Artist Spotlight courtesy of Bearded Garrett Dillahunt
I’ ve seen State Radio live in concert 14 times. If I were to include the other iterations of Chad Urmstrom’s work that I’ve witnessed (solo work, Dispatch) the number might be nearly twice as large. State Radio simply defined my teenage years, to the point where Urmstrom eventually came to recognize me and was sort of politely wary of me in that way artists are around superfans.
The sad thing about State Radio is also the facet that made the experience of seeing them live so transcendent: Born in the ashes of the indie behemoth that was Dispatch, SR never gained a modicum of that band’s popularity, even though their musical product was arguably far superior. Consequently, every State Radio concert allowed for the experience of standing five feet from the musicians, trading banter with them and grabbing set lists in between doses of getting your face rocked off.
I’ll always associate SR with the foolish, unbridled ambition of being young. In January of 2010 I woke up on a Saturday morning at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was plagued with the unique agony of a hangover at altitude; if you have never experienced one, I recommend that you never do. You will feel pain in the organs in your chest, organs that you have never gotten signals from before. But that’s beside the point.
Surfing through both the internet and my own regrets, I happened upon the fact that State Radio was playing a show in a small venue in Aspen, CO that very night. Devoid of a car, I decided that somehow I would go.
After securing the participation of my friends John and Emly, we were faced with the issue of travelling five hours through a projected blizzard. I went to see my friend Meredith, a fellow SR superfan and a haver of car. Meredith, unfortunately, was deathly ill, and unwilling to lend her car (a reasonable instinct). I have always suspected that her small, thin body was taking her altitude hangover much worse than mine took mine, although she has always claimed it was the flu.
Meredith was, however, able to direct me down the hall, where Lindsay, a woman I had never met, was also infirm in her bed. Lindsay was apparently notorious for lending out her car to anyone.
I calmly explained to Lindsay that three strangers wanted to take her car, which did not have four wheel drive, and drive it through the Vail Pass during a blizzard, making a ten hour round trip. She told me I could take the keys if I passed her the OJ from the minifridge.
Around the time we were in the middle of the Vail Pass, in bumper to bumper traffic that was nevertheless moving at a steady 12 mph, the windshield stopped defrosting. The revelation nearly caused me to choke on my Blue Super Blow Pop in the backseat. I had gotten my driver’s license one month before and no one trusted me behind the wheel.
Without a moment’s hesitation, John leaned out the driver’s side window, driving around the windshield. “I’m ghost-riding the Pass!” he yelled gleefully, although the end of the sentiment was muffled by the amount of blizzard that went down his throat.
Two hours later, and we were there. After a pleasant opening act, State Radio took the stage. A man on a barstool above and behind us reached down and stroked John’s scalp. He looked up at the man. “You’ve got a great head of hair”, the man said. We moved right up to the edge of the stage, mostly because we were excited to see State Radio and also partially to get away from that guy.
Before the lights went up, this song started:
The album to which it was attached, Let it Go, had been released a few months prior, and hearing the tracks off of it live was still electrifying. This was actually what I lived for:
After the show, I went to use the restroom. As I was exiting, a guy that had been rocking out in the front row was heading in. “Great show, even for them, huh?” I asked. His response was a terrified staccato “AH!” Weirdo.
A few minutes later, Chad, Chuck, and Mike were at the bar shooting the shit with some fans. I actually remember Chad giving a resigned “Oh, you” when I approached him. “Awesome sh-” I started to say, before Chad cut me off. “Dude, your mouth’s fucking blue.” he said. “It looks like a blue Lorax”. I think he meant the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi.
As we readied ourselves to drive home, John looked at a text on his phone and went “Wait. Oh, wow.”
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I totally forgot my dad is at his timeshare for a ski weekend with his college buddies.” he said. “Let’s just sleep there.”
And thank God we did, because we had front row seats to the soap opera of the century. You see, one of John’s dad’s drunk friends is convinced that another one of the drunk friend’s has been coveting his wife since college. John tells me that the two men have not spoken since that night at the timeshare six years ago.
Okay so this wasn’t exactly about the music of State Radio, but pretty much each of the 14 times I saw them live involves a story as colorful as this. They are inseparable from my memories of being young, and I miss them all the time. Plus, this song kicks ass: