This Saturday, Cara and I will be seeing Okkervil River in Columbus at the Newport Music Hall. They're my favorite band, and I haven't seen them live in more than two and a half years, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's not the most exciting thing happening this weekend, though. There's also the little matter of us getting married in Columbus on Sunday.
Going to a rock concert the night before your own wedding might be a little strange by most people's standards, but it would be very hard to convince me to pass up an opportunity to see Okkervil River. There's more, though - in fact, us seeing Okkervil River in Columbus the night before our wedding is wonderfully appropriate! When I saw Okkervil's tour dates and realized what was going on, I actually laughed out loud in amazement and excitement. To understand why requires that we take a journey back to 2006.
I got into Okkervil River at the beginning of that year with Black Sheep Boy, a fantastic album. Not long after, in March, was the first time I met Cara in person after having previously known her from the online word game Psychobabble. We became fast friends. Since I lived in Cleveland and she lived in Columbus, we didn't see each other very often, but talked a lot online and also hung out a few times when I was in Columbus visiting my family. In October, Okkervil River played a show at Little Brother's in Columbus. I was becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the band, and decided I had to make the drive down for the show. I asked Cara if she'd be interested in going with me (we had, in fact, two months earlier, made a trip together all the way to Washington, D.C. to see the band Ozma play a concert) and she said she was. At the time, we were still "just friends," but our friendship had become very strong.
I have some vivid memories of that day. I was feeling very stressed out at the time due to a heavy workload in preparation for the Society for Neuroscience conference for which I traveled to Atlanta a few days after the concert. When Cara got to the concert, I just remember being so happy to see her. Little Brother's was a concert venue I had never been to before, and unfortunately never would again, as it has since closed. I remember it as kind of a long, narrow room that opened up some closer to the elevated stage. Not far from the entrance was the merch table. I recall looking at the shirts, and that Cara asked me if I was going to buy one. I said that I would decide after the concert based on whether the show was good enough to warrant putting down the cash. Spoiler: it certainly was.
Elvis Perkins opened for Okkervil River, and played a very nice set of very sad music which we both enjoyed a lot. Okkervil River came next. I had never seen them before, so I had little idea what I was in for. It turned out to be easily one of the best concerts I've seen in my life. Will Sheff, the band's lead singer, was sick at the time. Because of this, he had to drink a lot of water, and I remember at one point he made a comment about being in the "hydration club." The hydration club would become an inside joke for Cara and me. Despite not feeling well, Sheff put on an amazingly passionate performance, and the rest of the band was right there with him. A definite highlight for me was "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks," one of my favorite songs. It's the only time I've seen it performed, and it was stunning. I also remember some of Elvis Perkins' band joining Okkervil River for "So Come Back, I Am Waiting," which was riveting. "The President's Dead" had not been released yet and this concert was the first time I heard it; it was love at first listen. And "Westfall" was, of course, great as always. The whole set just had an incredible energy to it.
Being with Cara, who I by then considered my best friend, made the experience even better. She has since told me that she felt the urge to rest her head on my shoulder during the concert. She didn't, but I might not have minded.
After the show ended, I did buy a shirt. Cara and I then spent a long time just sitting in her car (it was quite cold outside) and talking before we had to head our separate ways. I'm sure we both sensed there was a real connection there. The next time we saw each other in person was a little less than a month later, when she visited me in Cleveland for the first time. That was when we officially started dating. And now, what do you know, we are about to get married!
We've seen Okkervil River a few other times, but it's been a while - too long, by my reckoning. We traveled to Hamilton to see them on Cara's birthday in September 2007, saw them in Columbus in the spring of 2008 at the same venue as this Saturday's show, and then went to Buffalo for a show in October 2008. (This last one was not long after Cara moved to Cleveland.) Each time is a great memory.
And you know how certain pieces of music are strongly tied to certain times or places from your life? One such association that I have is Okkervil River's album Down the River of Golden Dreams with driving down to Columbus to see Cara. Our relationship started as a long-distance one, so I made the trip fairly often. I always listened to CDs in the car, and at the time, that was the album I was listening to more than any other. I now consider it my favorite album of all time. I'd guess that's not entirely coincidental.
So, yeah, seeing Okkervil River on Saturday and getting married on Sunday. Sometimes, things just work out perfectly.