If you are lucky enough to find someone or something that fills your life with light, frees you from your bonds and burdens, and gives you the inspiration to carry on, then you’d be a fool not to embrace it with all your heart. For eighteen years, from the first time I experienced the band called moe., to my recent magical 200th show at the revered Red Rocks Amphitheatre, I have done all I can to lose myself in the musical spell they cast. It’s safe to say you wouldn’t be reading these words if it wasn’t for the five friends from upstate New York and the wizardry they work.
My name is Rex Thomson, and I’m a writer/photographer/videographer working for Live For Live Music. I’ve been given this opportunity to step out from behind the lens and the third person narrative voice, to get a bit personal on a topic that means the word to me: the band moe. For almost two decades, bassist Robert Derhak, guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey, percussionist Jim Loughlin and drummer Vinnie Amico have been performing the sound track of my life. Thanks to legendary guitar tech Frank Robbins, I even have some of the very tools they used to make that music during my 200th show!
No one ends up seeing a band hundreds of times without a damn good reason, and I certainly have a few. First and foremost, the transformation I feel in myself during a show… it’s like being scrubbed clean of all of life’s cruddy residue on a spiritual level. I remember a swirling guitar crescendo at the tail end of a “Rebubula” that made me spread my arms wide to the waves of ringing perfection buffeting me in the crowd. It was completely involuntary, and I watched as if from beyond myself as it happened. It was bliss.
Here’s an outstanding version of “Rebubula” from Mountain Jam, after it won a fan contest to pick a song for the set:
Bliss is a pretty powerful concept, but until then it had been just that, a thought known but not understood. I’ve since learned of how powerful an effect your sense of hearing has on things like emotions and epiphanies through lots of science words. Long story short, humanity used to keep its collected knowledge and share its most basic concepts through song. We are programmed on a primal level to receive information on a mental and emotional level through music.
Whatever subconscious burst of information I receive from those five minds fills me with a lasting inspiration that makes my every thought clearer and intention easier to form. Mixing laughter, fury and jaw dropping displays of musical skill and dexterity, moe. is sending out all the listener can handle and more. The rapport they share onstage makes it all the easier for fans to tune in and join the fun on the more ethereal planes.
Without going to far into my final reason the band moe. means so much to me yet, I will say that some cognitive issues I face are all but gone after seeing the band, before slowly returning. Simply put, I am a better functioning, feeling human being after I spend some time seeing moe. play.
I am here to tell you that not everyone finds perfect inspiration, but when it hits you, it changes everything. After first seeing the band in 1999, I made sure to catch them at any festival or show that came within striking distance. As the years flew by, the range I was willing to travel grew exponentially, all in an effort to plug into the white hot electric flow I first felt years ago. Saved ticket stubs piled up, and I continually had to find larger and larger receptacles for my treasures.
In 2009, an opportunity to photograph the band’s annual Summer Camp Music Festival in Illinois for a fly-by-night outlet gave me my first taste of life BEYOND the front row at a major event. My tendency to go on face melting mental adventures during their shows met the equally powerful experience of focusing on the visual spectacle of the lights and intense performances being laid down by the band and my fate was sealed. After three straight days of massive sets of music, all watched from about five feet away, I knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.
I quickly found out that I was nowhere near alone in my burgeoning devotion, emotional uplift or even willingness to travel. Though I was aware that moe., like many bands had a devoted traveling fan base, I hadn’t looked up long enough to learn the faces and names. My new gig changed all that, and the more moe. shows I went to across the nation, the more of the same faces I saw. The best part? They were all slipping into their own beatific trances as the music swept them away.
There are a couple of terms used for diehard moe. fans. “moe.ron” is one of the most common, and part of the band and fans shared love of puns. The other, “famoe.ly.” The difference between them can blur, and in the end, the true meaning is love. These are people who share in something that is nearly beyond words, bonded not by race or creed but by mutual understanding and emotion and I was now a happy soldier in the army.
Over the next five years, it would be fair to say I went a special kind of crazy in regards to moe. When the band hosted the annual moe.down festival for their most rabid fans in upstate New York, a tradition formed around a last day election for “Mayor of moe.down” or “Mayor of moe.ville,” depending on who you ask, time of day and sobriety levels. I decided that between my work as a pretend music journalist, my occasional working with bands and promoters, and my connection to the scene itself, I was the first actually qualified candidate for office.
The details of my five and a half year campaign across the country are not only too long to go through here, honestly…it’s kinda scary to type. But behind my weird endorsements…
…full blown campaign commercials…
…and even the stupid sign I lugged across creation….
…there was a secret plan. Wherever I went, whether I approached them or they approached me, I asked people, “Have you ever heard of a band named moe.?” And if they hadn’t, I either urged them to check them out or gave them some of the over two thousand burned CDs I have burned from their live shows and carry with me whenever I can.
Through my… zeal… I have ended up interacting with the band on a personal level from time to time. I’ve gotten to request songs for acoustic performances…
…gotten the band to explain things like how they write set lists…
…even spent a half hour getting Jim Loughlin to go through his entire percussive toy repertoire!
Basically, I’ve tried to make myself useful, and I think I’ve done a good job. Feels like the least I could do, really. I try not to let my crazy appreciation of what they do get too scary for them when I am around, but I am fairly certain they have a crew member in place to taser me into submission if I get out of hand. Can’t really say I blame them.
Eventually I was appointed Mayor… but I didn’t stop spreading the love and I never will. When you stumble across something that resounds within you with such a positive, energizing level, all you want to do is bask in the magic and share the love, and that’s what I’ve done. You can read my review of the Red Rocks show that was my much ballyhoo’d 200th HERE. You can read my review of the spectacular follow up show the next night in Boulder HERE. Hell, you can read about the show they played with Yonder Mountain String Band a few days later in Wisconsin HERE.
But just reading those reviews won’t tell you the real story. It doesn’t mention that, to see that Wisconsin show, I had to drive about 17 straight hours out of my way, or that I had to sleep in rest stops due to the remoteness of the location and my needing to get to the next event. I don’t do this for the money. I do this for the life and love moe., has inspired me to live. And seriously, when I say they gave me life, I mean it.
My mom taught me to always have three reasons to do something, and my third reason for loving the music of moe. like I do is a dozy. My life, like most, has been fraught with obstacles, like most. Mine have taken the form of some rather bleak medical prognoses that hang over me like the sword of Damocles. I’ll say this bluntly: I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for the spark moe. ignited inside me. The litany of surgeries, crises and moments of pure terror I have faced would have crushed me if I didn’t have their song in my heart.
To me, a moe. show isn’t a simple entertainment, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that. That’s why they play, after all. They want to share what they can do with the world, and, thanks to my job, I get to help them do just that. I blew past my 200th show and am already at 203, with three more lined up for next month. My next goal is to reach show number 365, so I can know I spent a year feeling that same magic I felt all those years ago, but in the end, numbers aren’t what matters to me.
What matters to me is building the fire of love and hope inside me burning bright, to face the long and scary nights ahead. In our primitive days we sang around the fire and danced into the night. Those rituals live on today. Bands like moe. roam the land giving us all the chance to build the strength to face the dark and the joy to truly embrace the light.
Special Bonus! As usual al. took a moe.ment to thank the fans and crew on the night of my 199th show, and sent a little love back my way before nailing a wicked weekend closing cover of Cream’s “White Room.” Dig it!