Tony Polito has a secret. It's all the 31-year-old corporate events manager from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., can think about, even as his favorite band, the San Diego foursome Switchfoot, tear into their biggest hit in the rodeo-ready amphitheater of a New Jersey amusement park. As the chunky, ricocheting power chords of ''Meant to Live'' ring out, Polito nods to the beat, stealing glances at his girlfriend. She can't begin to imagine what he and Switchfoot have in store for her on this deceptively warm late-September evening.
On stage, Switchfoot (who backslid, Evanescence-style, from the Christian scene to mainstream rock radio, selling nearly two million copies of their latest album, The Beautiful Letdown) are delivering their Third Eye Blind-meets-U2 anthems with messianic fervor, despite the ultra-tame setting a Radio Disney flag hangs at stage left, the audience is packed with shiny-faced 14-year-olds, and mammoth roller coasters loom overhead. The band breaks ''Meant to Live'' down to its drumbeat, and blond frontman Jon Foreman who, like his bandmates, resembles the surfer dude that he is leads pogoing, overjoyed fans through a sing-along about changing lives.
''We deserve to live for so much more,'' everyone chants, as Foreman, dripping sweat in the unseasonable heat, leaps off the drum riser, past guitarist-keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas, then quickly turns and begins pummeling the kick drum with his fists, bloodying his knuckles into rock & roll stigmata. ''God bless you all,'' he shouts to the crowd and leaves the stage. Exhilarated by what may have been their first rock show, the giddy, giggling fans—younger than the band's usual audience—begin to stream out of the venue, back toward the superhero-themed rides and vendors of cotton candy and fake tattoos.
But Tony Polito heads the other way, nudging his girlfriend of five years, 26-year-old Abbey Fitzgerald, toward the stage. Unbeknownst to Fitzgerald, the guys in Switchfoot are about to take their inspirational lyrics seriously, joining forces with her boyfriend to change her life forever.
Three weeks earlier and three thousand miles away, it's another gorgeous late afternoon, this time in San Diego, and the four members of Switchfoot are relaxing at a beachside restaurant. The band's amiable, perennially T-shirted drummer, Chad Butler, is reading aloud from an e-mail sent to Listen2This by one Tony Polito. ''I'll tell you my wish,'' Polito writes. He describes a plan that begins with Switchfoot turning up at his apartment for dinner, continuing, ''They'll produce a two-carat engagement ring that they'll pay for, and hand it to me.'' As Butler hits that part, the whole band cracks up.
''That we'll pay for?'' asks an incredulous Tim Foreman, the band's bassist (and Jon's brother). ''You're trying to scam a free two-carat ring? Tony, I gotta give it to you, that's very ambitious.'' Adds Butler, ''He's dreaming!'' And Jon has another concern: ''If your relationship isn't going to flourish without a two-carat diamond and us in your apartment, then who cares if we show up or what kind of ring we bring?''