One night in the early fall of 1997, the Squirrel Nut Zippers performed a free show at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. I was 14 and had just started my freshman year at Chapel Hill High School. That night, my dad and I met up with a makeshift assembly of friends in Carrboro and started our walk to the show.
As our group of parents and kids approached the venue, I remember being in awe of the number of people arriving on foot from every direction. I was not too young to be aware of the power of this communal experience.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers were at the height of their success, Mammoth Records was still a local label, and there was a feeling that the music scene in Chapel Hill was about to ignite. As a young girl, the energy of that show impressed upon me the boundless possibilities for my future.
During the past decade, I have often reflected on that night as a sort of initiation to my teenage years. The new friends I socialized with during the concert would later prove to have defining roles in my high school career, and the feeling of community from that night I still associate with my home town.
Last week as I drove in from Raleigh with my roommate Amy to the Squirrel Nut Zipper’s reunion at the Cat’s Cradle, I tried to explain the importance of the show. I described the band’s misfortunes over the past years: lawsuits, divorce and bad blood.
I tried to relate how hopeful I had been during that show 10 years ago and how much had changed for me in the past decade. By the time I checked in at the front door, I wasn’t sure if the reunion would be a cheerful event or a pensive, nostalgic experience.
Amy and I scouted out a position right up against the stage. My anticipation increased as the opening band, The Old Ceremony, played through their set. During the break between bands I looked around at the crowd behind me. Strangers were speckled throughout faces I have seen all my life.
When Katharine Whalen came out on the stage, I was comforted that her striking beauty had not changed in the past decade. As the band began to play old favorites, I witnessed the camaraderie of the bandmates as they exchanged warm smiles. They were enjoying being on stage together and the audience moved their feet in thanks.
About halfway through their set I forgot about the misfortunes and missteps of the past 10 years. I felt overcome with gratitudehere I was again listening to this amazing band, knowing that somewhere in the audience, my dad was watching too. Also, I was able to share this event with a woman whose friendship has helped shape my college experience.
Though I reminisced on both the positives and the negatives of the past, the show reminded me of who I am, where I come from and where I can go.
I may not be now where I imagined I would be when I was 14, but I am in a solid place with a strong foundation of people I care about, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. My friends and the community have grown and changed over the past decade, but their influence and importance has not wavered. Thanks to the band members for their performance; another defining moment has been recorded.