When Wilco Came To See Us On The 3rd Of July
Officially, the 24th of May is the anniversary of Jay Bennett’s death, but I will always think of him on Memorial Day, as that’s when we received the news in 2009.
In a way, it feels like Jay was partly responsible for me landing this writing gig with Jambands.com and Relix mag in the first place: it was an essay that I wrote about taking my daughters to see Wilco in the tiny Camden Opera House up here in Maine back on 7/3/00 that got the ball rolling in the summer of 2008. The good Dr. Dean Budnick responded to my out-of-nowhere e-mail, saying he would like to post it as a feature, bless his heart.
A week or so after the Wilco piece ran on Jambands.com, I received an e-mail from Jay Bennett himself saying how much he enjoyed the article and we began a correspondence that lasted up until the end. Sadly, included in that brief period of getting to know the man was a 2-1/2 hour phone interview that was like taking part in an audio cartoon – the sad part is, the recording is lost (vaporized in a computer swapover).
Jay Bennett was equal parts humor and passion; both techno-crafted performance and totally from-the-gut-one-take’s-all-we-get spontaneity. The dreadlocked mad scientist/guitar hero who lurched around the stage in Camden, ME that hot July night back in 2000 turned out to be a hoot to get to know – and, for all his accomplishments, I never found him to be cocky or bitter … if anything, he always seemed hopeful but unsure whenever he shared a demo he’d been working on. And as far as the Wilco stuff goes, well, I guess everybody does what they have to do. The way it all ended was a shame.
My last correspondence with Jay took place a couple of weeks before his death. I’d given him a friendly ration of shit about “goobing” on me – a term I’d picked up from him, meaning getting all sentimental and gushy on someone – in an earlier e-mail. Jay responded in his typical manner:
I’ll goob on you as much as I want … damn it …
Thanks again …
And that was that.
The Wilco piece (and the story of that night in general) is part of our family history now. You can find the original feature here on the site if you poke around, but unfortunately when Jambands did a redesign in the fall of ’09, it rendered anything written prior to that (with the old format) unreadable. Selfishly, I’d like to have my daughters and their families be able to read about that 3rd of July whenever they’d like … so I’ve take the time to gather up the original text and reformat it to modern-day Jambands.com standards.
I think/hope I’m a bit better writer now than I was then; we’re up to 400 or so reviews, a bunch of features and whatnot – I don’t know that practice makes perfect, but perhaps it helps. Nonetheless, I just plain wanted to have this piece exist somewhere in a readable fashion.
So here it is – as written just about 5 years ago.
This one’s for you, Cassie. And you, Jessica. And for Caroline and Lydia and Mason – and whoever’s yet to come along. Your ol’ Pops loves you very much.
And this one’s for you, too, Jay – I’ll goob on you as much as I want.
There’s an airline plane
Flies to heaven everyday
Past the pearly gates
If you want to ride this train
Have your ticket in your hand
Before it’s too late
I turned 50 this past February, which would mean that I have 40-some 4th of Julys to draw memories from, unless I was some infant prodigy blessed/cursed with the ability to remember every moment of my existence (which I’m not). Granted, there are highlights from past 4ths that have stuck: “Remember the year that we …” or “That reminds me of the 4th when …” but, truth be known, I’d be hard-pressed to tag any of those memories with a specific year.
Except 2000. I don’t expect I’ll ever forget that particular 4th although it was actually the 3rd of July that’s the real memory-maker.
For that was when Wilco came to play their insides out for us in a little hall on the coast of Maine. And we rode that train.
In July of 2000, to know that Wilco would be playing the Camden Opera House in the village of Camden, Maine either meant something big time to you or it didn’t.
Wow – Wilco?
On the night before the 4th of July?
Must be. Proof-reading the posters several times brought nothing to light: it was truly Wilco, not a local cover band named “Woolco” or “Wildo”. Back then, the band wasn’t well-known enough to have generated a legion of cover bands (at least in our state) – Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, or KISS maybe, but not Wilco. Somehow, local promoter Joel Raymond had brought the real thing to town.
At that point in time, I was a single dad, trying to expose my kids to a mix of the mainstream things that should be automatic when you’re growing up on the coast of Maine (bikes, boats, sunsets, starry skies) and things not-so-mainstream (homemade pesto and guacamole, life without a television and, yes, Wilco). My 16-year-old daughter Jessica – Bonnie Raitt-like red hair, green eyes, and perpetual smile – was already quite a guitar picker, eating up every note of music she listened to and absorbing everything. Younger sister Cassie was 10-1/2 in July of 2000; game for anything (and trusting that Dad would never let anything bad happen), Cassie was a pretty good sport about putting up with things when we were together.
Both of the girls had listened to their share of Wilco’s music when they were with me. Small venue; some familiar tunes; and if we could get in early and get some good seats, why not? The tickets were purchased; plans were made: I’d pick up Cassie at her mom’s while Jess would be driving from another direction during the day on the 3rd; we’d rendezvous at my house and head in to Camden early.
“Remember: it’s easier to stand in line an hour early to get a good seat than it is to sit in a crappy seat for 3 hours at a show,” I offered, as we walked hand-in-hand from our vehicle to the Opera House.
“Looks like they’ve got the same idea,” Jess said, pointing to a line of maybe 30 people waiting for the doors to open.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” I said, handing each of the girls their own ticket. “We’ll nail some good seats. Just remember: stick close to me when the line starts moving.”
And they did. “Here we go,” whispered Cassie a little nervously. She squeezed my hand as we entered the doorway.
I don’t know what the official seat count is for the Camden Opera House, but I believe that 500 people would be pretty cozy if they were tucked into the main floor and single balcony.
The people who had been in front of us for the general admission seating had already taken the front rows on the floor; we might’ve gotten within three rows of the stage, but when you’re a kid, that might just as well have been 100 rows if the adults in front of you stood up. My Dad-vision assessed the situation quickly: “Head for the balcony!”
We scored a berth right on the balcony railing at about 5 o’clock to the stage. Completely unobstructed view; we could rest our elbows on the massive hardwood railing if we wanted to. The kids proceeded to people-watch as the crowd piled into the hall.