When The Unthinkable Happens To a Touring Band
We love our favorite touring bands in their beat up Ford Econolines, hand-me-down Dodge Sprinters, and decommissioned rattletrap fleet vans ambling down the road. Because when they come to our town, they bring the joy of music with them, and when they leave they carry a sense of freedom that can only be delivered by the open road, and for many of us, can only be experienced vicariously though our favorite artists ticking off tour dates to interesting places we may never get to see on a winding path dictated by the dates on the back of a T-shirt, or a stylized tour poster.
That constant motion of bands rolling down the road is as poetic and eternal as the music itself. You can almost feel the energy in the air as they wheel down the road. They leave their home and comfort, flying down the interstate in the dead of night, trying to get some shut eye stretched out on a bench seat scrunched between music gear, with not much to do and their personal lives on pause, eating puffy junk food for dinner and praying for clean public toilets at the next truck stop. For you.
And then the unspeakable happens.
Austin singer and songwriter Chris Porter, as well as his tour mate and bass player Mitchell Vandenburg, were scheduled to play a show in Baltimore on Thursday night. But they never made it. Imagine the lonely stage, sitting there vacant when it was supposed to be full of the frivolity of touring musicians singing to the rafters, with the glow of their amplifier indicators like string lights strewn across the stage. Instead, there was darkness and silence, where a band was supposed to be that never made it, while the news spreads like varicose veins across social networks, piercing the hearts of fans, of friends, and of family. There will be no show tonight.
The journey of Chris Porter and Mitchell Vanderburg—touring under the name Porter and the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes—ended Wednesday, October 19th at roughly 2:00 p.m. when their tour vehicle was struck from behind by a tractor trailer, pinning them underneath another truck in front of them. They were on Interstate 95 near Smithfield, North Carolina, after playing a show in Charleston, South Carolina on Tuesday night. On the Interstate is where Chris Porter and Mitchell Vanderburg’s tour, and life, ended. A third member of the band—drummer Adam Nurre—remarkably survived the crash, but was injured in the crash.
34-year-old Chris Porter had moved to Austin, TX from Alabama in 2012. He was well-respected and well-liked around the Austin music scene, dating Bonnie Whitmore for a while, who also appeared on his records along with other notable Austin musicians. Chris Porter had fronted other bands such as the Some Dark Holler and The Back Row Baptists. Bassist Mitchell Vandenburg was also a songwriter, and regularly played in the band of Carson McHone. Vanderburg also played in projects in Tennessee before moving to Austin.
It’s now the day after the tragic news of Chris Porter and Mitch Vandenburg’s passing. A Friday. Speculation and rumors have given way to facts and remembrances, while all across the country, in towns big and small, at venues cramped and cavernous, bands are arriving in their tour vehicles, unloading their equipment and merch, setting up on stage, as many can’t wait to get off of work and meet their friends to see their favorite bands play.
But now there’s one less show, and one less tour. It’s astounding it doesn’t happen more often. And it’s all the more reason to see your favorite touring band while you still can.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:04 am
This is awful.
October 22, 2016 @ 10:09 am
We feel yall’s pain! We lost our front man Jimmy “SNOOK” Goodson six years ago on October 14 to motorcycle wreck. We were standing there waiting to load for a gig. He never came, just that call that he was gone. Killed less than a mile from all of us. We all still mourn the loss of our dear friend and family member. My heart goes out to these young peoples friend,family and his band family. Rock on an put your feelings into your music. That is the best way to survive this tragedy and pay your respect. There must be an awesome jam session on the other side!
October 21, 2016 @ 8:06 am
dude… seriously brother… This is the most poetic thing I’ve ever seen you write. It’s just gorgeous.
It is a miracle it doesn’t happen more often. we all need to come together and pray for the artists who are risking it all that they may take the stage tonight and every other night.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:14 am
Yeah, even Sam-Fucking-Hunt deserves that much.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:55 am
October 21, 2016 @ 6:38 pm
As a human being, yes. As a shitty musician, no.
October 23, 2016 @ 10:19 pm
That’s it. I’m fucking done with this place. Miserable bunch of pissy self-righteous assholes. It’s bad for my health to be around this comment section. Peace out SCM. Thanks Trigger for introducing me to a few good artists I didn’t know about, but the acidic hatred of this place is too much for me. I would seriously rather be amongst the “low IQ” mainstream fans. At least they don’t think they’re better than everybody. Yuck. Just yuck. Even an article like this gets these kinds of comments???? I have no more words.
October 24, 2016 @ 10:48 am
Perhaps just read the articles, and avoid the comments. There are many that do that. It’s important that differing perspectives remain here, even in the readership. I wouldn’t get too tweaked out over the opinion of one person, especially since others are piping up to disagree.
I agree it’s a shame even a subject like this devolves into polarization. At the same time, I try to keep these comments section open for anyone to voice their opinion.
