There are two facts that I know about Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave. I know he has a brother named Peter and I know that their father passed away on May 5, 2000.
Now the only reason I know this is because the passing of the Cornells’ father led to Peter having to cancel a show at the 8x10 club in Baltimore. This cancellation resulted in one of the top five favorite shows I ever played. Every year, on this date, I don’t initially think of Coronas or any other Mexican beer and I don’t think of Margaritas or sombreros. No.
On Cinco de Mayo I think of Peter Cornell, his father’s passing, and how everything can quickly change in a few hours.
Jahronee consisted of myself, Party Paul Powell, Joey T Nemiroff, and young buck Andy Shankman. My sophomore year at Goucher, we were the token party band on campus- frequently playing the Gopher Hole, the coffee shop on campus. By spring, we had started to take our show on the road and into the wilds of Baltimore- playing some joint with Tattoo in the name and playing our first two set show at the Brass Monkey in Fells Point- a polished joint whose slogan was, where no one looks ugly after two. On Cinco de Mayo, we were slated to play the 8x10 club in Federal Hill- opening up for Peter Cornell, the younger brother of Chris Cornell. This was all we knew about him and this was all we told people about him. We had played the 8x10 club a couple times before and had finally won over their hard to please sound man. We were excited for the show, giddy almost and anxious to try and parlay our opening slot into a headlining slot sometime down the road.
We arrived early and had plenty of time to kill. The streets grew wilder as the night went on, but we were youngsters and sat on the curb, waiting for our set time. Sometime in the evening, club management found us and notified us that Peter Cornell had cancelled- their dad had died and because we were the only full band on the bill, they were bumping us up to the headlining slot. They asked if we could play an hour and we asked ourselves, could we do so well? Immediately we got on the phone- pay phones and the phone behind the bar because this was during the pre-cellphone era, and started calling everyone on the campus whose number we could remember.
Get down here! We told them.
We’re headlining! We exclaimed.
Bring everyone! We urged.
Tell ‘em to come thirsty! We reminded.
The night had turned, the vibe was different. Now we weren’t just dudes playing a quick opening slot, but a band playing an actual set on a night when people actually came out. Excitement most likely ran smack into nerves and came out in a tangled web of false bravado and gusto. The 8x10 has since been renovated, but in 2000 it was dirty. It was a step up from a dive, but not a big step- more like a small ramp. The backstage room was three floors up, accessed by a winding stairway running along walls that were covered in the signatures of bands who had been here before. We were half hippies and seeing Phish scrawled on the wall was the highlight.
At the top of the stairs was the green room and it smelled like fish with body odor. The guy who was playing before us was a beefy dude who had taken over the room. He did so with two hooker-looking ladies and lines of coke running across the mirror he had put on the floor. Polite of course, he offered it to us. Polite of course, we quickly declined. We weren’t rock stars yet.
When it was time for us to play, the room was damn near packed with Gophers. Phone calls had worked and word had spread- everyone’s favorite campus band was doing them proud and the kids came out. I still remember Kenny dancing up front and Amanda prancing around the club barefoot.
That night was one of the nights were the emotions felt and enthusiasm that was running through my body will never be repeated. It was one of those pure nights that come out of nowhere. As a musician, it was a night hard to beat and a show that had top 5 staying power straight through the 300 shows I played with Sidecar Radio after graduating. For Jahronee, the show was our high-water mark and the night when we crested. Maybe in retrospect, the night means so much to me because it was essentially a good night & good luck show for us- even though it seemed like such a rocket launcher show. The night was a success, but not the kind of success that lead to future success. But that’s okay. Not every good thing is meant to be a catalytic boom. Sometimes the best things in life are drive-bys- quick moments that you should grab and hold on tight too because their staying power is something ethereal and in the wind.
So while today is of course a heartbreaker for the Cornell family, it will always bring a smile to my face. We had fun, we did it right, and we did it all justice.
Good night & good luck.