Have I told you about the time I met Conor Oberst?
I don't think of myself as someone who is a fanatic of anything, or someone who thinks highly of a celebrity status. In my narcissistic view of myself, I'd like to imagine me not getting terribly excited when seeing someone famous. I definitely have this "I value their talent, but they're just like you and me" attitude about it. Sadly it's easier said than done.
I've got a really talented step-brother, Clay. He's popular in the Athens music scene-- and he can do just about anything. He's in a country band called the Chasers, in which he sings lead and plays guitar. He drummed in a band called Now It's Overhead off of Saddle Creek Records. I could go on. He recorded with Bright Eyes, and in the Fall of 2007 he also toured with them.
Because of this, Beth and I were able to meet up with him on their stop in Birmingham, Alabama (sadly there were no Atlanta dates on this particular tour). So my wife and I roaddtripped it over one time zone.
Excitement doesn't begin to describe our feelings. Ironically, I had been a fan of Bright Eyes before I knew Clay played with them (imagine my shock reading the liner notes of Lifted and seeing his name in the backing vocals and percussion section). Bright Eyes has had quite the impact on my life, both musically and spiritually. One of the most important albums of my spiritual life is the previously mentioned Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
The anticipation was great, but I still had that mental idea that "Conor Oberst is just a person. I'll just chat it up if I see him and tell him I appreciate his work." We met Clay at the theater they were playing, grabbed dinner, and he gave us a little backstage tour. We even met Gillian Welch, who would guest perform on a song with Oberst, along with Dave Rawlins. She was very cordial, but disgusted at the fact that we had just eaten at Arby's.
Eventually we made our way to the tour bus, where we sat towards the front. We talked together while the History Channel ran on a small television in the background. After some time, Conor Oberst made his way onto the bus.
I froze. All those smoothe and cool things I wanted to say were out the window. I was starstruck. Clay introduced us, and I don't really remember what I said. I think it was something along the lines of being a big fan and being excited when I heard Clay would be touring with them.
Oberst sat down, and Beth complimented his cowboy boots. From there they talked for about 15 minutes-- who gave him the boots, clothes, cowboys, rodeos, and so on. He was very courteous and outgoing. Pretty normal.
And I just sat there, frozen.
And after their conversation, he hopped off the bus to do whatever it is musicians do before performing. Leaving me cursing myself under my breath. My opportunity, I thought, was gone. That was it.
After the show we met up with Clay again and actually ended up back on the bus. This time I was determined to be ready for Oberst. I was going to have something planned out-- a compliment about the performance or a high five. But the fatal flaw came in the form of one of my favorite foods. Clay pointed to a pile of pizza boxes on a table on the bus and said, "At the end of every show they bring this up for us. You want some?"
I should have said no. I should have said I wasn't hungry. But I was. And I love pizza.
I dug in. Actually, I just had one slice. But at the worst possible moment, I took a big bite-- one of those bites where the cheese on the rest of the pizza comes along for the ride. The moment I was fighting a bite of pizza larger than my mouth could handle, Conor Oberst stepped onto the bus and walked right past me.
Outraged with myself, I threw the rest of the pizza in the trash. That would be the last time I saw Oberst, and probably will be the last time I ever see him.
But later that night Beth and I walked with Clay to a bar where he performed on his own (both covers and his own songs)-- something he did after every concert. There we sang and laughed, and I remembered why I was there in the first place.
This is the setlist of the night.