Opinions shouldn’t be static or carved in stone, and two decades past Whiskeytown’s prime I do sometimes catch myself wondering: Were they really all that? And pretty much every time, something will cross my field of vision that feels like the universe answering back with a reminder: Um, yeah.
For example, there’s a vintage video that surfaced a few days ago, posted by Michael Niebuhr — the superfan behind the very fine and almost comprehensive archival Ryan Adams fan site Come Pick Me Up. This video is from a Whiskeytown show that captures an optimistic moment in time, the St. Louis date of the “No Depression Tour” sponsored by the magazine; April 5, 1997, and it’s kind of an only-in-St.-Louis artifact right down to Ryan’s nasty set-opening shout-out to Post-Dispatch critic Chris Dickinson over an unflattering Uncle Tupelo comparison (plus the onstage dancing cameo by Beatle Bob).
This is from the period that is pretty much the heart of “Losering,” shot when Whiskeytown’s major-label debut Strangers Almanac was recorded but not yet released. And even though Strangers wouldn’t be out for another three months, Ryan already seemed to be getting a little bored with it; that night’s set included just three Strangers songs to go with two from 1996’s Faithless Street, plus a cover of Iggy and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and three “lost” songs that I don’t believe ever turned up on any other album before or since.
The audio quality isn’t great, and there’s not a lot of variety to the visuals. Nevertheless, you still get the idea of what a wonderfully shambolic mess of ragged glory the Whiskeytown live experience could be back then. I do, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but seeing this made my tired old heart go pitter-pat.
A number of Ryan Adams sites have come and gone in recent years, and you can find some of them at the Ryan Adams Reference Library link above. But a new one that shows particular promise in the online DRA fan landscape is Come Pick Me Up. Subtitled “The Ryan Adams Archive,” Come Pick Me Up is a worthy successor to the old RAA (which lives on in Facebook form) and Answering Bell (which is no more but was an invaluable fact-checking resource back when I was writing “Losering”). It’s also a nice compliment to Mega-Superior Gold.
Come Pick Me Up is the work of Michael Niebuhr, a dedicated and avid Ryan Adams fan from Copenhagen. He writes:
I’m a longtime Ryan fan going back to Whiskeytown’s “Strangers Almanac,” which is probably still my favorite album of his. I’m also an amateur songwriter (though non-practicing for the past five years due to parenthood), and I do software development for a living. So the actual coding of the site is a no-brainer. The only effort is the time that goes into adding the data. It is a big project for sure.
The idea is to cover everything: reviews, releases, recordings, interviews, collectibles, news, writings. I started the site in October with a group of “Superfans” — Luke O’Sheary, Thomas Bauer, Trond Andersen and Darren Combs — who supplied the initial data set (songs, shows, about 700 setlists), before I decided to take it solo after a few weeks. I aim to respect the wishes of Ryan and his organisation(s), and that’s why there’s no news about his divorce or girlfriends (which is the same story every time anyway), or unreleased recordings/bootlegs. I’m contemplating whether a forum will be a good idea, or just a place to slag the poor Shining.
As the site takes shape, it’s dawning on me how much material is out there. I want to “sweep Youtube” for Ryan content and do the same for concert reviews and photos. The possibility of connecting it all is too tempting not to reach for. I hope this site will grow into something great, a go-to source for Ryan fans — maybe even a place Ryan himself will check from time to time, such as to see what he played the last time he visited a city.
Eventually, there’ll be a credit section with a big “thank you” to Answering Bell, RAA and everybody who’s gone before, tracking the shows and setlists over the years. And to the tapers. And Ryan himself, of course. Somehow he never gets enough credit.