The big deal, and rightfully so, this weekend in Athens is the two-day Vic Chesnutt tribute shows at The 40 Watt. Look at the lineup! Kelly Hogan, Guy Picciotto, Mark Linkous, Tenement Halls, Howe Gelb and more…I mean, come on! There’s gonna be so much love in that room you won’t be able to walk straight. Probably gonna be more than a few tears shed, too.
There’s a lot of folks who will write about the whole event and what it means, etc. And that’s great. Vic deserves every shred of tribute available. I already told my story here so I’m not going to rehash it now. It’s also not my goal to take any attention away from the reason everyone is getting together.
It is, however, my intention to convince you to be inside the 40 Watt at 9:15 PM on Saturday, February 20. That’s when Mercyland will play again for the first time in 16 years. (Although they broke up in 1991 they did indeed play one small reunion in 1994.) I hardly have words to describe how important this band was/is to me. They easily occupy a permanent spot in my always shifting top 5 list of Athens bands.
My first exposure to the band came from the 1987 Twilight Records compilation LP Make The City Grovel in Its Dust. (The title came from Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell which remains, even 137 years later, the best thing ever written by a 19-year-old.) Anyway, there was a track on the record named “Western Guns” by a band named Mercyland who was from Athens and this was really my first exposure to an Athens band that wasn’t one of the Inside/Out bands. They didn’t seem particularly artsy or distinctively Southern but they had a sound similar to Husker Du, were unbelievably catchy and hooked me but good.
Allow me to quote myself:
“Among the many things this writer is thankful for is the fact that I was lucky enough to move to Athens before Mercyland played its final gig.”
That was the opening sentence in a piece I wrote over 3 years ago (which was a full 16 years since the band had played) and was about the easiest one I’d ever written because I’d said it to so many people over the years already. It’s still true, too.
If you had told my 16-year-old self that’d one day I’d be counting Mercyland’s David Barbe as a personal friend I may not have laughed but I probably wouldn’t have believed you. And if I did believe you then I could have only imagined the future as an awesome one.
(Side note: I just read over the stuff written above and realize how much of a fan boy I’m coming across as. Well, I’m coming by it honestly and I apologize that this post doesn’t exactly have the same tone of so much of the other writing here at 24HPP. Although there’s definitely a place in the world for a solid analysis of Mercyland’s lyrics this post is not that place.)
Look, just get yourself to the 40 Watt by 9:15 PM on Saturday. That’s when they’re playing. It’s been 19 years (and I never thought we’d get that first reunion) and this really, honestly could be your last chance.
We’re lucky to have it, too.
Related materials for further convincing:
The Mercyland retrospective I wrote in 2006. (Full biography, discography, etc.)
Killer Facebook group for Mercyland. That’s where the photos in this post are from.
A few tracks from Mercyland’s LP No Feet On The Cowling (1989):
(Photos:Top-Lee Strum. L-R: David Barbe, Joel Suttles, Andrew Donaldson.
Bottom-Amy Barbe. That’s Vic in the middle with David Barbe in the dress at left. Circa 1986.)