This essay is the first of a series of fan memories. Our first recollection is written by long time Connells fan Christie Thomas.
When asked to write a piece for the website, I immediately accepted. How could I decline? It isn’t often you become friends with the band on the back of the CD.
In the late 90’s I was working part time at a record store that carried new and used music as well as some of my boss’s personal collection. The Connells catalog was in a rack behind the counter. I had been curious about this band for a while, a kid I worked at camp with wore a Fun and Games T-shirt. Local DJ Eric Worden used to play Fun and games regularly back in the days of The Coast radio station, which also piqued my interest. Maybe that was the extent of my previous curiosity, but it was enough. I remember starting with Weird Food and Devastation. I was in to it, big time. My boss commented I was starting at the end and needed to start at the beginning, but my mind couldn’t handle the complexities of Boylan Heights. To be fair, I’m not sure it can now.
Between the record store and community college, I was moonlighting at the mall music store and felt guilty for it, but my boss was closing the record store and my access to working for CD’s would soon be gone. On a day that I remember as being hot but probably wasn’t, Eric Worden announced The Connells were coming to The Boathouse, a hole in the wall that suffered so much flood damage during a hurricane it was condemned but well remembered. I called my friend Linda, asked her if she wanted to go and bought our tickets. I’d like to say it was one of those nights that felt like anything could happen, it didn’t start out that way but did end up that way.
Shortly after that, we trekked down to Raleigh for R2K, an outdoor event The Connells were playing in downtown Raleigh that was marked with trepidation: the turn of the millennium was supposed to cause the world to stop spinning on its axis and the global banking system was to go in to complete and utter shut down. Until midnight hit and absolutely nothing happened. We wished each other a happy new year, The Connells ended their set and that was it. The world didn’t stop, there was no ruin and every ATM everywhere still worked. During that trip my friend Linda and I were handed a trash bag by housekeeping because our hotel room may have looked like Motley Crue had partied there, we got in a low speed car chase through downtown and a drunk guy offered me the keys to his car that he left at the James Taylor concert all of that was just New Year’s Day. The next morning, when we were on the way out, we went to Dede’s room to tell her we were leaving, and she asked if we wanted to tell Mike Connell bye as he was on the phone. We thought she meant she was speaking to him on the phone but as she opened the door, Mike was there making a phone call to David. Linda and I, as well as Art and Tracey and Dede followed Mike to David’s where we sat on the patio, chatted, took pictures that would require developing and wished each other a happy new year once again. We were two days in to the new year. It seemed at once surreal but also totally normal as the Connell brothers have proven to be the epitome of Southern grace.
In the years since then, I have seen The Connells about eleventeenhundred times. I have no idea how many times, I can’t even really begin to count. And in that time, life has gone on. Band members have gotten married and had kids and gotten day jobs. The fans have gotten married, had kids, gotten day jobs. Some of them, some of us are just older versions of our 22-year-old selves. Shows have become fewer and far between, until recently when a renewed interest in the band has found them playing out more. A show in Richmond sold out in two days. When the venue put out a low ticket warning, they should have put out a “no ticket” warning. Sold out. It was amazing. In a rare instance where music, and time and circumstance allow, Art and Tracy, our friend Stacee in Utah and I were able to reunite for the show. We hadn’t seen a show together in 9 years. And here we were, as close to front row as we could get in a crowd that was rowdier than any crowd I have ever been in at a Connells show. A very intoxicated man had tied his shirt around his head and trying to fight; I was told he was removed from the show but resurfaced toward the end. All these people crammed in to The National to see a band we have all seen so many times we’ve lost count; As it fell in to place for four friends to come together, se fell into place The Connells, who played with a verve reminiscent of that first show nearly 20 years ago.
Unlike shows past where I would have tried to get some pictures, this time I was there to be there, to be present. The band was in fine form as Mike bantered with the crowed more than usual. There seemed to be a large number of men there reliving their college glory days; a guy behind me kept yelling: “THE CONNELLS, MAN!” Doug thanked everybody for singing along, “You’ve really come in to your own!” The set list had the standards but also had a few surprises as Stars made a rare appearance as did a song called Burial Art, which Mike touted as “new…and fifteen years old.” There’s something that happens when music and friendships come together, it’s as if time is suspended and enough songs can’t be played and the night can’t last long enough. It makes you feel 22 and like you can still handle long nights.
At brunch the next morning we found ourselves doing a post-show recap, a postmortem on the set list, sound quality, the usual. I found myself with the post-show hangover, a direct effect live music, loud guitars and acknowledgement that going to concerts and shows doesn’t happen as much as it used to. The post-show hangover can usually and easily be cured with carbs and large amounts of caffeine. Sitting with friends over the most amazing salted caramel chocolate drizzle pie, we agreed the band was in great form, the sound mix was good and that nine years is way too long, so we’re doing it all again in September.