The next time you shoulder your guitar, look at the crowd, and be thankful for the life you have. Think of Evan Twitty, and play the next one for him.
The first time I heard about Evan Twitty was when a Facebook acquaintance announced he had died. Twitty was an 18-year-old college freshman. Friday night, shortly after 11:00 P.M., Twitty was crossing US Highway 41 near Vincennes. A second later a semi slammed into his SUV. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
After 28 years in my high school classroom, I know what it’s like to lose young people whom I knew well. I couldn’t tell you how many I’ve lost. The idea of counting—or even estimating—such a number is unthinkable, but I do know that it’s probably a depressingly staggering total.
I can’t explain why Twitty’s death is hitting me with same gut-punch-effect as all those lost teens and 20-somethings who once sat in my room, but it is, in fact, hitting me that hard. I didn’t know him personally. I’ve only heard his voice in the very few online videos which showcase his immense musical talent. But watching his nine-minute performance in the WBCD Showdown, I witnessed a poised and confident young man. An adult wowing his audience in a child’s body.
Then I watched his other performances. In 2014, his voice not yet tempered by puberty, Twitty commanded the strings of his Bigsby like a blues lifer. He moved fluidly, meticulously up and down the frets with his left hand and masterfully over the strings with his right. His style was old-school. A sincere hearkening to the traditional finger-picking style that defined the music of this part of the country. Of all the local, Hoosier musicians planning to move up the marquis in the 21st century, Titty’s earmarks foretold greatness.
Twitty’s death is about more than losing a great future guitarist and singer, however. In comment after comment, his friends describe him as a genuinely nice young man. And I don’t think those platitudes are empty. Go back to those videos. Listen to Twitty (as both young man and boy) chat it up between tunes… Take a hard look at that smile in his photos… Bore into that friendliness in his eyes… It’s there. Evan Twitty was every bit the gentleman, every bit the humble nice young man, you sense he was.
Before his death he was already a great ambassador for the regional music community. He was bound to be more than that as well. But he was also a decent, kind human being. He deserved more than this. He deserved a long life—a sharing of his happiness to us.
I would like to think that, had he lived, we would have gotten to know each other. I can imagine the interview…the sit down between us. I can see his album and EP release shows. I can see his discography building up on Spotify. I can see myself catching him at The Slippery Noodle, where he tells the crowd he’ll be heading to Europe the next week.
I want to say that imagining all of this makes everything better. That it takes a little bit of the sting off of the sense of loss I have been feeling since I heard the news.
It doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t know Twitty personally. What matters is that I know we’ve all lost something very good. Something very pure.
Whether we labor as writers, pickers, drummers, or crooners, most of us know “that buddy Self-Pity” as if he were a member of the family. The musical world, especially the dive-bar world—the land where throngs of people treat musicians like elevator music—is populated with good-hearted singers and songwriters who often stare at the disinterested patrons in front of them and wonder: “Why do I bother?”
Twitty’s death reminds us that we all do what we do because it’s that thing in our lives that brings us balance. Joy, even. When faced with the prospect of never touching a plectrum again, how vibrantly would we work those strings?
Maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe if every musician who turns their thoughts to Evan Twitty makes an internal promise—a vow—to play those last two songs as if they’re never going to touch a microphone or guitar again, what a sweet sound that would be.
That, I realize, is the lesson after all. When all of you play this week, play as if it’s your last tune ever. Play one for Evan Twitty.