In 2008, I wasn’t yet too well versed on how to handle myself at an industry gathering. If you read my LEO piece a few weeks ago about accidentally attending an AA meeting, you were able to get a picture of my naivety from that period. While that all happened a few years prior, I was still in a transition in ’08. It was around then that I started getting the itch to get back into radio and had started interviewing bands on my computer phone for a blog idea at the time. For good reason, I’ve never released many of those. Training wheels would be a good definition for this time in my life. If I had any distinct talent then, it was putting my foot in my mouth. At that, I was a pro.
My friend Jeffrey and I had been invited to a listening party for a project that our friend Ben Sollee had just become a part of, along with Casey Driessen, the still budding cellist had teamed up with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn to form The Sparrow Quartet. They had just recorded their album, but before taking it on the road, wanted to play it live for their friends to see how it all worked and sounded on stage. Bela and Abigail had recently become a couple, beginning their march to what they are now — the king and queen of the banjo. On top of getting to hear outstanding music, this intimate, private performance would be taking place in their living room. “So I get to go to Bela Fleck’s living room and watch him play the banjo? Yeah, I’ll come along.”
On the way down, Jeffrey played a new recording Ben Sollee had done, a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free.” It was the first time I had ever heard the song, and I was instantly transfixed at Ben’s version. I think I even made him play it another time or two before I looked up the original to give it a spin, too. I still get chills when I hear it. It’s a perfect song. But having heard Ben’s version first, I had some affinity to it. In the music biz, we call that demoitus. No matter how good the finished version of a song is, if you heard an earlier version of it, and liked it, more times than not you prefer that early version. Nothing will piss off a producer faster.
We finally made it to Bela and Abigail’s house, found our way inside, said hi to Ben and briefly met the rest of the band, and then had a couple drinks while they were getting ready to play. Mind you, we hadn’t eaten dinner, and drinks, as they do … well, by the time the first half was over, I was feeling pretty good. The Sparrow Quartet stopped for an intermission and we commenced with the mingling again. Ben came over to see how we were doing, and I took the chance to tell him what I’d heard on the way down.
“Dude, I couldn’t stop listening to your version of ‘Everything Is Free.’ And it’s SO MUCH BETTER THAN GILLIAN’S.”
Ben turned white, pivoted to his left and quickly walked away. A pause, then Jeffrey let out a bellowing laugh as he patted my back, turned me around and introduced me to Gillian Welch.
I don’t think my brain would let me process much for the next few minutes or so. Or maybe the redness in my face was actually cooking my brain. Either way, I started coming to my senses just after we had sat back down and I began picking up on a conversation already in play. Something about a musician. What did they say? Reed? “Who’s that?”
“You don’t know who Jerry Reed is?” asked Dave Rawlings. “I’m pretty sure you need to leave Tennessee right now.” Yeah, meeting my heroes wasn’t going all that well. It would have been good, for starters, had I known what my heroes looked like.
The show ended and I took my cue for the door, defeated and embarrassed. I think I used an excuse of a storm that was headed our way as a need to hit the road. Besides, why stay and make the night worse? Just get out and go home. So I did. I left. And about 15 minutes after I left, I’m told Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin showed up. •
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.