In July 2001, just before the release of the to-be critically acclaimed Southern Rock Opera album, Drive-By Truckers played to a packed house at Nuçi’s Space. At the time, the band was on the brink of a spectacular level of national attention, and the local musicians’ resource center was still in its infancy. The world was not yet changed by 9/11, social media or even readily available high-speed internet. Both the Truckers and Nuçi’s Space were hyper-local phenomena. Nearly 20 years on, each is so firmly established that to imagine either not existing is to inhabit an indelicate time machine of bittersweet returns.
The Truckers’ annual Homecoming shows are now celebrations fans wait 11 months of the year for. The shows are for the “HeAthens,” as the hardcore fans refer to themselves. With the sublimely dark and poignant new album The Unraveling just released, the band kicks off its tour with this year’s Homecoming.
The new record was recorded mostly live in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Service in about a week. While 2016’s American Band visually depicted the American flag at half mast—a sign of national mourning—the new record respectfully folds it and weeps. Its cries are in anger and frustration, though, not defeat.
The album “was a bitch to write,” says guitarist and songwriter Patterson Hood. “Finding a way to put music to the horrific state of things in our country right now, [and] in a way that we or anyone else would ever listen to, was probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a band.”
That’s saying a lot for a band that has already done so much. Fact is, when the Truckers played that first benefit in 2001, neither the band nor Nuçi’s Space knew how long either would be around. The idea of a mental health resource center for musicians was a fairly exotic idea at the time but one that has since flourished around the country.
Hood, who, along with his wife Rebecca, was deeply involved with the guidance of Nuçi’s Space for a very long time, says with a laugh, “I probably gave the longevity, at that time, of Nuçi’s Space about as much thought as our band… I certainly saw the need and wanted to help in any way I could. It wasn’t long before I could really see how amazing an organization it was and the kinds of good they were doing.”
With regard to the staying power of his group, Hood says, “I think if I had had any idea how long we’d last, I might have put more care into what I named the band. It was a great idea in 1996… but I’m not sure I would have agreed to a lifetime commitment.”
Nuçi’s Space Executive Director Bob Sleppy says, “I’m actually going to a conference with a bunch of [Nuçi’s personnel] in March in D.C., and there’s only two of us who have been around for 20 years.”
After hearing of Austin, TX, resource center the SIMS Foundation, which was founded only a few years before Nuçi’s Space, Sleppy says, “We went out and visited them. We took the counseling aspects of what they were doing and matched it with rehearsal space and a community center feel.”
The annual Homecoming shows are meant as a celebration of both the Truckers and Nuçi’s Space. The gathering is akin to a family reunion, if not identical to one. Any doubt about this is quickly extinguished by a mere glance at the fan-made, 350-page hardbound book The Company We Keep, released in 2018. It’s specifically about these shows and their impact over the years. Now in at least its second printing, 100% of the profits go to Nuçi’s Space. And as the band’s fanbase is an extension of them, so, too, is Nuçi’s Space for Hood.
“Nuçi’s Space is like family, and its importance to our community can’t be in any way overstated,” he says. “I literally would not have my band or my family were it not for Linda Phillips, Bob Sleppy and the amazing work of Nuçi’s Space.”
All that’s really left to say is, welcome home, and see you at the rock show.
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