In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:13 am
That is terrible… It is the reason why we keep saying “Safe Travels” to the bands we love…. and hope that wish comes true always…
October 21, 2016 @ 8:41 am
How horrible! What a tragedy. I just discovered them a couple of days ago via their recent Daytrotter session. Condolences to their families and all who loved them.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:44 am
You said it, but I was thinking it as I read this and it’s worth repeating…it really is incredible this doesn’t happen more often. And like Monique, assuming I get the chance to talk to a band or artist after a show, I always thank them for coming and to have a safe trip to the next gig.
October 21, 2016 @ 8:48 am
Let me guess. The truck driver is not at fault because he/she was getting a REALLY GOOD SCORE in Candy Crush at the time…
October 22, 2016 @ 6:24 pm
While you pretend to know what happened. Haul your ass in a rig some time and see what it’s like
October 21, 2016 @ 9:10 am
Sad to hear of this tragedy. Being a road dog (touring) musician is a hard scrabble life: living out of a suitcase and traveling the highways with a white line fever to get to the next show and earn enough money for gas, food and lodging – all to get to the next city or town for another show. The best time for a musician is on the stage. The rest (all that time between being on stage) is mostly downtime.
Just a quick note: Wednesday was October 19; today (Friday) is October 21. Besides that minor glitch, this was a nicely written article. And poetic as F2S noted.
October 21, 2016 @ 9:18 am
They were touring under the name porter and the bluebonnet rattle snakes, not Chris.
October 21, 2016 @ 9:48 am
RIP Chris & Mitch. 🙁
October 21, 2016 @ 9:58 am
Living just outside of Birmingham,Alabama I had the pleasure of seeing Chris fronting the back Row Baptists and it was for free at a bar on a sunday afternoon. I was out riding my HOG and stopped by this place and there they were, outdoors and bringing it on so gracefully. I had no idea who this was at the time but made sure I found out before leaving. With heartfelt sorrow we say good bye and as always here we add ROLL TIDE. Heaven just got hold of some more great people and players.
October 21, 2016 @ 10:12 am
Sad, sad time for the families, friends, and fans. I agree with Fuzzy, you painted quite a picture, and reminded us all of what a sad place this world would be if the stage remains empty. What these artists do for us is something we take for granted so often. Thanks Trig, always a class act.
October 21, 2016 @ 10:22 am
Chris was a friend and part of my extended family of singers and songwriters. This tragedy has shaken many of us to the core. Thank you for writing this Trigger. It’s appreciated that you’re facilitating this story reaching further than the folks in our close mutual friends FB timelines.
October 21, 2016 @ 10:33 am
I saw them perform just a very few days ago in Northport Alabama & talked to him afterward. That was my first time to see him. Very sorry to hear of this loss.
October 21, 2016 @ 10:47 am
Thanks man that was beautiful.
October 21, 2016 @ 10:49 am
From the vantage point of the audience, the moshpit, the dancehall floor, its easy to forget that the life of the traveling musician is a calling, that has its dangers and its sacrifices as does any other. Thank you for reminding us of this. Peace be with you all, and much love.
October 21, 2016 @ 12:29 pm
Thanks for writing about the guys we love. Of the hundreds of songwriters and musicians I’ve featured over the years, only a few have become friends — stopping for lunch when driving through, making sure to catch each other when traveling through the same towns, sleeping at my house between tour dates, sending rough cuts of songs for feedback. Chris AKA Porter was one of those guys, to me and to nearly everyone in my small crew of music pals. For my musician friends, they often toured together — a bond that only people who’ve done it can explain. I’m still gutted at his passing, and it’s only a fraction of the loss for so many wonderful people. Hug your people. Tell them you love them, even when you feel dumb doing so. Go to the show.
October 21, 2016 @ 1:02 pm
My heart, prayers and condolences go out to their families and friends. Awful. Completely awful and extremely sad to read this.
October 21, 2016 @ 4:59 pm
October 21, 2016 @ 5:10 pm
Really well put. Chris was one of the first musicians to join us at CXCW when we started it in 2011, and he participated every year. He was such a genuinely nice person. Such a tragedy. Our hearts go out to his and Mitch’s families.
October 22, 2016 @ 5:24 am
I agree with Fuzzy, that was really well written Trigger.
October 22, 2016 @ 6:53 am
Sad news. RIP
October 22, 2016 @ 7:38 am
Most of us never think twice as we roll down the highways and byways in several tons of steel. Some of us can be aggressive, discourteous, inattentive, inebriated or worse, distracted by a smart phone. Please remember that you hold your life and others lives in your hands every time you drive your vehicle. RIP Chris and Mitch.
October 22, 2016 @ 9:19 am
I agree with the others, really beautifully written. It really is remarkable it doesn’t happen more often. My thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.
October 22, 2016 @ 2:17 pm
Very well written. I was with a group of friends going to see Eric Strickland in North Carolina this same night and we were detoured around the accident. Prayers to family and friends