This post is part of #the100dayproject that encourages creatives to do an action every day for 100 days. I've chosen to write an article or blog post every day. Previous posts for this project can be found here.
I needed an excuse to get off this Marfa island and I had the car and the means to do it. I did a quick 24 hour drive in December to see a dear friend kick off her tour in Austin. I've kept in touch with Nicole Atkins' music career for almost 15 years, always making the attempt to see her perform if she was in town and occasionally catching up on the record along the way. But this trip took that to a whole new level. Looking back, the drive was exhausting but I did it without an ounce of regret.
My introduction to Nicole happened in 2006. Someone posted a link to Nicole Atkins' MySpace page on Livejournal (the most 2006 thing I will ever write in 2018), and naturally I checked it out. I was immediately drawn to her song “Neptune City.”
The way Nicole croons with the gloomy melody and background harmonies sounds like it came straight from the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack with Winona Ryder dancing in fake snow. Being in my very early 20s and a college dropout living with my parents, my angsty depressed self loved it. Little did I know how much this song would come back into my life after that first listen.
At the time, I was interviewing basically any band I enjoyed and who would let me for my blog SoManyBands (which wasn't even considered a blog back then). I asked Nicole via email to interview her. She said yes and I sent her questions.
We met in person in 2007. It was SXSW and she was scheduled to play a day show organized by Gothamist, Austinist and GorillaVsBear. My then-boyfriend and I headed over to the Mohawk after I got off work and tried to get as close to the stage as we could. It was very crowded with an overcast sky which seemed fitting considering Nicole played a short set. Her band was stuck at the airport and she had to throw something together with another band, The Parlor Mob. She didn't perform “Neptune City,” but she did blow me away with her other songs and a cover of Lead Belly's “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”
After the show, I left the venue to see if I could introduce myself and waited until she finished an on-camera interview to approach her. I only got out “I'm not sure if you'll remember me...” before she cut me off to say “You're Sarah” and hugged me.
Her second album “Mondo Amore” came out in 2011, which was incidentally a tough year for Nicole as much as it was for me. She left her label. She was going through a breakup from a longterm relationship, and her band quit.
I too was going through a breakup from a five-year relationship and had moved back with my parents so I could finish my journalism degree. It was my last semester as an editor at Austin Community College's newspaper before I transferred back to Texas State. While I was chosen for a Poytner College Fellowship that changed my life, I spent two miserable months working against my gut on a failed publication.
I was tired, overworked and depressed.
The first time I heard the songs from “Mondo Amore” was at a SXSW day show and it just spoke to me. The bluesy, moody, guitar-driven rock gave Nicole a channel to funnel all those emotions she was going through. It's aggressive but vulnerable. Exactly what I was feeling at that time. As cliché as it sounds, it is true. That album helped me get through a dark time in my life.
“Neptune City” reentered my life in 2012 when Nicole released a stripped down version of the song to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. She originally wrote it as a homage to her hometown, which was then destroyed by the 2012 hurricane. I interviewed her about the song for KTSW Other Side Drive and it ended up winning second place in radio news from the Society of Professional Journalists. It was my last semester at Texas State University, meaning I was getting ready to graduate and figuring out where I was going next.
“Neptune City” took on a different meaning to me because I knew I could never go home again. As much as Austin will always be home to me, I knew it was not where I needed to be to pursue journalism. I had to leave.
So here I am five years later living in Marfa. When Nicole announced her first show for the tour was in Austin in support of her latest album “Goodnight Rhonda Lee,” I started talking to her and my friends about making the drive to be there. I want to say that I have no idea what compelled me to do it, but I do. It was her music. Nicole always seems to write the songs I need to hear during whatever is going on in my life and I appreciate that.
After some shuffling, I made the trip happen. I got a dogsitter, told my family I was coming so I'd have a place to crash, rearranged my work schedule and hopped in my car, arriving about an hour or so before the show. I caught up with friends and watched Nicole from the front row, singing along to every song like a little fan girl. When you drive seven hours to see someone perform, you might as well embrace it.
Plus, Nicole appreciated it.