and then had to wake at 8am to drive to Hancock, NY to play the Catskill Chill festival. Nestled among the mountains next to a beautiful lake, on campgrounds that are also home to the Frenchwoods Summer Music Camp (which, it turns out, our own Johnny Butler had taught at one summer), the environment and the scene were breathtaking. Our manager Michael came up with his sister Emily and her husband Chason, both dear friends and huge fans and supporters of ours (remember we played their wedding back in March at the end of our first Midwest run). We spent the afternoon catching up, sharing stories from the road, laughter and beers. A beautiful day that would turn out to be a bitter-sweet memory, but that part comes later..
That night we stayed with papa John Kincheloe at that old house in Halcottsville where all this dirtiness originated. Of course we made merriment into the wee hours of the morning, as the sun rose on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001. There’s a tiny firehouse across main street from John’s house, and local residents gathered with firemen and policemen to commemorate and remember the events of that day. The bells in the little church across the street rang a couple times, and a few people made speeches as we sat on the porch and watched. Later that afternoon we bid John adieu and drove on to Ithaca for our second show at Castaways, riding backroads the whole way. What a sunset! Mist rising from the mountains, the sun intermittently breaking through the grey, suddenly flaring and cutting brilliant swaths of light on our van, bouncing and weaving through the twists and turns of the hills.
After a few days back at home we awoke on the 15th and drove to Morgantown to play at 123 Pleasant St., our fourth or fifth West Virginia show of the summer—feels like we were there about as much as we were in Brooklyn! Morgantown is the home of West Virginia University, and the blue and gold colors of the school are everywhere. (It’s funny, myself and some of the other birds know a lot of these towns primarily from following college sports—Morgantown, Lawrence, Norman, Tuscaloosa, Chapel Hill… well we haven’t gotten there yet..) Football season had just started, as well as fall classes, and the anticipation and excitement were palpable. Fall coming—trees beginning to turn ever so slightly. The town is built into the hills, next to a river, skyline dominated by a municipal monorail if you can believe that! There are roads that slope down toward the water’s edge and end there without so much as a guard rail—made me wonder how many times someone accidentally cruised right down into the river. The next morning we drove Northwest to Lancaster, PA for a show at The Chameleon Club, a huge old venue in the center of town. The next day, the 17th, was Sasha’s birthday, and we set out through the grey rain of downtown Lancaster in search of a special birthday breakfast spot as a huge Puerto Rican Day parade passed by us on all sides—flags waving, bicycle horns honking, stereo systems attached to rear fenders blaring reggaeton. Finally we found our refuge: On Orange. My oh my, what a delicious feast! Thank you, thank you On Orange for one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, you ladies are champions.
We girded our full bellies and made the short drive to Monroeville, NJ, for a much-anticipated return to our festival home-away-from-home, Camp Jam. Lori and John are like family at this point, so welcoming and hospitable. What a great bunch of festival-goers too! Even just walking into the place, Jackson and I, both clad in our “Canadian Tuxedos” (denim from head to toe),
were clapped onto the field by several clusters of dirty bird fans. It’s still pretty exciting for us to be recognized by people who love our music—all that positive energy really does flow back and forth, on stage and off. The show that night was electric, hundreds of people pressed up against the stage, dancing and screaming and singing along, the music flowing out across the little lake and into the campsites ringing the stage area. As the night raged on, we found ourselves out in the woods among the tents and the campfires, joining in a wild jam session with our friends Primate Fiasco, seemingly everyone joining in somehow, clapping, singing, banging on bottles, playing whatever instruments were around, including a bunch of toy noisemakers we’d picked up for Sasha’s birthday. (note: I’m filming, and I apologize for the lack of proper lighting.)
It was a wild night that turned into a very somber morning. Shortly after we got on the road to Connecticut, I received a call from Michael. He was extremely upset. He said that Emily had passed away during the night. Utter shock. Emily, who we had seen just a week ago, happy and healthy, was gone? How is that possible? It doesn’t make sense. It’s such a struggle even now, writing it, it almost doesn’t seem real. There are no words to describe this loss. She was such an amazing person, such a wonderful friend to us, so full of positivity. We found out later that she was still wearing her festival bracelet from Catskill Chill, hadn’t taken it off all week. Thank you Emily for everything, for being our most fervent believer and supporter from the very beginning. Know that you will forever be in our hearts and our collective soul, your energy is a part of who we are. Love always.
We continued on in a daze—engagements and shows, including Bridgeport, CT and Providence, RI, a photo shoot, putting the finishing touches on the new record—and yet we all felt her absence as well as Michael’s family’s loss so deeply that it made the whole time, well, hard. And surreal. Loss can make everything else feel less significant, like the volume is turned down. It makes you think deeply about what’s really important in life—family, friends, love, music. In the Dirty Birds, we are blessed that all these things intersect simultaneously. On the 23rd, we walked into Sullivan Hall to play our last show in NYC until almost the end of the year, shoot our first official music video, and also to honor Emily with music. Incredibly, Michael and Chason, along with several of her close friends were able to come to the show. We hadn’t seen any of them since her passing, and it was so good to be able to give hugs and words of support before the show. They all made it clear that she would have wanted them to be there, that she wouldn’t have missed it for anything, that she would have been pissed if they didn’t come out. And of course she was there too. Dancing right along with hundreds of other friends and fans, who maybe didn’t know the loss we carried in our hearts, but for sure felt the energy and love we put into the music that night. Our friend Jake Nelson made a music video that night to the song “Make it Rain.” You have to put your all into every moment, no matter how hard it may seem at the time.
The next night we played up in Albany and drove back to the city late after the gig, exhausted but looking forward to the next leg of our journey: our first National Tour. Taking it to the next level. Over thirty or so shows spread out over 7 weeks, thousands upon thousands of miles altogether, from California through the South and back up the East Coast. So look out for the next chapter.
The following pictures are from Emily and Chason’s wedding. RIP girl. We miss you like crazy.
As always, thank for taking this trip with us.
Yr Friend Bram