An April update from Urbana

I know some of you care only about Illini sports. But most of you are interested in Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois, generally. You probably spent some time here.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of a radio feature I produced for NPR’s Morning Edition about the Champaign-Urbana music scene. I’d planned to revisit that piece, and re-publish it. But then, a few days ago, my old friend Nick Rudd hanged himself.

He won’t be counted among the covid-19 victims; but loneliness + the restriction from playing his guitar for people + the closure of all libraries = a bad outcome for a guy challenged to start over, at 59, following the breakdown of a marriage.

There’s nobody here.

Nick was a central figure, a stalwart of C-U music. Everybody knew him, and most of us played with him at some point. If not, we bought a record on his recommendation.

So the radio piece can wait. It’s already been 25 years.

I’ve never forgotten the first thing I knew about Nick Rudd. Not verbatim, perhaps, it was Peter Buck thinks Nick Rudd is an amazing guitarist.

I didn’t even know what Nick Rudd looked like at the time. But in the 1980s, that praise carried a lot of water.

Mitch Easter produced an album by Turning Curious, Nick’s band, in 1983. That was the same year Easter produced an album called Murmur, by Pete’s band. That’s the connection that led to Nick opening for Pete’s band.

In the late 1990s, while I perused the bins at Record Swap, Nick spontaneously walked over to praise the song Box of Wormgears, from my second album. I felt the spinal straitening that stunned Dave Wakeling upon learning Pete Townshend and David Gilmour had spent an afternoon in a 4-star hotel suite, trying to decipher the guitar part from Save it For Later.

When a noted virtuoso praises your guitar work, you’ve summited the mountain.

Turns out, he meant it. A few years later Nick volunteered himself to be the guitarist, and bring along Brian Reedy to drum for me. Brian and Brendan Gamble are, in very different ways, the two musical artists I’ve most admired in my life. So indeed, the last time I picked up an instrument and performed in front of people, Nick and Brian were on stage with me.

I kind of gave up on music the next year, and became a sports writer. People still show up for sports.

Nick never gave up on being a musician. And then last week, he did.

Nick Rudd Sandwich Life house concert, 2019 – Cynthia Voelkl