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This must be the place: ‘Can’t live without you so it seems, honey sew another patch on my jeans’

Widespread Panic, Nashville. (Garret K. Woodward photo) Widespread Panic, Nashville. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

New Year’s Eve. A little past 9 a.m. in Room 211 of the Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, within earshot of the airport and the bustling Interstate 40. 

The room is completely dark from the window shades being drawn down. The only sense of time is the incessant alarm clock on the smart phone on the nightstand. I set it for 9 a.m. due to the mere fact that the hot breakfast included in my room purchase would only be available until 9:30 a.m.

Flick on the bathroom lights and make eye contact in the mirror with the face that, perhaps, had a few too many drinks the night prior all along Broadway in downtown Nashville. Those Coors Banquets sure go down easy when in the midst of honky-tonk tunes and rollicking, knee slappin’ good times at Robert’s Western World. At least I was smart enough to order a cheeseburger at one point for sustenance.

Mosey along the silent hallway. Hit the down button on the elevator. Throw your hoodie up over your head. First floor, please. Emerge back into the world. Get the last of the biscuits and gravy before the breakfast lady closes the doors. Two glasses of apple juice. One cup of coffee. Grab an oatmeal for good measure. 

Sit down at a table for two by yourself. Eat with gusto, all while taking inventory of the last year. One more calendar now in the trash can of existence, a fresh one of 365 days, 52 weeks and 12 months to pin up on the wall above the kitchen sink. Every day and page empty, for now. Oh, the endless possibilities, the unknown people, places, and things right around the corner, ready to surprise you with a moment’s notice.

Last night, it was pre-show beers and shenanigans at Robert’s on Broadway. Friends surrounding me from Asheville, Nashville, and beyond. Onward to the Ryman Auditorium for a Rolling Stone assignment covering Molly Tuttle, who was opening for Old Crow Medicine Show at the Mother Church itself. Interviews. More beers. Immersion in the depths of live bluegrass music — this current, flourishing state of the “high, lonesome sound.”

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Leaving the Ryman, I got a message from an Asheville friend who was at Widespread Panic’s gig around the corner and up Broadway at the massive Bridgestone Arena. It was set break and he had an extra floor ticket for me if I was able to get to the main entrance in the next five minutes. 

Hurry over and knock on the glass doors. He waves the ticket in the air for me. I’m in. Down the steps to the floor just as a sea of music freaks readied themselves for set two of another rollercoaster rock-n-roll installment of that damn fine band from Athens, Georgia.

Several hours later, I’m finishing the last of the biscuits and gravy by myself at the Holiday Inn. Pack the bags and head for the truck in the parking lot. The plan was to return to Waynesville, maybe onward to Asheville, for when the ball drops at midnight. 

But, my best friend in Knoxville called and said he was in need of some quality time to get his mind off the heaviness of the past year and finally move on to 2023. I concurred. I was also in the same boat. Aim the truck nose down I-40 East towards Knoxville.

It’s funny how you find yourself with all these options, or maybe somewhat of a solid plan of what you’d like to do for New Year’s Eve, but one usually tends to find themselves not where they’d thought they be. At least, that happens to me like clockwork, no pun intended. 

Heck, maybe that’s just life itself — plans made tend to change amid the mysteries of the unfolding universe. Initially, I had ambitious plans for NYE in Charleston, South Carolina, maybe even Denver, Colorado or Montreal, Quebec. But, alas, there I was standing at the bar counter on the second floor of the Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville. 

Being a massive college football town, the TV behind the bar was showing the end of the wild Georgia/Ohio State game instead of the ball being dropped in Times Square. No matter, the place erupted in chaotic cheers and excitement as the thrilling ending of the game coincided with the ball drop — it is what it is, just go with the flow, man.

There I was, standing with my best friend and other beloved faces. Where else would one want to be, honestly? Wandering up and down the endless levels of the Pres Pub, my mind kept mulling over and processing the past 365 days. It took me a moment to remember what I did last New Year’s Eve, which was spent at the Monopole Bar in my native Plattsburgh, New York, seeing as my truck was in the repair shop for my unexpected extended stay while home for Christmas.

Thoughts and visions of the miles traveled, physically or emotionally. Rolling down to Florida in March, toes in the sand in Saint Augustine. That trip to Montana in April to help my aunt move back to Charlotte, over 2,100 miles in a U-Haul without cruise control, countless memories and inside jokes now between us. 

Up to the North Country for the organized chaos of early summer. Festival season and writing assignments from coast-to-coast — Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, New York — with California in October ending this go-round. Innumerable concerts and one-on-one interviews with some of my biggest musical heroes. Gratitude in abundance.

People missed, whether six feet under or 600 hundred miles away. Still making sense of my cousin who left us in June 2021. And that day in June 2022 where I found myself walking into the ICU in Charlottesville, Virginia, to say goodbye to a long-time friend, the sheer weight of that moment still lingering on my shoulders — the emotional toll of that interaction setting the tone for the rest of 2022. 

Breathe deeply and exhale the sadness, accept the gladness and hopefulness of what lies ahead, come hell or high water, my brothers and sisters. Crank up the tunes, roll the truck windows down, and turn onto the dirt road, for I’ll be there right beside you — in sickness and in health.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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