With the passing of former Drivin' N Cryin' lead guitarist and Athens resident Buren Fowler last month, the local music community was faced with the question of how to honor his memory. While the rest of us were pondering it, Fowler’s former bandmate, Drivin' N Cryin' frontman Kevn Kinney, had already booked the 40 Watt for Apr. 5 and set to planning a tribute, fittingly titled the Buren Fowler Rock N Roll Celebration.
“For musicians, it’s a tradition in the community to celebrate our own,” Kinney tells Flagpole. “My goal on this one is, when you walk in the door, it’s not going to be Brahms or white roses. It’s gonna be full-on AC/DC. Hopefully, by the time you leave, you will have your closure, and everyone who comes will learn something about Buren.”
Fowler died Mar. 8, at the age of 54. No cause of death has been announced, but it is clear that his passing came as a shock to Fowler's friends, some of whom had seen him out and about the evening before. Fowler, who was a member of Drivin' N Cryin' during the band's major-label breakthrough/radio mainstay era (think "Fly Me Courageous," "Straight to Hell"), had stayed in touch with his former bandmates.
"When you are next to someone from 1988–1993—which were pretty intense years—we were working just about every day," Kinney remembers. "We did music videos together, did fancy dinners together for the record company, lived on a tour bus together… [Buren] was a real great ambassador for the band. He was great with fans and record store people."
Upon his departure from Drivin' N Cryin', Fowler returned to Athens, where he worked on guitars (at one point, he worked as a guitar tech for R.E.M.) and lived with his wife, Paula. One of the goals of this weekend's tribute concert is to raise money to help his family with funeral costs.
“A lot of us musicians can’t or don’t have health care or life insurance, because it’s considered a high-risk occupation. It’s expensive for us,” Kinney explains. “Buren didn’t leave a life insurance policy, and [his death] was a huge surprise. His health was getting better. He was out that night, having a good time. No one expected this.”
The tribute will not charge a cover, but guests are encouraged to donate what they are able, anonymously, in boxes that will be available onsite. “If you can’t put anything in, Buren would be happy to have you write a little note—to his wife, or simply, 'I miss you, man',’’ Kinney says. At the end of the night, he adds, the boxes will be given to Paula for her to use as she sees fit.
Kinney envisions the event as something along the lines of an Irish wake.
“We want it to be free, because Buren was a very giving person. If he had 10 bucks and you needed 10, he’d give you 10. He would want everyone to come in and have a good time and tell their friends stories at the bar. I don’t want it to be sad. That’s not what this is for. Somebody else is better at doing that than I am. He wanted to have fun and play loud, and that’s what it’s going to be.”
Drivin' N Cryin' will headline the tribute; its original drummer, Jeff Sullivan, who lives in L.A. and works for Dreamworks, will travel to Athens to take part. Local musician Matt Joiner will play guitar, taking the lead for the solos that Fowler used to play. In addition to The Rattlers, Kinney says there will also be special, surprise guests joining in the celebration.
Kinney, the 40 Watt and the other performers and organizers are generously offering the community and friends the cathartic opportunity to grieve the loss—or celebrate the life—of Fowler, honoring him in the style in which he lived.
"It’s going to be a full rock and roll Saturday night party," says Kinney. "[Buren] loved rock and roll. He loved Metallica; he loved Deep Purple. We’re gonna get drunk and have fun."
That sounds just about right.
WHAT: Buren Fowler Rock N Roll Celebration
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Saturday, Apr. 5, 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: FREE!