While the REM Tribute Concert at Carnegie Hall was amazing, the after party downtown in SoHo at City Winery immediately afterwards was perhaps even cooler. While watching my favorite musicians perform is exciting, standing amidst them, laughing and sharing stories while sipping champagne from flute glasses is even more of a thrill. The event space at City Winery was also a pretty cool place; musicians got up on stage, performed their own stuff, sang more REM songs, and Mike Mills even hoisted himself onstage at one point with Irish folkie Glen Hansard and sang the Kate Pierson line from Hansard's telling of "The One I Love." It was truly thrilling.
The party at City Winery was truly amazing. They had tables set up, a couple of open bar areas, waiters walking around with champagne glasses, and a buffet table which consisted of a menu composed by Mario Batali. The event itself was packed and the folks inside all crowded alongside one another.
Some have spoken wryly of REM in recent years; they're not relevant anymore, they're just filling out their contract with sub-par music. Say what you will, but music like the stuff they put out for years and years; maybe "Fables of the Reconstruction" onward maybe to "The New Adventures in Hi-Fi," are all legendary! (Some purist fans would exclude "Monster" in that list, but come on! How do you follow up "Automatic for the People"?) Be that as it may; whatever you think of "Up," "Around the Sun," and "Accelerate," it's tough to fault this band for much. I believe that when all is said and done, history will smile down favorably on REM for many, many years.
So we stepped in to the Varick Street location of City Winery and this swanky after party and were literally thrust into the mix. "There's Mike Mills and his beautiful wife!" "Look, there goes Peter Buck!" "Is that Patti Smith?" - Yes, they were all there. My wife and I also chatted up Dar Williams and her husband; met Smith, Buck, and tried to get to Mills on a number of occasions (he was perhaps the most sought after of the band).
Even though I've been a longtime fan of Dar and the opportunity to meet all these fab famous people; Darius Rucker, Ingrid Michelson, Bob Mould; the real treat of the evening and the singular goal I set upon the evening was getting to shake the hand of one Michael Stipe.
Think what you want about Mr. Stipe; he's strange, he's predictable, he's introverted, he's extroverted; there are more divergent opinions about this singer than many others. But, he is the face of this band, the voice of the band, and the reason for their success. And he's really just a nice guy! Or he was on this evening when my wife and I met him.
He stood in pretty much the same spot, surrounded by some friends of his but always quick to step aside with a fan and chat. I approached him, congratulated him for the honor of being honored and thanked him very much for his contribution to music and his influence on my life. I also told him that my wife and I had used one of his songs; "Nightswimming," for our wedding song. He seemed a little surprised and commented, "that's a pretty tough song to dance to!" little does he know, I can't really dance to anything! So the fact that I swayed to a song that had personal meaning to my wife and I was what was really important. We said a few other words and I am not usually very star-struck by much of anyone, but I was totally flummoxed from the meeting.
We hung around for a few hours; the party was only supposed to go until 1AM but by ¼ till 2AM, with the rocking still going strong, I suggested to my wife that we leave (we both had to work at 8AM). We walked out the door with the revelry and partying still behind us going on only to see Michael get into a taxicab himself and speed away. We waved towards him, being the only other people out on the corner and we caught his eye because he turned, smiled, and reciprocated.
It's the little things which stick the most. If I never get to meet another famous person as long as I live, I will remember this evening with a room full of my favorite musicians, so many good vibes, and so much warm feeling all cobbled together to celebrate this band from Athens, Georgia.