You can't leave many professions simply to return in a decade and still find people clamoring for your arrival. But a musician reaches people in a way a sandwich artist can't.
The music we hear in our youth becomes woven into our memories, triggering archived scenes and emotions. That's the appeal when once-popular, long-retired regional acts Weekend Excursion, Cravin' Melon, Collapsis and Nantucket reunite over a holiday weekend, as they'll separately do this year. It's a little like the final moments of It's a Wonderful Life, when the room fills with the smiling and thankful.
"It's very much a reunion among fans," says Collapsis leader Mike Garrigan. "You see people that hadn't seen each other in 12 years, and they're talking about their families and endeavors."
These four bands are artifacts of a music industry that no longer exists: They enjoyed a major-label deal and minor radio hits, with tour support that allowed them to grow from regional draws into a national acts. In the case of post-grunge rockers Collapsis, losing that backing network effectively signaled the end of their run. When their label dropped them, they quit in 2001 after only four years and one album.
"We had a lot of requirements in terms of support from media and press, and we couldn't be at the same level without that," says Garrigan. "We just figured it was time to move on."
Though gone, they weren't forgotten. After Garrigan played an open mic night at Raleigh venue Deep South this summer, the owner said he'd like to see Collapsis play another show. Garrigan had never really thought about getting the band back together, but his bandmates were receptive.
"It felt like we'd come off a long break from a tour. It was all muscle memory," he says. "It's a really nice way to reminisce and enjoy something that was a big part of our lives for a while."
For Cravin' Melon guitarist Jimbo Chapman, the casual return to the stage removes the pressure of those early major-label days. Now that they're older, the members can enjoy the moment without monetary expectations and anxieties: "We're not worried about impressing labels. We're not worried about how many downloads we're going to do," says Chapman.
Like Collapsis, the South Carolina college-town roots rockers called it quits in 2001. After being dropped by their major, Mercury, they recorded one more album, The Great Procrastinator, and broke up a year later. Promoters kept offering them money to reunite, but they resisted the urge until five years ago. A crowd-funding site subsequently approached them about backing a new album. It's something they've discussed, but for now, they're thrilled to get briefly out of their workaday lives and onto the stage.
"The first two minutes on stage is really like trying heroin for the first time," Chapman offers with a laugh. "You don't know what to expect, and then you go, 'Oh my god, that's incredible,' and then you kind of sink back into the feeling."
Not everybody reunites with reduced expectations: For live-wire rockers Nantucket, the continued enthusiasm of their fans during the 35 years since the band's debut album is all the proof they need that they might still make it. From the mid-'70s into the early '80s, Nantucket seemed to be the next big thing; they opened for Kiss and AC/DC and turned down an offer from the Rolling Stones. Epic signed them to a $250,000 contract and released their self-titled debut, which mined a melodic hard rock space somewhere between Bad Company and Foreigner while adding some Southern funk. But the executive who championed them left Epic to start his own label. Without his support, their fortunes flagged. They called it quits in the mid-'80s, released another album in 1995 and went silent until recently.
Last year, they released You Need a Ride to Raleigh, built around the beach-pop title track and more traditionally Nantucket arena rock tracks such as "Tarheel Girls." They also joined the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and became the subject of a rockumentary focused on their commercial near miss. Their upcoming show in Raleigh is being taped for use in the film and potentially a DVD concert release. People are traveling hundreds of miles and have already paid extra for sold-out VIP seating to see the set. Nearly four decades after they did a weeklong Florida showcase to prompt a bidding war, they're hoping to improbably rise again.
"Hopefully if [the documentary] comes out in time and we have a few recorded songs out, then maybe that will breathe some life nationally back into it in some strange way," says Nantucket bassist Mike Uzzell. They're hoping, in essence, for an Anvil-like resurrection.
By seeking a way back into the game, Nantucket is the exception that proves the laid-back rule of these reunions. Alt-rock band Weekend Excursion, on the other hand, sees these reprises as a reminder that moments only last so long. They quit with an album's worth of unrecorded material ready to go. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, frontman Sam Fisher linked with former keyboardist/guitarist Jeff Foxworth and guitarist Chris Groch. They recorded a bit, fostering hope that they might finish the album in the coming year. "I think it would give us a nice sense of closure," Fisher says.
Indeed, the very act of reliving anything carries the implicit warning that it's ultimately temporary. Such closure may be the prime reason that these reunion shows are so well attended.
"Going to WE shows is a big part of my personal history," says Ken Krahl, who has been a fan since his college days in the late '90s. "We never know when one of these holiday shows might be the last one ever."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Timed machines."