This must be the place: By now you took what was to take, tear it apart and start again
Emerging from the beer line along the top of the hill with a Fiddlehead IPA, I heard the slight sound of distortion and feedback echoing loudly from the massive stage down below.
“Shit, they’re going into ‘Barrel of a Gun,’” I mumbled to myself, trotting down the slope underneath a hot evening sun in mid-July. Slither through dozens of rows of people in a matter of seconds, careful not to spill my tallboy of craft ale atop the grounds at the Shelburne Museum (just south of Burlington, Vermont).
Popping out in the front row, longtime New England indie-rock darlings Guster were in the midst of BOAG, my sister, Kate, and brother-in-law, Josh, within reach, so too was my late cousin’s best friend, Simone. High-fives all-around signaling “we made it,” tears of joys (and of sadness) as to just why our crew serendipitously found its ways to this concert on Saturday evening.
Thousands of music freaks in every direction, hands held high, fingers counting down joyously from four to one, the audience screaming every single damn word, as if to expel months of pent-up frustration and anxiety from a now-fleeting period of isolation from one and another (you, me, all of us).
That dreaded, seeming never-ending feeling of disconnection evaporating in a moment’s notice due to the melodic madness channeled through the simple act of wood and strings vibrating into the ether from an elevated platform, “Four, three, two, one/When out the barrel of a gun/Keep my head way down/Stay out I’ll stay in/Half dead, half numb/She’s enough to make me warm/It’s all so safe and sound.”
And although I was initially supposed to already be on my way back to my apartment and journalism gig back in Western North Carolina that night, there I was, in the midst of a freewheeling, rollicking crowd in the heart of my native Champlain Valley.
The reason? My cousin, Nate Arruda. On June 28, he unexpectedly passed away at his place of residence in my (our) hometown of Rouses Point, New York, along the Canadian Border. He’d been sick for a while. With any untimely death, you, well, hoped there’d at least be a little more time with them, you know? But, that wasn’t the case. It never is, sadly.
Nate left us, and in his remaining void were as many tears as memories (and there are countless moments). Years ago, while we were drunk at our family’s camp on Lake Champlain, he turned to me and said, “Garret, when I die, I want you to give my eulogy.” As in any awkward situation like that, you kind of brush it off, laugh it off, and reply, “No doubt, my brother. I will, I promise.”
And yet, there I was, last Friday morning, standing in front of his gravesite giving his eulogy (in the form of a heartfelt, extemporaneous speech), in the face of a huge crowd of family, friends, and folks I’d never met until that day. No microphone needed, everyone crowded around closely in a semi-circle. The silent North Country cornfield behind me filled in the rest of the shape.
The “celebration of life” post-service reception was held just a few blocks away at the Rouses Point American Legion Post #912. By the second round of beers, it was decided amongst the cousins and close friends that we’d all get together for the Guster show the next night, all in honor of Nate — in solidarity of his favorite band, a group he shared with each of us in our own time, happily and proudly.
A two-way street of honest emotion and raw energy from both sides of the microphone, it was Guster’s first performance in the post-pandemic era. Rolling through a slew of its signature selections (which was also a tune-up for the upcoming sold-out Red Rocks show on July 25), the ensemble proved once again why it’s one of the most relevant and joyous acts in rock music these days (something reverberated by a raucous audience of northeast die-hards).
Every few songs, all of us cousins would circle back to the blankets and chairs “home base” about halfway up the hillside. Some of us sported sunglasses in the fading sunshine, all present sporting a stream of tears between hugs and drinks held high, in honor of Nate — the catalyst for our love of not only Guster, but the power and grace of live music, of each other, and what it means to truly be family, and together (no matter how much time and space has passed since the last rendezvous).
Eventually, with the sun long gone behind the Adirondack Mountains in the distance, Guster put the finishing touches on the end of the beginning of the next chapter of its journey (and of our journey, too). Everything is different now, and yet it all remains the same, for good or ill (but mostly good).
We packed up our chairs, picked up the empty beer cans, folded up the blankets, and proceeded to head back to the parking lot, onward to downtown Burlington for midnight shenanigans, for we had Sunday to recover. But, not before turning around and giving one last look at the stage, at the remaining instruments, the band probably already back on their bus.
We hugged each other goodbye, more tears, but this time out of happiness for being there as a family, as one unit of love and gratitude, and in the presence of songs immortal. Thank you, Guster. And thank you, Nate, for it was you that exposed us to the music that will continue to bring us together, time and time again.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
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Wow....tears in my Irish eyes....he will be sorely missed. .for me...always eager to eat my signature dressing...Thanksgiving style. .take care Nate. .xxxoo
Hew...pangs in my Irish heart..has been a roller-coaster of emotions these last couple of wks. ....such a wonderful family we have..and not sayin it lightly.....xxxoo