This must be the place: Ode to the Futurebirds, ode to keepin’ it real
It was just about 9 p.m. last Saturday (central standard time) when I found myself side stage at the legendary Ryman Auditorium — the “Mother Church” — in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.
At that moment, ascending rock juggernaut Futurebirds were waltzing down the backstage hallway from the third-floor dressing room, each member taking a moment to breathe deeply, slowly — to simply soak in the surreal nature of where they currently stood.
On the other side of the microphones onstage was a wild-n-out sold-out audience of over 2,300. The feverish vibe shot around the room and off the walls, eventually echoing back onto the stage. The ‘Birds then grabbed their instruments and dove headfirst into another stage of their promising, bountiful careers.
I vividly remember the exact time and place where I initially crossed paths with the ‘Birds and was first exposed the shock and awe of one of the finest rock acts of the modern era. Saint Patrick’s Day 2010. Savannah, Georgia. The now-defunct dive bar and rock club The Jinx.
Back then, I was 25 years old and a struggling journalist in Upstate New York. Aside from scraping by writing sporadic articles for the local newspaper at $45-a-pop, I was regularly substitute teaching at my old high school and trying to figure out a way to make a dollar through the written word.
I also had a girlfriend from up there and we decided to swing down to Savannah in March 2010 to visit my parents while they were spending the last of the winter months on the beach in Tybee Island. Jump in the truck and bolt down the East Coast.
In search of some live music while in Savannah, we stumbled into The Jinx to see acclaimed hard rock ensemble Dead Confederate. I had planned on covering the show for a small music website, also now long gone. Wandering into The Jinx, the opening act Futurebirds had just hopped on.
From the opening riff and howl, I was hooked. So much so, they ended up in the show review, “Passing around a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 between selections, the Athens, Georgia, sextet spews out a rare blend of bluegrass, folk, punk, alt-country, psychedelic rock and seemingly the kitchen sink. Imagine if The Beach Boys wandered into the film ‘Deliverance’ or Hank Williams taking a hit of acid. The baby-faced rebel yells and honest lyrics burst from the murky rock-n-roll. The youthful exuberance showcased intrigues the mind. Only together less than two years, the ensemble literally leaves any competition in the dust.”
Since that fateful day in March 2010, I’ve kept tabs on the ‘Birds. I’ve even become lucky enough to call members of the band friends, familiar faces that continue to represent integrity, passion and purpose in this all too crazy world that is the music industry, let alone life itself.
I think of all the roads and miles we’ve each traversed in our respective avenues amid the endless map of rumbling dead ends and smooth straightaways within the music industry. The blood, sweat and tears, hopes and fears, knowns and unknowns that sit at the foundation of any worthwhile dream pursued in a reckless abandon of dogged persistence, serendipitous stubbornness and musical fortitude.
And the shows. The dozens of ‘Birds gigs I’ve witnessed with a sense of sincere gratitude. Slope side at the Jackson Hole Ski Resort in the shadow of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming. Backwoods of East Tennessee. Several times at The Grey Eagle in Asheville. In front of a sea of thousands of music freaks at the inaugural Railbird Festival in Lexington, Kentucky.
And who could forget the ‘Birds Haywood County debut at the Cold Mountain Music Festival near Lake Logan last year, eh? Not to mention the ‘Birds rolling into The Scotsman in Waynesville for late-night drinks and shenanigans — a scene forever captured in the hearts of us locals.
To that, the performances were usually coupled with pre/post-show interviews conducted by myself, many of the ‘Birds quotes and sentiments finding their way into the pages of The Smoky Mountain News. And Rolling Stone, where my January 2020 profile of the band will always sit near the top of my career high-water marks.
Thus, it was quite poignant when the ‘Birds reemerged onstage at the Ryman for the encore with one of their seminal numbers, “Ski Chalet,” a melody cherished by die-hard fans, and also held tightly by myself. Roaring into the selection, the audience erupted in jovial solidarity of the moment at-hand.
In that instance, I thought of all the different venues, stages and settings across this country where I’ve heard that song, how it still conjures such genuine emotions within and how it strikes the listener — no matter what chapter of their life they may be navigating.
I also thought of how much distance we’ve all traveled, physically and emotionally, from then and there to the here and now, “Now my friends have gone out into the world/To take the horns of the bull/I'm still here in this pit, playing in your band/With a little Houdini on my hands/But when it pulls you in and wraps you up/There's no reason you'd want to grow old.”
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
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