For the first four shows of the current Old 97’s tour, long-time fan Sandra Hume is going to provide a road diary from the fan’s point of view. As she, her husband Matt and an ever-changing cast of like-minded Wreckers follow the boys up the west coast, Sandra will keep us posted on all the fun. She’s uniquely qualified to do so, but I’ll let her tell that story herself.
It’s a little embarrassing, really, so I’ll just come right out and say it. My family—the family of my adulthood, the one I chose—exists because of the Old 97’s.
Almost eleven years ago, I discovered this band called the Old 97’s. It was between Fight Songs and Satellite Rides. At the same time, I discovered Internet fan groups. I was a Johnny-come-lately to the Yahoo Group “Wrecked” (and its on-topic, no-exceptions sister, “Hitchhiking”) compared to the pioneers who had been around since 1998. Like my husband.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At first this guy, Matt, was just a fan whose name I’d see tacked on to the end of his group messages. And then in my personal email inbox. Our private email exchanges were sparked when he offered me unsolicited advice on a romantic situation I’d vented briefly about to the group. This should have been a turnoff, but I liked his style. Email gave way to instant messaging, then phone calls, and the next thing I knew I was meeting him for a drink in a hotel bar on a June night in Dallas before a one-off Old 97’s date at the Gypsy Tea Room. It was my first time in Texas, and I’d flown from Boston solo. He’d driven down from … where was it? Oklahoma? He corrected me: he lived (and farmed) in Kansas. I was almost thirty, fairly newly single, and experimenting with my latent bravery, but I wasn’t nervous about meeting the Kansan farmer. Although I liked him and felt an almost alarming synergy with him, the two pictures he’d sent of himself I’d found … underwhelming.
Then he walked into the bar, where my mind shut down from all but two thoughts: Dude’s wearing cowboy boots. Dude takes really bad pictures.
Five months later we were married.
Some couples love Vegas. Others schedule annual Disney trips. For me and Matt, seeing the Old 97’s was What We Did. For a while, it was easy. Just before we got married, we met up with other fans for a three-show hit in Missouri and eastern Kansas. The drive to and from Boston for our five-months-after-the-fact wedding reception serendipitously coincided with another tour. We hit Pittsburg on the way there, and St. Louis, Columbia, and Lawrence on the way back.
Wherever we could, we hooked up with friends. People from the same Wrecked group where Matt and I met were scattered all over the country, and hitting shows together was some of the best fun we knew how to have. That summer, 2001, we joined half a dozen other “Wreckers” for what we still call the “trifecta,” caravanning to Dallas (Trees), Austin (Stubb’s), and Houston (I can never remember the venues in Houston) over a long weekend in July.
Our venture into parenthood crimped our plans only slightly. Our daughter Sky’s first plane ride, at ten months of age, was a jaunt to Dallas to catch a Ranchero Brothers Barley House show, which we listened to from the sidewalk. Video exists somewhere of Matt sitting on the bottom floor of Sons of Hermann Hall holding a sleeping Sky while “Wish the Worst” plays in the background. As she got older and life at Grandma and Granddad’s proved much more exciting than being with Mom and Dad, we were able to hit Dallas or Austin or Denver for a couple shows at a time.
Then we had another kid. Relatives in Austin were kind enough to keep Wilder and Sky while we caught a show at Stubb’s in 2005, and we even tried to indoctrinate the kids by bringing them to sound check. But that year marked the last family-wide Old 97’s travel. Life got complicated. From where we lived in the middle of the High Plains, getting away was always at least an overnighter, and usually required a boarding pass. Taking off for an adults-only weekend wasn’t just inconvenient, it was irresponsible. The kids had things to do, school to attend, and when they didn’t, relatives to see.
The guys we learned to love as they sang about drinking and debauchery were now married and having their own kids, just like us. But playing music was their job; listening to it wasn’t ours. Years went by. Entire tours happened without our hitting a single show. When a ballet recital conflicted with the Gruene Hall recording of Alive and Wired, I … forget it, I can’t even talk about it. As I sit here typing this in 2011, I can’t believe that the last time the two of us together saw the band perform was in 2007.
Matt and I celebrated our ten-year anniversary this past November. What to do to mark the occasion? The best time for us to travel was January. We considered the Caribbean. We considered Europe. When we took a look at the Old 97’s tour schedule, though, we realized sheepishly that the rock clubs of California would win out. Tonight, in a club just north of San Diego—kids happily moved in for a long weekend at Grandma’s—we’re going back to where it all began.
Four cities. Four nights. No kids.
Do we even know how to do this anymore?