2018 hasn’t been great, but JD McPherson and his music made it better


This past year has been a pretty tough one for my family for so many reasons. But there were glimmers of good, JD McPherson among them.

It honestly seems as if everyone has had a tough 2018, including myself. But JD McPherson managed to offer me glimmers of happiness sprinkled throughout.

My New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 2017 started with my two brothers, my mom, and me discussing travel logistics for my grandmother’s funeral two hours north — and her second one in her hometown in Pennsylvania five hours away a few days later.

It wasn’t a great way to ring in the New Year. And it didn’t get much better when my Grandpa passed away just eleven days after Grandma. I spent more days out of the office on bereavement than I did actually in the office the first few weeks of the year.

Not a stellar start to the year…

I spent a fair amount of the rest of the winter just trying to recover from back to back to back funerals (not to mention a car crash on the way home from Grandpa’s Pennsylvania funeral due to inclement weather that meant staying overnight in a hotel off the Ohio Turnpike).

One of the first highlights of 2018 came in the form of a JD McPherson concert over in Rochester, New York. The only reason it caught my eye was due to another lesser-known artist announcing he was one of the opening acts: Woody Pines.

My brothers had discovered Woody Pines at a 1964: The Tribute concert in Maumee, Ohio back in 2009. To see Woody Pines and JD McPherson at the same venue was almost a dream come true, a dream I didn’t even know I had. I jokingly sent out a text saying we should go, but both brothers happened to be serious about it. Cutting through Canada, it wasn’t even a six-hour drive. Why not?

In the weeks before we left, my other set of grandparents put a deposit down on an apartment in an assisted living facility. My grandpa had decided at the young age of 93 that it was time. The conversations began on when to move them, and we kept saying, “Not April 14.”

Photo Credit: Christina Roberts

So on April 13, we piled into our car, passports in tow, and headed off to Rochester, NY, all of us but one brother (who let his wife go while he stayed home with their two-year-old).

It was Abiline’s 10th anniversary concert at the Harro East Ballroom. The concert itself was a whole lot of fun. Woody Pines came out first and played a lot faster than his records. But he still played “Satisfied,” which made us all happy. Jake La Botz came out second, the one unknown of the group for us.

Then JD McPherson came out to a packed room, playing songs from his most recent release, Undivided Heart and Soul. We had seen him in Michigan back the previous year in October, and it was a similar setlist, but it still made us all happy for an evening.

Two weeks later, all of us converged on Grandma and Grandpa’s house to pack up their necessary things and move them a mile and a half down the road, out of the house they had been in since 1969.

Photo Credit: Christina Roberts

Not long after moving my grandparents into assisted living, the sister-in-law who came on the Rochester, NY trip sent out a text saying that the Sonic Lunch Concert series in Ann Arbor would include JD McPherson on June 21.

“We can take the kids!” she said excitedly, as both nephews absolutely love his music and are far too young to take to bars for concerts.

We planned an excursion to Ann Arbor with everyone — Mom included. We budgeted in far too much time to get there and ended up arriving during sound check. But that just meant that my sister-in-law and I would get one of the biggest treats ever.

A picture with JD McPherson.

Photo Credit: Christina Roberts

He seemed impressed that we drove all the way to New York to see him!P

Watching my two- and four-year-old nephews dance to their favorite music was one of the highlights of the year. Jackson got to hear his favorite song, “Bossy“, which started the concert. And Tommy and I got to dance to “Lucky Penny“.

And of course, JD always ends his sets with one of my favorite song of all time, “North Side Gal“.

JD McPherson’s involvement in our lives lulled for a few months, as grandma was put on hospice in the middle of July (right before a trip along the Mississippi Blues Trail with my mom and brothers) and passed away six weeks later.

Three grandparents lost in eight months. We couldn’t really fathom it. It still seems so strange.

Good music popped back up a few weeks after Grandma’s funeral, as it always seemed to: JD McPherson would be putting out a Christmas album, Socks. A new Christmas album from him and Eric Clapton in the same year? Count me in!

It’s one of the best Christmas albums I’ve ever heard. You hear someone’s putting out Christmas songs and you expect it to be hokey.

Socks is all original songs and a perfect blend of vintage sound, clever lyrics, and just enough of a Christmas vibe that you can listen to them at any point in the year and not feel guilty. His craft is so on point with this album that it’s honestly insulting. I just want everyone to listen to it and fall in love with it.

The other night as I listened to it for the umpteenth time, I found myself crying during the opening track, “All the Gifts I Need”, completely out of the blue. It’s not just that it sounds like when my dad used to film our “Christmas Videos” for the home video collection when we weren’t allowed to talk. The end of the chorus got me:

"Take a real quick look around and suddenly I see: It’s not even Christmas yet, I got all the gifts I need."

2018 sucked. There’s no other way for me to put it.

But despite the crumminess, I know I’m lucky to have had four grandparents for nearly 28 years of my life. I know I’m even more fortunate to have a wonderful, close, supporting family who stand together through everything.

And that they all love darn good music, JD McPherson included.