If you’re a music lover, there are a few bands or artists that are the end-all, be-all. Growing up, I worshipped Sheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin, Buddy and Julie Miller, Alison Krauss, John Mayer.
Sometime in 2010, I discovered a group called The Civil Wars - I remember (gulp, driving while) searching all their homemade videos on YouTube before they made the big time. This duo, comprised of John Paul White and Joy Williams, effectively scored my post-collegiate life as I completed my two years with Teach For America. The school where I taught in York, Alabama wars an hour away from where I lived in Eutaw ( a real place, if you can believe it, pronounced like “Utah”), and every morning at 5:30 AM, it was John Paul and Joy who sang me to school. When I got out of the building at 4:30 or so, they sang me home.
It wasn’t enough for me to listen to their music - I had to sing their music. I had to attempt those harmonies myself. And so I ended up playing in a duo with a buddy of mine, Andrew Mitchell, covering Civil Wars songs. The first time my now-husband ever heard me sing was at one of these shows we performed at a little local coffee shop in Tuscaloosa (easily the most populated city between Andrew, who was teaching in Greenville, and me, even though I am a die-hard Auburn fan) - we played a lot of covers, but the majority of them were written by Joy and John Paul.
I remember seeing The Civil Wars play at the Ryman in 2012 - I cut school on a Friday (as a teacher - oops?) to make their show on that Thursday night. I’ve never seen a group that was as hypnotizing to watch - a spell had been cast over the entire audience and every person in there was transfixed, hanging on every word. They encored with “From This Valley,” which brought the room to its feet. Afterward, I tweeted at Joy and asked about the shoes she’d been wearing, thinking she’d never see it. She did, and responded, and I bought them the next day.
So, you know. I guess you could say I liked the band.
My brother, Parker, has been in Nashville pursuing a music career since graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2013. He’s played in a few bands since moving there, and has helped folks produce and mix their records. The Prescriptions, the band he’s been with for the longest, have recently gotten signed to John Paul’s label, Single Lock Records. It was a huge moment for the band, of course, but it was also an insane moment of pride for me as a fan of his from way back.
The Prescriptions opened for John Paul in Birmingham last weekend before setting out with him on his west coast tour over the summer. Birmingham is home to two of the four band members, and the Lyric Fine Arts Theater downtown was buzzing with energy as everyone took their seats. The Lyric has recently been beautifully restored, and all its filigree and general fabulousness seemed extra sparkly on Saturday night. The Prescriptions CRUSHED. I’ve never seen an opening band get a standing ovation, but that’s what happened. My eyes were pouring tears as I flitted around the theater trying to get the best possible seat from the ones that were unoccupied (and, of course, getting bounced as people arrived, which caused me to scurry around, rodent-like). My face hurt during their last song because I’d been smiling so much.
Little did I know, the magic of the night was just beginning.
I went to congratulate a very sweaty Parker in the lobby after The Prescriptions’ set. There were lots of us talking, getting refills, whooping it up for the band. Eventually, John Paul’s set began, and the lobby emptied - it was just Emily (Parker’s wife and one of my all-time favorite people), Parker, and me. We started toward the doors to the theater, but P escorted us behind a curtain that hung between the two restroom entrances, covering the hallway that led to the backstage access. Before I knew it, we were standing at the stage door. He told us to be extra quiet, opened the door, and suddenly I was watching FROM THE WINGS, A Star Is Born-style, as one of my musical heroes played an absolutely heart-melting set. More tears. More smiling ‘til my face hurt imagining the girl in the car driving down the interstate at 5 in the morning, and somehow telling her that one day she’d be backstage at a JPW show because Parker got signed to a label and was able to provide that experience. Emily and I leaned our shoulders together and cried and laughed through crying and cried and laughed some more. She was also a massive Civil Wars fan from years ago, so this moment of being able to watch a show like this because of her husband was just as surreal for her.
After the encore, part of which was an acoustic heartbreaker from the edge of the stage, we went back out to the lobby and concert-goers started flocking to The Prescriptions’ merch table, asking for pictures, buying records and t-shirts. And it occurred to me: my brother, the best person in the world, was becoming someone people listen to on their drives to and from work.
It is no small thing to score someone’s life. After all, we only get one.
When people pursue a career in the arts, it’s likely they won’t “make it.” The odds are so small and the hill is so steep. Finding success as a career musician is a holy cocktail of talent, hard work, and great luck, all of which Parker and the band have or have been given by John Paul and Single Lock.
I have always looked up to P as a disciplined, no-distraction, nose-to-the-grindstone freak of nature (in the best way, obviously) whose talent and humility are singular in my life, and this show felt like everyone there got to join me in feeling that way.
I guess you could say I like the band.
I got to meet John Paul after the show, and he was, predictably, incredibly generous, kind, and funny. He patiently waited until a long line of people had had their chances to speak to him (each for as long as they wanted to) before he ended his shift as “performer” and went back to being a husband and dad.
I didn’t get a picture with him, against my better judgment. I figure we’ll meet again one day and I’ll get to remedy that mistake.
But I did get one with my other musical hero. We were outside the theater before the show. There is borderline maniacal joy beaming out of my eyeballs. I am so, so proud.
I say it a lot, but it bears repeating here: there are some moments in life when you realize you’re standing in the good old days while you’re still in them.
This was one.