"Tim, it isn't a lock, but Nick, Jr. is heading to Wild Wing tonight at 8 p.m. in hopes of playing with Fowler's Mustache. Not sure exactly what time they're playing, but just knew you'd want to know."
This was one of those texts which makes you catch your breath. Oh yeah, I'd want to know.
Nick, you may recall, was involved in a catastrophic car accident August 4, 2012. This family friend wanted me to know because I had written a blog (The Greatest Guitar Chord Ever Played in Charleston) where I imagined Nick's return to stage. In my mind, this return would be an event that reverberated around the city. Other bars would cancel gigs, restaurants would shut down, and tickets would sell out well in advance, because so many in Charleston would want to see that moment.
I was somewhat surprised that his return would be a last-minute decision in which Nick would kind of quietly sneak his way onto stage again.
I should not have been surprised. It's been the little things, not the big showy ones, which have marked his story.
He would have died that night if the first truck coming along on that 3am highway had not swerved a few feet to miss his unconscious body on the road. That agile first truck gave Nick's friends just enough time to keep pull Nick further away from danger.
They needed every small moment.
Nick would have died if the second truck to come along had been a couple of inches further to the side. The driver never made an attempt to swerve. He may have not even seen Nick. But if several tons of multi-axle truck had been a few inches one way, Nick would have died.
When we say "It's the little things," these are the little things that mean much to Nick and his family. Inches.
Nick would have died in surgery if one small cut had gone wrong. He would have succumbed to infection if one microscopic bug had entered his bloodstream. They didn't. Little things mean a lot.
I've followed his story since the day of the accident. I've seen the large benefit concerts and am still working on a strong tribute CD to Nick as of this writing. While these big things were being attempted, Nick was making little improvements.
The news came out in scraps:
He is being brought out of his coma, was whispered while a dozen bands played in his honor at Awendaw Green.
He has been told what happened and is coming to grips with it, I heard while discussing an idea for more benefit shows.
In November, a photo appeared on Facebook of Nick strumming guitar in his hospital bed. A little music. Later that month, a visit from his dog. A little joy. While we made big plans.
In December, Nick sat up for the first time since August. He was wheeled outside. Little milestones.
In January, with the help of a prosthetic leg, Nick posted a photo of his attempt to stand. Little things that any of us can do.
He was going home. Nobody predicted it would be so early.
Fortunately, Nick was coming home before his birthday. His band, Fowler's Mustache had planned a show at Wild Wing in Mount Pleasant for the night and billed it as a birthday party for Nick. It would be good to get him out to the club, see the scene again, and help inspire him to keep building his strength so that someday, he could have the energy to play and sing on stage.
The biggest surprise gift of the night was given by Nick. I'm told that he had only just decided it would not be enough to see the band play. He had to play, too. This person tells me that hours before the show, he was only hoping to do it. This was not certain.
I wanted to be there but had family plans. How could I make that happen? I was on the way to a Stingrays game with another family. Two cars, bunches of kids, and a late night.
But the other family turned out to be friends with the Collins'. Quickly we changed our plans. Before the third period, we all hit the road and made our way to Wild Wing. In my family, we had my 11-year-old daughter, 9-year-old son, and 6-month-old daughter, trying to find a table at 9:30. We were silly to bring everyone, but it was the only way to make it there.
The room was electric. Forget being anywhere on the band side of the room. Rarely do people crowd the stage at Wild Wing a half hour before the band plays. But here it was, shoulder to shoulder with iPhones raised in preparation to take video, but not a single band member was on stage.
Due to the chatter of patrons as we were getting seated, I missed the introduction. As heads turned to the stage, I jumped up on my seat to see what was happening.
Nick had wasted no time. Up there on stage was Nick Collins Jr. playing guitar and looking like it was no big thing.
Though Nick was wheelchair bound, he didn't look out of place. Every member of Fowler's Mustache was seated. This was little sign from the band that "we're all with you Nick."
I wasn't alone standing on my seat. Throughout the room, at least a dozen other people were using chairs to get a better glimpse of this. Cell phones recorded every second. However, in my rush to see this for myself, I lost sight of my 11-year-old daughter. I couldn't find her. Until I discovered that she had used her small stature to serpentine her way up to the front of the stage to see the band. Yeah, she's been in these clubs with me before. A student at School of the Arts, she loves music.
When I finally got her back, I realized I hadn't told her much of the story as to why I had brought us there. So I asked if she saw anything unique on stage.
She replied, "Yeah. One guy is in a wheelchair. And he's got only one leg. And, man can he play that guitar! I took video of the first song. It was awesome."
This little girl was impressed.
I had to get the family home, so I couldn't stay long. But I was there to hear the band cover Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and thought of Bob. About how a motorcycle accident almost took his life. And how that accident changed his vocal tone forever. Nobody thinks of that accident when they think of Bob now. It didn't define him.
Someday nobody will think first of a car accident when they think of Nick. That won't be because of any big concert, benefit show, or great fanfare. They will think beyond the accident because of all the little things. Inches. Days. Steps. Smiles. Songs. Gigs.
It's the little things.
What we think of as little things—sitting, walking—are big things to Nick. What he might think of as a little thing—like playing guitar with his buddies on stage—is a big thing to those around him.
And I'm thankful I was a little part of the audience for that first big gig.
Photo: Jamie Flewelling