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Remembering Vic Reflections from Vic Chesnutt’s Friends, Fans and Collaborators

Frank Hamrick

Laura Carter, Elf Power: You set my standard for cool And through amazing conversations You’ve made me work to be smart and dynamic. In the best ways. You are the funniest motherfucker I’ve ever known. Except for Curtiss. Y’all are tied. But that’s the top and anyway you brought us together. You brought so many people together. I’ll always be grateful and keep you strong in my heart. You are the coolest. I love you.

Jim Willingham and Jacob Morris, Ham1: We had the privilege of backing up Vic for a short tour in southern Spain in the summer of 2008. It was an odyssey of sorts: three plane rides and a long bus ride from Seville to Malaga which, because of a delayed flight and a missed connection, totaled over 39 hours.

We were all grizzled, grumpy and strained. On a 10-hour layover in Oporto, Portugal, we found ourselves climbing up a treacherous cobblestone street ascending to an immense Romanesque cathedral. Vic was wincing and grimacing as Sugi deftly negotiated the hill. He must have been in great physical discomfort, being jostled with every push, but he never complained. That hill was incredibly steep, the road was insanely uneven and ancient, strung-out prostitutes and honking European cars were passing by—but Vic didn’t want to turn around. On that and other tours, some days it seemed like nothing was going right. Everything was in turmoil around the shows— booking, guarantees, jackass sound guys, illness, fatigue, hangovers. But then we would get onstage. Vic was so talented he could carry the show, no matter what. The joy and anguish in his music was so great, it was almost otherworldly being onstage with him. It was transformative. We learned so much from him about music, performance, and life that we never could have learned anywhere or from anyone else. Vic was always generous, genuine, kind and unapologetically honest. He was a master storyteller as well. He told us about a night when

Vic Chesnutt and Benjamin Dickerson



he was on a solo tour and his van broke down in the middle of rural Virginia. He had no money or way of finding help. Then a roughlooking hunter stopped and offered to get him a mechanic the next day and a place to stay for the night. Having no other choice, Vic rode with the fellow to his trailer up a windy dirt road. He went inside and asked him if he had a phone and anything to eat. “I only eat deer meat,” was the man’s ominous response. He had no phone but sure enough, he had a fridge and freezer full of deer meat and—as Vic saw to his horror when he went to use the bathroom—a skinned deer carcass bleeding out in the shower. The mountain man offered him some deer meat, which Vic declined, and then showed him photos from his father’s funeral. During the night as Vic slept on the couch, the man went to the slaughterhousebathroom to relieve himself, releasing a waft of what Vic said was “the most God-awful stink” he had ever smelled in his whole life. The rest of the tour we often found ourselves roaring with laughter when someone quoted the hunter’s litany of “I only eat deer meat.” While he was obviously an amazing storyteller, Vic was just as captivating as a

performer. Every movement, gesture, and note was tattooed with his personality. Sometimes Vic would crane his head back in an explosive cathartic moment of a song, hollering out his lyrics like an angry baby bird crying for worms. We told him this and he seemed to embrace this idea of himself as an angry baby bird! On all the tours we backed him he was always determined, brave and calm—much more so than any of us. He had a biting sense of humor that could cut through any bad situation, make us laugh, and release tension. Once, Jim told Vic that he was the godfather of rock in Athens. Vic shrewdly responded, “No, I’m the creepy uncle!”

Deirdre Sayre, longtime friend: In 2007 Georgia and the rest of the Southeast were in the midst of a seemingly apocalyptic drought. Everywhere we drove the earth was scorched, the rivers were low, and the trees were dying, and I saw it firsthand as I travelled to Nashville, to Asheville, to