There are places I remember in my life (though some have changed). The time I spent in South Carolina and Texas happens to overlap neatly with that of Rob Teter, Marshall Hood, and their band(s). It wasn’t until young Rob was in DC over the weekend that I realized how much that overlapping influenced my larger journey.
I met teenagers Rob and Marshall — and their pal Jeff Brown — in their last year of high school and my first full year in Spartanburg, SC, their home town. I was doing a story on the minor musical resurgence of Spartanburg, and the boys, who were 17-year-olds playing old Americana tunes as The DesChamps Band, were abuzz. They performed for the photog and me on Marshall’s parents back deck, and I turned a quick story, below. (This is embarrassing, as I was age 23 and sounded like a 12-year-old.)
A year later, I started my new TV job in Austin and the boys had disbanded to attend college, but never stopped playing music. Marshall had moved to Austin, too. That’s where he met Phoebe Hunt, an Austin native and one of the most talented young fiddlers around. A few months later, Rob and his buddies from college in New Orleans joined up with Marshall and Phoebe to jam, and through circumstance and serendipity (a spot opened up at MerleFest), they became The Belleville Outfit. The boys took a break from college, converged in Austin and followed their musical journey. (Spoiler alert: It worked out for them. The band was not a flop.)
Because I found them for that story when they were so young, I feel a real familial kind of relationship with some of those guys. I got to know Uncle Seth and Cousin Warren and moms and dads. Rob and I reminisced about the fall night in 2007 when the band came over to Casa Hu-Stiles at 3am after a “meh” gig to help finish off the beer and food from a party we threw earlier that evening. Queso-blurred memories.
So I’ve been a Belleville Outfit evangelist for many years, introducing dozens, if not hundreds of my pals to the group. I focused specifically on making sure friends from out of Austin got a chance to see their shows. Loved ones from New York, Washington, various places in the Midwest… they’ve all been taken to a Belleville show if they came to visit and the band was in town. (Sudeep became an instant fan and even bought some sweatbands. Lawmaker pal Mark wanted to get them to play some political events.)
Belleville is also partly responsible for my current job at NPR, and the fact we live here in Washington at all right now. I met one of my great friends and one of the biggest influencers on my journalism thinking, Matt Thompson, at a Belleville Outfit show during SXSW 2009. In one of my evangelism efforts, I had invited out-of-town pal Jen to come see the live music, and she brought her buddy Matt. It was months before the existence of The Texas Tribune (which Matt Thompson also influenced) and way before he was working at NPR. But he enjoyed the show, we remained friends, and he remembered me NPR was looking for someone, years later.
The band announced it was breaking up early last year, a few weeks after I decided I was leaving Austin for DC. After touring all over the country playing to fans old and new, two acclaimed albums, an Americana Awards nomination for Best Emerging Artists, and all signs pointing up, the group members split after Phoebe decided she wanted to go solo. The breakup news marked an end to my time in Austin in a way that was maybe more significant than actually moving away from Austin. (See/hear the goodbye show.)
NPR holds Tiny Desk Concerts, in which artists big and small come and play acoustic by a desk at the skinny end of the fifth floor. I can only make it to a handful of them, and sometimes it’s to see artists I’ve never heard of, based on recommendations from coworkers. One day last April, my office pal said a guy named Ben Sollee was playing and that he was supposed to be good. So I went to the Tiny Desk and who was accompanying Ben? Phoebe, of the Belleville Outfit. We had a big holy shit reunion hug in front of the gathered group, which seemed quite confused.
Rob and I have kept in touch via Twitter, and this past weekend, since he didn’t have firm plans for his DC visit and I never have plans more than a day in advance, we got to spend back-to-back-to-back evenings out together in Washington. Nights filled with randomness, booze, bad music, good music, new inside jokes (Meow versus Meow has a meaning now), fake outrage over “Reserved” placards, and a debate over whether Tim Tebow is actually in fact a virgin.
And that’s one of the reasons I love my new place, Washington. Because people happen to come visit a lot, for various reasons. And it means millions of new moments with old friends.