John Darnielle’s Sweat Rag: My First Concert in Louisville

My girlfriend has given me many opportunities to listen to new music. For example, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Morgan Heringer, Jeff Mangum and John Darnielle are all songwriters I would never seek out. But I know who they are now. Do I know their albums or song titles? Fuck no.

She was excited to get Mountain Goats tickets. They weren’t cheap. Over thirty dollars each. The last show I had been to was at a funky goth bar in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The music was some sort of throwback ‘60s aggrandization.

The Mountain Goats-December 20, 2016. Durham, North Carolina.
Promotional photographs of The Mountain Goats for their new album GOTHS

Everyone was dressed in bell bottoms and velvet vests, and they even had a VW van parked outside. It wasn’t a cover band, though. Just kids pretending they were making music in the Haight-Ashbury scene of the late ‘60s.

We decided to pregame before the Mountain Goats show. It took place at Headliners about a mile away from our apartment. This was good news, because we didn’t want to get pulled over.

The parking lot at the venue was full when we got there, so we had to park at the end of a long line of cars that went along the street for about a quarter mile. The door guy had a man bun and seemed friendly. We each got a bracelet.

Through the corridor was a bar to our right, where we each ordered a 24 oz Pabst. Five dollars each. The venue was crowded. It was 99 percent middle-aged white people. The men had cheap haircuts and thick rimmed glasses. They wore mostly Converse or Vans. The women looked like librarians or preschool teachers who enjoy fair trade coffee and Virginia Woolf.

Instead of standing, we grabbed some seats on the near wall. There was a security guard standing on a chair surveying the crowd. He was also guarding the door to the green room.

A  woman with bangs and an acoustic guitar took the stage. She began singing and playing. She used a heavy vibrato when singing, which made it hard to discern the lyrics. She played well, and had good execution and inventive chord progressions.

Her lyrics didn’t interest me. One verse talked about how she would be grumpy if she hadn’t had her coffee yet. She talked to the crowd, and they seemed receptive and very accepting. It was the right crowd for her.

I went outside for a cigarette and tried to make friends. There was a circle of four or five men outside, and I joined their conversation. One of the men was in a metal band in Frankfort. He told a story about how he got kicked out of the last Mountain Goats show because he got too drunk. He showed us pictures on his phone.

A tall man asked me for a cigarette. He told me his brother or friend was constantly bumming them off of him, and that’s why he needed one. I gave him a cigarette. Instead of smoking it, he put it into his pack. I immediately felt ripped off. A shorter guy in the circle with an Oakland A’s hat spoke to me for a moment. Soon my cigarette was gone and I went back inside.

The woman up on stage was still singing when I came back. “I hope she stops soon,” said my girlfriend. “I’m going to get another drink. Do you want anything?”

“Really? You really want me to get you a whiskey?”
She came back with another beer for herself and a whiskey on ice for me. I had wanted it lean. I drank the whole thing in a gulp.

Finally, the lady with the acoustic guitar was done. The lights went up. I started a conversation with the couple seated to our right. They were friendly. I started a conversation to the two women who may have been a couple to my left. They were also friendly. The tall man who had bummed the cigarette and the short man with the Oakland A’s hat happened to be standing right in front of us.

“I know these guys!” I yelled.

My girlfriend asked if it was a Garth Brooks shirt the shorter man had on.

“Yes it is,” he said, smiling.
“Do you play music?” asked my girlfriend.
“I’m a rapper.” replied the shorter man.
“Why do you have the Oakland A’s hat? Are you a fan?” I asked.
“Yeah, why do you have the hat?” asked the taller man.
“I’m actually a Raiders fan.”
“Do you know that rapper Too Short? From Oakland?” I asked the shorter guy. “You know, Too Short?” They slowly turned their backs and left the conversation.
“Why did you insult that guy?” my girlfriend asked. “Why did you call him short?”
“You said he was too short to be a rapper.”
“No I didn’t.”

John Darnielle took the stage and began playing a song. Something about 1986. I didn’t realize he was that old. He played very well. He had three other guys besides himself–a drummer, a bassist, and a multi-instrumentalist that would switch between lead guitar and saxophone depending on the song.

Photo by Paul Curry

After a few songs, I decided to go out for another cigarette. The pack was almost gone. I knew I wasn’t going to buy a new one. I didn’t want to get hooked again.

Outside, there were two security guards and some loud drunks. I introduced myself to one of the security guys. He was a black guy from Alabama.

“It’s weird here,” I said. “This town is split in half.” I didn’t say explicitly that it was a split between mostly black and white between the east and west side of the city, but that’s what I was trying to say. Another security guy, a white guy, came up and talked. I asked him about metal shows they had had at Headliners and the black guy excused himself from the conversation. The white guy was a freelance photographer on the side. I tried to memorize his email.

Back inside, the Mountain Goats were winding down their set. I kept telling my girlfriend to go up to the front of the stage.

“No, I want to be with you,” she said, clutching at my arm tightly as she stared wide eyed at the stage.
“No, come on, we’re going up front.”

I led her through rows of people up to the front of the stage. People were annoyed. I felt somebody put their elbow into my back. I didn’t look behind me to see who it was. I figured it was probably a woman doing it. I held my girlfriend as she jumped up and down, singing along. I didn’t want her to fall backward into the people behind us.

I kept feeling the sharp elbows on my back. I bent my knees a little bit. Then I used the person’s elbow to try and massage a knot I had just below my left shoulder. Whoever it was immediately stopped and left me alone.

John Darnielle came out immediately after his set and played two or three encores. I didn’t know any of the songs. “Grab his sweat rag,” I said.
“No, why?”

“Why not?” John Darnielle’s sweat rag was sitting on his electric keyboard, just within reach. Right when the band finished their last encore, my girlfriend grabbed the sweat rag.

We left the venue, got into the car, and drove to Taco Bell. We got home, gorged, and passed out to Pretty in Pink. I didn’t wake up until 3:30 p.m. the next day.

John Darnielle’s sweat rag is still sitting on the dashboard of our car. I think I’ll put it up for sale on eBay. Maybe we can make back the money we spent on tickets.


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About Duncan Ros 1 Article
Duncan H. Ros is a writer and musician originally from Oregon. He has contributed to many online publications including Prefix, The Know Magazine, and Sound Scene Express. He currently lives in Louisville, KY.