 9, 2005

View the Photos from Columbus   |   Download Augustana from iTunes