The first time I met Jimbo Matthus was in Knoxville, Tennessee when his band Squirrel Nut Zippers, one of my long time favourites, performed at the lovely Bijou Theatre. We struck up a conversation about their tour and my band/vaudeville ensemble and our cover of their song “Low Down Man.”
As we spoke, a crowd gathered outside the glass window taking photos while he cracked jokes and I tried to duck behind the door frame.
I asked him if it ever bothers him when strangers peer in and take photographs of him when he’s not looking and he replied “Nope, not at all. It’s usually the other way around.”
Fast forward to Chicago in 2009, my friend and I caught wind of a rowdy party at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn and, having never been before, we ventured into the neighbouring town.
The opening band was locals Black Bear Combo, an incredible Balkan punk rock and jazz band known to dress in skeleton costumes. We were dancing on the table and singing along with beers in hand, when I noticed Jimbo sitting in the middle of the room tapping his knees. We had exchanged sporadic messages since our meeting at the Bijou so I ran over and said hi, and to my delight he yelled “Hey Knoxville Girl!”
We chattered for a while before his other musical act Knockdown South took the stage. Bakelite 78 was the headlining band and was hosting the party for their cd release. There were only a dozen or so of us remaining at last call but we were all in.
By two am, the temperature had dropped to 17 degrees and we had over a mile to trek back to the station. Our fingers and feet went numb, and my friend fell over and began shouting cliffhanger goodbyes, humourously insisting I leave him there to die.
We dragged ourselves labouriously past streetlamps connected to the sidewalk with solid sheets of ice. We passed cars nearly buried in snow and countless pets peering out the windows of yellow lighted apartment buildings. Finally we arrived to the metro station only to find that we had just missed the train, and the next would not be passing for another 25 minutes.
In delirium, we entertained ourselves by singing hobo songs and filming Blair Witch-style videos of us in our final moments, and I took photos of nearby trees that had been gifted with hand-knitted sweaters by local artists and crafters. I hardly remember the last few moments of silence, or the bright light of the train approaching, or even the ride home, but I don’t think I have been that cold ever since.