Sun Volt

 Kristen and I just saw the band Son Volt play the entirety of their seminal 1995 “Trace” album at Variety Playhouse. Yes, that was me, the guy with a few gray hairs standing next to the guy with a headful of gray hair who was next to the guy with no hair. There were some women there too, of course, but it was mostly a night for the old guys.

We were all in our Americana happy place that is part nostalgia and part adrenaline of our younger selves. And if I keep writing about these anniversary concerts maybe Rolling Stone will put me on assignment. Well, maybe AARP magazine.

I can’t help but wonder how many other dads in the crowd tried to bandsplain to their kids how the original Alt-Country band Uncle Tupelo split up and became Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco and Jay Farrar’s Son Volt. And then went on to say that even though Wilco had a greater volume of hits and much wider acclaim, this Son Volt album was something special. Maybe their kids reacted like my daughter Margo: “Oh my gosh, Dad, NObody cares!”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about this album that resonated so deeply. There are thoughtful, vulnerable lyrics and just the right amount of steel guitar. ‘Windfall’ is such an empathetic triumph that every time I hear “May the wind take your troubles away” I’m close to tears thinking of people in my own life who are going through a tough time and wishing such a thing could be true. Jay Farrar’s unique, regular guy warble grabs you and tricks you into thinking you probably sound all right singing along, too. Of course, only Jay has that perfect imperfection that modern country misses by a mile. To this day, I can’t think of a better album to soak in while on the road.

The album came at a pivotal time in my life. I had just graduated college, moved to Atlanta, and, in a way, it helped me embrace the South as my permanent home. Admittedly, it’s difficult to relay this kind of touchy-feely notion to my kids, but I saw some teenagers in the crowd, tagging along with their dads, so maybe I’m not the only one who feels the pull to explain the unexplainable.

Recently, Kristen and I have had some success bridging the musical gap between us and the kids. Margo and I bop in unison to acts like boygenius and Clairo. Elliott has seen Built to Spill and Pavement in concert and, were it not for Covid crashing our family vacation, he would have seen The Cure. By the way, you know what we never had back in the ‘80s? Covid.

Elliott was set to see Son Volt with us too and I was so excited for him to experience it. He’s my height now, OK a half-inch taller, and that just means soon enough he’ll be a young guy in his early 20s trying to figure out some stuff of his own. But he bailed on us. He was tired from long days in the Driver’s Education classroom. (Which really does sound terribly boring, so hopefully this discount on my insurance reflects the torture he described). There are a lot of adult situations out there waiting for him that will run the gamut from boring to hard. He’ll just need to find the things that make it all worthwhile.

Jay and the boys still look pretty spry, so we’ll try again next time Son Volt comes through town, but it’ll probably be something else for Elliott – another musician or a book or a movie, or a piece of art. Something that wraps him up and hits all the right notes, something he can come back to over and over for decades to come.  Something he can someday try in earnest to share with kids of his own. 

Tim Sullivan is an award-winning columnist who writes about family life and thinks everything is at least a little funny.