Music is a powerful force that can serve many purposes and its strongest trait is the ability to bring people together. While a favorite record or a poignant lyric is often times what ushers a newcomer into the fold of a fanbase, it’s the interpersonal connections and the shared experiences that make that person a lifelong member.
For passionate music fans, that community is most strongly felt when it comes time to descend on a live show. “I love the music, but actually it’s the friendships I’ve got out of being part of this fandom that make it for me,” explains self-proclaimed Muse superfan Helen Rose. “We’re just one big community.”
Rose is one of several Muse superfans that Rolling Stone spoke to at a recent homecoming show in Exeter, Devon, to uncover what makes the passionate fanbase tick. Hosted by Jim Beam as part of their Welcome Sessions event series, the secret gig saw a couple hundred of the band’s biggest fans turn out for a live experience like no other at the Cavern, an intimate music venue in the South West of England.
This focus on community is central to Jim Beam’s DNA. The brand’s motto, “come as friends, leave as family™,” is a long-celebrated belief that you truly feel connected when belonging to a community. The notion is at the heart of The Jim Beam Welcome Sessions, where the communion between audience and artist offers a unique sense of unity via a shared passion for live music.
It’s a sentiment that Rose understands all too well. She recalls meeting one of her close friends, Linda, for the first time at one of the band’s shows in Coventry, England in 2013, while toting an assortment of baked goods. “I made a huge round of cupcakes to give out to everyone waiting in line,” she remembers. “That’s how Linda and I bonded—over our love for Muse and cake.”
Her story demonstrates that the bonds forged at a live show aren’t relegated to what happens inside of the venue. In fact, it’s the ancillary moments, like waiting in the line in hopes of nabbing a spot just feet from the stage, where the fellowship between fans shines most bright. Hannah Chandisingh recognized early in her music fandom how special the spirit of queue culture can be. “I got there really early and had no stuff with me. It was freezing cold,” she says. “There were a bunch of people in the queue with me in a couple of sleeping bags and they were just like, ‘Get in. Just get in the sleeping bag. I’m going to go buy you a hot chocolate.’ They just absorbed me, and I’ve been friends with them all ever since.”
With the fan-centric approach that Muse brings to their music and shows, it comes as no surprise that these bonds are the result. “The fans are everything,” front man Matt Bellamy retorts. “That’s the whole entire reason why we do this.” As cliché as that might sound to some, if you’ve ever seen Muse play live, watched any of their interviews or had the pleasure of meeting them in person, you’ll know that what Bellamy says is true.
Those moments between Muse fans—or “Musers” as they are sometimes called—have also been known to transcend the physical world, with some of them connecting through a series of online message boards that predate social media. Most members of the community fall in love with a Muse song that speaks to them, but for Danny Yeates, the seeds of his fandom were cultivated on these same message boards before he was even familiar with the music. “I started building new relationships with people and started to get insights into a band I had never heard before,” he explains. “I’ve made a lot of friends in real life from joining that message board.”
Proclaiming “there’s nothing like the sense of community,” that Muse fandom brings, Yeates says there were people on the message board who became “gig buddies” and later ended up even getting married. One such fan was Chandisingh, who says she fell in love with her now husband after he “dropped everything” to help her score some tickets for one of the band’s shows in Manchester.
Chandisingh invited her future husband to attend the show with her and it was there that the foundation of their union was laid. “I explained that we needed to get there at 2:00am to get a place at the front of the stage. It was that queue experience and really special show where we fell in love and the rest is history.”
The band’s longtime friend Tom Kirk often questions whether the trio fully grasps the extent of their impact. “I don’t think they fully understand what they’ve done with the Muse community,” he says. “[It’s hard to quantify] how many amazing moments and times and memories that they’ve created for people.”
A collective love for the band is what brings Musers together across the globe, but it’s the special moments that they share amongst themselves that underscore the value of the community they’ve cultivated. In some cases, these bonds can take precedence over the fun of belting the lyrics to your favorite song from Black Holes and Revelations. As Rose tells it, the music is what brings you to the clubhouse but the connections are what makes it feel like a lifelong home. “For me Muse is all about the friendships and the gigs are the icing on the cake,” she says. “[Because of this community], wherever I go in the world I know I am going to have friends there.”