Snow fell steadily in the hours before the show. January in Philadelphia: cold enough for layers, warm enough for slush. It was the kind of snow that falls like water ice, squelching on impact.

We were opening for a much bigger band, local folk heroes Frog Holler. It was a favor Jonny had finagled after months of open mics and acoustic shows. “We need to make a good impression,” he said when the rest of us cackled at his handwritten itineraries. “They don’t have to know this is our first time playing together.”

It was technically true. Jonny, Brett, and I had recorded albums worth of material a decade ago, but it had been years since our last show. And we’d never played with our new lead guitarist, Brian. I’ve known Brian since we were kids—but until then, he’d always been Brett’s quiet little brother. 

As I followed the imprints of Brian’s boots through the slippery snow banks, my jacket stuffed with cymbals, I was suddenly grateful for Jonny’s anxiety—the snow had slowed us down to the point we barely made it to sound check. 

Three hours later, the panic had vanished. In its place, elation. The show had been packed with family and friends—Aaron even flew in from Denver. After the set, the four of us huddled backstage, the crowd howling on the other side of the door. In that moment, it was as if the decision had been made for us. This was going to be more than a one-off show.

18 months later I’m back in Philly, driving down Front Street, the Delaware River an inky glint on my right. Jonny’s in the passenger seat, talking about a sentence stuck in his brain since he woke up.

“What four of us started, three of us have to finish.” 

The car went quiet after that. It had been ten days since the funeral, and any excitement about finishing the album we started last month was gone. 

I turned towards North Philly, away from the river’s wobbling reflections. This new reality, the one without Brett, had us all reeling. But he had left us with something to remember him by.

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