As I sat in a small chair in the corner of Little Kings, watching people flow through the door, I had to ask how in the world I got here. Yes, I know, I got in my car, drove around for twenty minutes looking for a parking place, failed, paid $5 to park in the Cine lot, walked through the door, paid, and sat in the chair. I would hope that much would be obvious.
I meant, how did I get to wait for two bands (and Magnapop’s singer) that I had only seen in Athens, Ga.: Inside Out? I had only heard Oh-Ok through Ethan at the station. Yet here I was, watching a slideshow of Ingrid Shorr on a laptop across the room and surrounded by her friends. They were gliding around from table to table, chatting away and looking at the wares. Yet I felt like I was the one who was a ghost.
The rain had finally stopped on Friday. It’s been a dreary few weeks in Athenstown. The moisture still hung in the air like an unfulfilled promise. The suffocating Georgia heat gave way to a cooler evening, the stars appearing one by one in the night sky. I walked into the doorway and stepped outside to the little lawn where some children were playing cornhole. The music hadn’t begun yet. The streets were filling up with people desperately searching for parking spots and failing like I had.
I propped myself up against the side of the building. It’s been a long week requiring me to wake up FAR before I normally would in order to get everything done. The strands of lights outside made me smile. I guess it’s an Athens thing. Wouldn’t be as great a venue without the lights. Lots of chatter coming and going. I heard a powerchord and drifted back inside.
False alarm. I sit back in “my” chair, watching people pass. A man came over to the couch, most of which I wasn’t occupying, and set down a guitar case.
“Do you mind me doing this here?” he asked very shyly.
“Not at all,” I replied, looking at the strange guitar he was pulling out of the case.
He had replaced the bridge and was fiddling with the strings but finding it very hard to keep it in tune. He had a singular repetition to his movements. Put the string in, tighten the bottom, tighten the head, strum, tighten the bottom…and on and on until he was satisfied. I couldn’t help but stare. Replacing guitar strings always frustrates me. I couldn’t imagine trying to replace the bridge. The man placed these odd looking glasses on his face and lit up a small disc-like light in order to see. Between the guitar, screwdriver, string, and light, he was having a bit of a time.
“Can I hold that for you?” I asked.
“Please!” he answered.
He finished getting all the strings in place. And began to tune with one of the largest tuners I’ve seen in a while. It’s big so “you can see it from the stage.” He had shed his glasses by this point and was now bending and pulling the strings taught so when the whammy bar was used, they would stay in tune.
“I’m Danny by the way,” he said, still pulling strings.
“Jordan, nice to meet you,” I said, still enthralled by his precise movements.
He smiled and set the guitar in its case. Almost showtime. It would only come to me later that this man is Danny Cottar from Time Toy. He had a friendly face.
A friend of mine from WUOG came by. Jennifer was last seen trying to steal the Patti Smith vinyl from the station on the last “official” night. And I was watching her like a hawk. I’ll be damned if anyone is taking anything from the station. Much less Patti Smith! A short conversation ensued then Michael Lachowski came by with a hug and a smile.
I was so glad to see his face. My encounters with the honorary WUOG dj have been few since February. We had run into each other briefly the night before at the Melting Point during Dead Confederate. His magazine is about to see the light of day again and there are things he is planning for the summer that will be spectacular. Seeing him now, in this place, gave me bittersweet feelings. It hit me that the last time I had been here, it was during Randy’s wake, watching Michael toast his dear friend. Tonight though, he was smiling and bouncing around with the rest of us. It was so good to see.
The crowd seemed to have grown larger by the time we had finished saying hi. I spotted a few familiar faces from the “local celebrity” collection hanging around in the back. Venturing over to get some water, I just managed to make it back to the front of the stage in time to run into my editor from Flagpole, Michelle. We were both impressed with the number that showed but our attention soon turned to the stage when we heard the familiar *squank* noise of a guitar plugging in. Linda Hopper and Ruthie Morris took to the stage.
I’m still very much new to some of these songs but the minute the duo launched into “Favorite Writer,” I had to sing along. Those R.E.M. bootlegs sure come in handy. And there I was, standing in the crowd with my flip camera recording everything for fear that I might miss it. I was very pleased with the set and turned to tell Michelle so but she had vanished. Sighing, I put away the camera and milled around inside, looking at the amazing painting by Sam Seawright. Something I could never afford but there’s not any harm in looking at it right?
“Holy cow, TUNABUNNY!!” I cry, leaping into the arms of my guest djs. What a completely random happenstance. We chatted happily about what they’ve been up to (think new record!) and Athfest and how crazy it was that we were about to see Time Toy. Really, THE Time Toy that we remembered from Athens, Ga.: Inside Out. And see them we did.
It should be noted that Time Toy had a small but cult like following during its days as an active band. It should also be noted that they freakin rock. Poetry meets dance rhythms meets guitar swirls. I could only bring myself to tape a single song due to my uncontrollable urge to bop up and down. A quick glance over to my right reveals a very happy Michael Lachowski and to my right and a bit behind, a smiley Michael Stipe. Then it happened.
Time Toy launched into the song from the movie (“Hi”) and I swear that something felt different. I looked around again and there seemed to be so many people that I knew I didn’t know but I felt like we were friends anyway. And here was a band, not one I’d seen on a movie screen but one I’d stumbled upon playing a smokey venue in 1985 while crawling around the pubs with my friends.
Lachowski confirmed what I’d felt when I spoke to him after the set outside for an air break.
“They haven’t changed a bit. They play just like they used to.”
The feeling was finally fading a bit so I took the chance to review what I had shot. Apparently, my flip camera has the same grainy quality as the ones shooting Inside Out. It really was like I had stepped out of time to capture this moment.
Bidding was slowing down on the items being sold for Ingrid’s benefit. Oh-Ok and Flash to Bang Time were setting up onstage when I spied Mr. Stipe peeking at the bid list for the autographed copy of “Hello.” Nothing wrong with a bit of sheer curiosity right?
I hear clapping and whistling so I whirl around in time to watch Oh-Ok/Flash to Bang Time take the stage. Neat! Ethan used to talk my ear off about Oh-Ok. I really wished he were here to see this. We all bopped and hopped and danced and sang and shouted and laughed and had so much fun. It seemed like the shuffle club building would explode with so many people inside.
The set ended and the band dismantled itself, members hopping offstage and wandering into the crowd, hugging siblings and friends. I overheard someone say, “I haven’t seen you in twenty years!” I can barely imagine being close to my friends twenty years from now, but this small exchange set off a very long thought about friends and family.
I’ve heard it said that people can tell what kind of person you are by the company you keep.I don’t know Ingrid but I know some of her friends. She must be a damn swell person. My mind is blown by how close these people are after some thirty odd years of knowing each other. And an event like this to benefit a friend serves as a testament to their opinion of her.
People always ask, “Why is Athens so successful?” Trying to figure out its source has befuddled many professional music commentators. It’s not something that you can measure by gold records or indie credit. It’s not something in the water or the red clay or even the proximity to Atlanta. It’s all more simple than that. It’s the people. The people who you choose to be your family and friends. The relationships that you work hard to keep. The ones who loan you a couch to sleep on, a shoulder to cry on, and throw concerts in your name. And that’s something that will outlast any Athens band.
Time Toy & Flash to Bang Time will be playing The Melting Point with Love Tractor and Five Eight during Athfest on Saturday.
Just FYI for you completists, Ingrid is the subject of R.E.M.’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville,” the twangy little Mike Mills penned tune. She went back. But the love for her friends stays.