Graduation Day

Some thoughts and remembrances of Uncle Lucius’ final show

On Friday, March 23rd, Austin-based country rock band Uncle Lucius held their final live show.  The venue, Gruen Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, purports to be the oldest dancehall in the Lonestar State.  My brother, Jon, has been Uncle Lucius’ keyboard player for the last seven years.

About two weeks before the show, I booked the shortest vacation of my life.  I would fly in two hours before the show, surprise my brother, and leave the following afternoon.  My time in transit would approximately equal my time on the ground. Even so, I had to take a day off work; my schedule, particularly given the last-minute nature of this trip, necessitated a very brief visit.  

The first leg of the flight was the most uncomfortable flying experience I have ever had…and I was once on a plane in China that nearly crashed.  This time it was a United flight, and my middle seat had so little room that I couldn’t properly extend a book in front of my face without hitting the seat in front of me.  It served as an important reminder of why I don’t voluntarily fly on United Airlines.

As New Braunfels is between Austin and San Antonio, getting there necessitated renting a car, which I did in my chosen port of arrival, San Antonio.  Though I am out of practice driving, I got there in one piece. After leaving the interstate, the navigation took me through mile after mile of utter nothingness.  Then, all of a sudden, a village appeared, with cars lining both sides of the street and a huge, mostly full parking lot. I had arrived.

My logistical connection with the band- the bassist, Johann- hadn’t gotten back to me, so I was concerned about how to get into the sold-out show.  It was a few minutes before the opening act was scheduled to start, and the line extended around the block. All I knew was that Johann had put me on the guest list, but so that my brother wouldn’t see it, he put me down as his girlfriend’s plus-one.  I imagined getting to the front of the line and telling the security guard, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m on the list…Johann’s girlfriend’s plus-one….her name? I dunno…”

Fortunately, in the outdoor area on the other side of the fence, I spotted my brother.  I asked a brusque-looking security person to get his attention for me, a request he ignored until I mentioned our relation.  A sudden, full grin erupted across his face. “You’re a GROSSMAN? You want…JONNY KEYS?!”

Jon and I had a warm, brotherly reunion.  He smuggled me into the venue through sheer force of will.  

Unbeknownst to me, Jon was sitting in with the opening act, so he only had a few minutes before he had to go on stage.  He was ebullient, introducing me to everyone, as though my full name was “my-brother-who-came-from-New-York-and-surprised-me.”  

In my experience, fans of Uncle Lucius are all big fans of Jonny Keys.  They bought me beers, shook my hand, gave me hugs, all because I had a connection with him.  For the last seven years, Jon has been a musical virtuoso with the band, bringing his frenetic, colorful style to the stage.  He plays the keyboard with impossible fluency. In the opening act, he was playing songs he had first learned the night before, and was able to freestyle and complement their arrangement seamlessly.  

I stood front-row-center for most of the show.  The entire thing was wonderful, with three distinct high points, from my vantage point.  The first was Jon surprising me with a performance of my favorite Uncle Lucius song, New Drug.  It wasn’t on the original set list, but he added it at my request. The song rocked, and the crowd’s applause was deafening.  Then, the band covered Tom Petty’s “It’s Good to be King,” one of my favorites from the late, great bard. Lead singer Kevin’s voice is perfectly suited for that song, and it was fantastic.  Finally, the band played “Wolves,” a song written by Kevin as a tribute to his dad. His dad, who I met earlier in the evening (and bought me a beer) stood next to me in front during that song, a moving emotional high near the close of the set.  

The crowd lingered long after the boys took their final bows.  Merchandise was snatched up, photos were taken, and there were so many tears.  Several fans of Uncle Lucius had followed the band for various stretches, and seen hundreds of their shows.  During the past seven years, I had only seen them thrice, a pretty paltry attendance record for a big brother.  

We spent the evening in the pool area of the band’s hotel, about two miles from the venue.  We talked and laughed and told stories until the sun came up. I had a grand total of two hours of sleep on my twenty-four hour stay, crashing in Jon’s unused hotel room.  

In the days that followed, Jon and I exchanged very nice emails.  We don’t keep in touch particularly well, but our relationship remains close.  Even if six months pass between conversations, we fall right back into our usual camaraderie without missing a beat.  

The Uncle Lucius years saw Jon move out of our hometown, tour the country and Europe, sharpen his musical skills, network with world-class musicians, and ultimately, join their ranks.  It also saw a fair share of challenge, from health problems to the uncertainty of housing and life on the road. He came out the other side thriving, with a world of possibilities in front of him, and a fan base filled with adoring admirers.    

I’m terribly proud of my kid brother.  He set out to make wonderful music, and he went and did it.  Very few people can stick to a dream with such constant focus. He inspires me to pursue my own dream of becoming a successful writer.  

Uncle Lucius may have played their final show, but their music lives on, as does the impact they had on so many people who followed their long tenure as a touring band.  I’m so glad I was able to be there to see the final show, and to watch those five musicians end such a successful chapter of their musical careers.

~AG

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Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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