It's always sad when a music act you've followed faithfully decides to pack it in. Sometimes the breakup makes perfect sense, like when Led Zeppelin called it quits after the death of John Bonham. More often than not though the band breaks up because of inner turmoil, inflated egos, loss of interest (either from the fans or the bandmates themselves), or some other sad reason.
A couple of months ago, one of Charleston's best bands, Crowfield, announced they were calling it quits. I've been a fan of the rock outfit since the first listen to their debut album, Goodbye, Goodnight, So Long Midwestern. One part The Band, one part early Wilco, and one part a sound all their own, the roots rock act, led by singer-songwriter Tyler Mechem, got to live out their rock star dreams for a few years. Over the course of less than five years, Crowfield went from playing bars to getting radio airplay, getting signed to a major label, and playing before thousands of adoring fans. Along the way the band recorded three excellent and very different albums, including one fully financed by fans through Kickstarter.com. There were low points, as well. That major label deal went sour, and the band had to deal with the loss of a close friend when manager and producer Johnny Diamond passed away in 2011. The band paid tribute to their late friend in the title of what would be Crowfield's final album, The Diamond Sessions.
Tuesday evening I sat down with Mechem at Gene's Haufbrau in West Ashley. Over beers and some fried crawdads we talked about the band, the breakup, and what was next.
To start with, Mechem took full responsibility for ending the band, saying, "I was the one that brought the breakup to the table." So how did the rest of the band take it? "There was no animosity," he said. "I told Parker [Gins, Crowfield's drummer] first, since he and I are the remaining core members of the band. He took it pretty well. He said 'I wondered if you'd ever do it, but I was with you until the end.'"
So why did Mechem decide to pull the plug? "For me, there are things you start a touring band for; getting your songs played on the radio, playing in front of as many people as you can, getting your music heard. Those things just weren't giving me satisfaction anymore like they used to," he said. Mechem also advised that the fate of a band frequently depends on the person who is writing the songs. "I saw us at a plateau, and as an artist you crave upward movement," said Mechem.
When asked about fan reaction to the breakup, Mechem admitted that he was surprised by the majority of the reaction. "There were some folks who were angry," he said, "but much of the reaction was positive, although they were sad to hear the news."
As a way of saying thank you to the people who have supported the band for the last few years, Crowfield will be putting on its final performance this Friday at the Charleston Music Hall. The venue is currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Already this year Elise Testone, Shovels & Rope, and Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band have performed at the site. For Mechem, wrapping things up at the Charleston Music Hall was a no-brainer. "I love that place," said Mechem, "the way it sounds, the whole look of it. It was only natural that we say goodbye there."
Friday's show will start with a performance by Luke Cunningham, Ryan Bonner, and John Wesley Satterfield, who will trade songs in a songwriters-in-the-round performance. "Those are three artists we've become friends with, and we wanted to surround ourselves with friends for the final show," said Mechem. "We wanted sort of a 'The Last Waltz' vibe."
Crowfield will play two sets of songs, with a short intermission in between. "We'll be playing about 30 songs," said Mechem, "so we can try to make sure everyone hears their favorite." Fans can expect appearances by just about every member of Crowfield both past and present, including founding member Joe Giant, who left the band last year to go back to school, and Micah Nichols, who now plays guitar for Cunningham's band. Bassist Jonathan Gray, one of the hardest working musicians in town, is also scheduled to play with the band again.
So what comes next for Mechem and the rest of Crowfield? "I plan to keep writing and recording, but I have no definite plans other than that I want to keep making music," said Mechem. The songwriter and his wife will also soon be busy with another release; the birth of their first child in May. "I'm trying to get all the sleep I can now," joked Mechem. As for the rest of the band, Mechem says they all still plan to make music as well through various projects.
Mechem also wanted to make it clear how much the band has appreciated the support of its fans over the years. "I know it sounds cliché," said Mechem, "but we can't say thank you enough. Everything we've been able to do as a band was made possible by our fans."
While Friday night's farewell show is sure to be a bittersweet affair, Mechem and the rest of Crowfield plan to make it a celebration rather than a wake. A few tickets are still available, and if you haven't yet seen Crowfield live, this will be your last chance to see one of the Lowcountry's most dynamic live acts. I wouldn't miss it for the world.