Last week my friend Eric’s father was killed in a mountain biking accident. I didn’t know the man (Steve) but I know Eric and I spent half a day Friday driving with two of Eric’s friends to the memorial service in southwest Colorado. The memorial was hosted at Steve’s house, and most of the 30-40 guests were friends and neighbors, but also Eric, his sister, and a few of her friends. This unexpected tragedy left many with open wounds on their hearts. The handful of spoken reflections, the video slide show, and the array of photographs strewn around the house portrayed a man who actively engaged life, who was beloved and admired. I got the sense that Steve was a “larger than life” guy, and people loved him not just because he did loads of amazing things, but because with every thought, every conversation, every relationship, he was a man who was fully present in each moment.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, the mood of the people in the house evolved. We started somberly, but at some point someone took out one of Steve’s homemade creations – a potato gun. This fantastic contraption used household aerosols to launch a chunk of potato hundreds of yards out into the wilderness. Every successful launch brought peals of laughter from the onlooking crowd. The conversations moved from sorrowful to reflective, then to upbeat and even lively. I heard stories of raucous birthday parties, ornery inventions, exotic bicycle rides, and many many adventures around the state and around the world. Steve lived a life full of adventure, yet the legacy I inferred from his family and friends was one of willful and intentional engagement with the world around him.
Here’s a guy whom I never met, who even in his passing connected with me and made an impression on me. One more example of how powerful, and how humbling, is this world we live in.
No one is very clear how it happened but eventually the atmosphere turned into a dance party. A dozen dancers moved tables and chairs out of the way, someone took on the role of DJ, and away we went dancing into the wee hours. People laughed, a few cried, and everyone was fully present. For a few hours we were our own village, our own support network, with no other thought except that we were there for each other. I have the sense Steve would have been pleased.
The service was on a Friday night, and after a long night of dancing and drinking, Saturday morning came too early. For my part I knew all along that Zen Mustache had a show in Jamestown that night, and I and my road trip buddies had a 7-hour trek to look forward to. Some of us (no not me!) awoke in particularly bad shape. After stretching on the deck in the morning sun listening to John Denver (some pretty great morning recovery music, I must admit). we agreed breakfast was in order. We chowed down on some delicious local greasy, said goodbye to our short-lived friendships and hit the road. The Zen Mustache show started at 7:30, and we left town at noon with 7 hours ahead of us. I called ahead to let the band know I was on a tight schedule, but I was confident I’d make it to the show in time. Oh boy, what a show it turned out to be.
If you were at the Jamestown Mercantile last Saturday, and you are reading this, I apologize. Whatever words I type won’t really come close to the fever pitch that we created that night. By we I mean all of us. The band, the wives and girlfriends, the fans, and the ragamuffin Jamestown crowd who came out to see what was up at the Merc. I’ve written blogs in the past about great energy and the A-game. This was surely a part of Saturday, and yet there was also something entirely different. For me, this show was a notch (or two) above anything I’ve ever experienced before. Honestly, it was something like nirvana.
Chain Station started things off, and they smashed it. Their originals came off as classics; their covers were fresh and tight. The highlight for me was a cover of Axel F’s theme, with the main melody line coming off of Tony’s banjo. Hell yeah! This was John’s last performance with Chain Station before he took off for his new job in Utah, so there was some great emotion driving their performance.
Then a super-quick shuffle and we managed to squeeze all four of the Chain Station guys PLUS all five of us Mustachioed Ones on that tiny little stage. We played a couple of songs all together, really got the crowd amped, then Zen Mustache took the floor and rattled the rafters. Everything from Phish to Doobie Brothers to Stevie Wonder to ZM originals. I once wrote a blog about taking chances on stage. Well on this night, whatever the reason, we found our jumping legs and we leaped off the cliff. For the first time, really for the FIRST TIME on a stage in a live performance, we started exploring musical possibilities that we had never touched before. Not on every song, but on many songs, and we just kept going. Geoff found it in his guitar. BJ and Justin grabbed some amazing connections in the rhythm section. Kyle was over the top on his game. Honestly, I’ve never felt anything like that on a stage, ever in my life. The crowd was into it, and they were begging for more. It was the rush of a lifetime.
Jamestown has a noise curfew at 10pm which we honored. But not long after that, we pulled out our acoustic instruments and performed the Eagles’ Seven Bridges Road out in the parking lot. The front area outside the Merc was still brimming with people, and by the third verse people were scooting over to hear us. That led to more acoustic music from the Chain Station guys and before you knew it the party had migrated across the street to the public park. The whole scene was a completely different crowd from last night at Steve’s memorial, but here was another community of people, connected to each other for a few hours, drawn together through the music.
So what does a man walk away with after a weekend like this? Do I simply acknowledge that it happened, retain some vague memory and leave it at that? It was like a retreat weekend, an escape from real life, except the people and the scenery kept changing. I wish I had some poignant insights into my life, into the human condition. I definitely felt the power of life, and death, and music, all in one weekend. But transcribing that feeling into words requires a gift that I don’t quite have.
What I can say is this: For a few hours on Friday I was connected to a handful of people through a wild and unbelievable memorial service. For a few hours on Saturday I was connected to a handful of other people through a wild and unbelievable music party. When it was all over, on Sunday I felt a gaping void that is left behind when something truly special comes then goes. Here’s how the weekend ended: I realized how dearly I wanted to fill that void with three things: my family, my band friends, and my work colleagues. (Yup, true. Even my work colleagues.) There was no other place I wanted to be in life – I had already arrived.