It was a foggy drive down to Cottage Grove on January 11, but we made the two-and-a-half hour trip from Portland without incident and full of brotherly arguments and stupid jokes. If you ever find yourself looking for somewhere to stop on I-5, Cottage Grove is just off the interstate near Eugene, and The Axe & Fiddle is well worth the stop.

As you pass the bar in the middle of the city’s downtown blocks, you notice it has a very small storefront and shares a space with a book store and bakery. When you walk in, the shared space is enhanced by an abundance of wood furniture, chalkboard signage, and extremely friendly people. The low-ceilinged bar area opens up to a large dining area, with stairs up to a balcony for additional seating and billiards. And that’s just what you see.

The stage, settled in the end of the room through the bar and dining area, had ample space for our four-piece band, and produced one of the best sounds that we’ve been fortunate to have.

Before booking the event, I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get anyone to show up. Certainly very few of our Portland fans would want to drive two hours and some change down to Cottage Grove, and I simply wasn’t sure what our draw would be like that far from our hometown. We arrived a few hours before the show would start, and the place was empty. Needless to say, this had me worried that we’d be playing for an empty room come ten o’clock. On top of that, the sound man hadn’t arrived yet, and was reportedly to arrive an hour before showtime. I was stressed.

T-minus an hour and a half until showtime andmy good friend and gear tech for the day, Jeff, helped relieve some stress for me. He started running through gear to make sure everything was working correctly (even though the sound engineer hadn’t arrived yet), and gave me his reassurance that it was going to be a great night. We got our monitors worked out, we setup merch, and Jeff provided me with the best solace: he suggested I get a beer. I did. And it was delicious. 

After some time of relaxing and meeting with the other openers for the night, the sound engineer showed up and blew my mind. Seth introduced himself to me with a grin, and asked how he could help. He received each need of ours with a smile and a nod, and was enthusiastic about helping us with our complex setup. For a sound tech, his willingness and enthusiasm was off the charts, it was such a unique interaction. The night was starting to shape up.

About ten minutes before the first opener, Sam Densmore, was going to begin the night, my fears were relieved in a moment of reuniting: a herd of my friends bombarded me as they entered the room. Friends from Corvallis, Eugene, and even a few stragglers from Portland. It was such a reassuring moment to see familiar faces, and I knew we were on our way to a memorable night. The room wasn’t quite filled, which still had me worried, but it is always going to be a good night if shared with friends.

Sam did a great job opening up, providing some very story-centric songwriting with a unique / Portlander sound. 9:30 quickly came around, and my friends in Samsel & The Skirt took their turn on the stage. If you’ve never heard of them, Carey and his wife are a duo to be reckoned with. Their songwriting is fresh and on point, while their voices are both a combination of unique yet familiar, and flawless when paired. They brought a great set, and there was a buzz in the room after their performance. The feel was there, but there were still a lot of empty seats. Not the worst problem, all things considered, but definitely a bummer we wouldn’t get to meet any new fans.

The remainder of my fears subsided when a Cottage Grove local and dear friend of mine, Isaac, came through the door. Originally he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to make it, but when I saw him stroll in I knew everything would go smoothly. He informed me that he had invited a handful of his friends to join him at the show, that they would be arriving shortly. I was pumped.

A song or two into the set, we started playing one of my newer songs, “San Francisco,” in which Joseph has a killer solo for a few bars. After we hit the hook, I looked around and noticed the entire room had filled with locals, who started listening, clapping, and even moving tables around and dancing. The band was locked in perfectly with each other, and the audience was right there with us.

We ended the set on our normal closer, “How to Love,” and, to our amazement, locals didn’t stop cheering – they wanted an encore!

There were probably several songs we could have done for an encore, but at the moment with everyone cheering, we realized they weren’t going to stop, I drew a blank. I didn’t have anything up my sleeve. I never thought that we would need an ace to end the night after our best song. So, after looking around to Joel and Joseph for inspiration, we decided to play a song we’d never played before. Yes, you read that correctly: one that we had never played before. 

“You Don’t Know Love” is the newest song I’ve written, and we had played it only during its genesis, when Joseph came up with the hook and Joel and I jammed it for a bit. I wrote lyrics maybe a month later, and we hadn’t revisited it since then.

To start the encore, we began vibing out on the hook, while I tried memorizing the lyrics I had written on my phone – it was so fresh I didn’t even know the words yet. In between each line of the verse I bent over to see what the next lyrics were, and then jolted up to sing the line in time. It was a good mix of hilarious, energetic, messy, new, and relatable. People loved it. Heck, we loved it.

The night was a blast. We got setup with great food and exquisite beer, got to see old friends, make new friends, dance, and put on a great show. Cottage Grove was definitely worth the drive.

Photo cred:

1 + 3) Joel Evers

2) Jordan Moen

3) Aaron Fuller