The Return of Rock n’ Roll

Late last August, I was sitting at my desk when an e-mail came through from a sorority sister who lived in Nashville. The title was “Oh no.” And all it had was a link. What it led to made me tear up sitting at my desk. One of my favorite musicians – and probably my favorite musician to see live – had been involved in a serious scooter vs. car accident. Will Hoge was in critical condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

His injuries were severe – broken collarbone, ribs, punctured lung, shattered femur and kneecap, over 100 stitches for various lacerations – it may have been shorter to list what wasn’t broken.

How does someone recover from that?

I watched, with thousands of Will’s other fans, over the next few months as he battled his way out of the hospital, into recovery, and through surgeries and physical therapy. I was so happy that he survived the accident, but as he came back to life, and it was apparent through blog posts and news from friends that Will was still Will, I began to worry about the music.

This is a musician known for his powerhouse live shows and his relentless touring schedule – we’re talking 300 nights a year doing shows. And I can’t even put into words the sheer … electricity of Will’s live show. To steal a phrase from Grace Potter – “three cups full of bottled lightning.” Going to a Will Hoge show is, for me, the utter epitome of what rock n’ roll is about, even moreso than a Springsteen show. Maybe because Will brings that old gospel church revival feel without the “show” of a Springsteen performance. To me, a Will Hoge show is all about making you feel the rock ‘n’ roll, to feel the emotion behind the music. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him perform “Woman, Be Strong,” watching him drop to his knees and wail and thinking “Oh my god, he loves that girl.” And then Annie and I catching each other’s eyes and her just mouthing “Wow.” Afterwards, she said, “I think we just witnessed a moment.”

Here’s the thing – in the 54 times I’ve seen Will, there are more of those moments than I can count. He is, plain and simple, a rock ‘n’ roll musician. There is a reason that I’ve seen him as many times as I have. I can’t explain it, I can’t put it in words to convey it, but watching Will perform makes me feel alive. He literally animates the emotions of his songs – pain, anger, hope, love, frustration, sadness, longing, injustice – you can watch them play out on stage. There is raw power in what he does. It is electric and fantastic and exhilarating. I want to bottle it and carry it with me at all times. Isn’t that what music should be about?

I know it was selfish, but I was so worried that I’d never get that feeling back again. How would Will’s injuries (and being intubated) affect his ability to sing? Would he ever be able to recreate the live magic?

One of those questions was answered in April. Just eight months after what could have been a life-and-career ending accident, Will went on tour. He played a short run of sit-down acoustic shows. I saw him in Charlotte and it was clear that his singing was just as strong as it had ever been. But watching him hobble onto stage made me want to cry all over again…He, of course, made light of it when I asked if I’d break him if I hugged him…”You can’t bend metal,” he said. But it did leave me asking the question as to whether or not the Will Hoge show that I had once known was now a note in history.

That question was clearly answered last month for me when I went to see Will and the band in Greenville. Will, back on the big stage, with a full band. It was just like the old days, with maybe a little less jumping around on Will’s part. The magic was all there. Hell, sparks may as well have been shooting off the stage it was so hot. They played the music with a renewed intensity; the old ones brought me back to where they started and why I have loved Will since the moment I saw him stand on a table in Nashville and sing “Carousel” for the first time, and the new songs are all about what’s to come. Will and the guys were explosive…and I was just so happy to be there, watching the magic happen again.

Welcome back, Will.

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