In the end, it was pure acoustic singing that celebrated Aberdeen’s first official Kurt Cobain Day the best.
A crowd of at least 200 sang “Happy Birthday to Kurt” at the party thrown at Aberdeen Museum of History. Musicians and fans rocked an impromptu jam later on the banks of the Wishkah River.
Some came to remember, some came to dance and some came to share the spotlight shining on Cobain, songwriter, singer and founder of Nirvana.
The party for Aberdeen’s most famous rocker started early and unofficially when a guitar was played and then lit on fire on the sidewalk in front of the museum for the cameras by Joe Ty of the band Black Top Demon. Ty admitted he took advantage of the celebration about to start at 5:30 p.m. for the unofficial act. “Hey, it’s Kurt and all about the music,” he said.
Aberdonians were joined at the museum by visitors from outside the area to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the birth of Cobain, who grew up here. Cobain committed suicide in 1994.
The official host, Mayor Bill Simpson, seemed to want to shake hands and remember Cobain with everyone at the event. He noted his new-found respect for the “man Paul McCartney called a musical genius.” He pontificated about Cobain being “a druggie” but noted so was Elvis, a favorite of his. He plans to repeat it next year, maybe with a “two day celebration,” he said later.
A little boy danced to the band Gebular, as young men bobbed their heads, banging to the music. A couple brought a double stroller loaded with a baby and a toddler. There was every kind of hair: long, curly, straight, washed, greasy, short, teased, blue, purple, magenta, blonde, brunet, auburn, salt and pepper, gray, ball-capped and none of the above.
King 5 recorded a stand-up for television, professional photographers angled for the best shots. An audience of Cobain’s day might have flicked their Bics. This audience was all about clicking that selfie and recording real time with dozens of smart phones, cameras, tablets and laptops.
Cobain, who could be scathing about the trappings of fame, might have written a line or two about some who seemed to take advantage of the celebration to do a little fronting of their own.
Cobain’s former guitar teacher Warren Mason handed the mayor a framed copy of an article about himself, refused the microphone and grabbed one of Gebular’s guitars to show the crowd how he taught Cobain to add chords to his one string version of the iconic “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen. He also played a lick of “Birthday” by the Beatles as Gebular’s drummer Justin DePriest accompanied him.
Aaron Burckhard, briefly a drummer for Nirvana in 1987, was hard to hear, speaking rapidly on a scratchy-sounding microphone. His band Under Sin played at the end, Gebular sharing their equipment.
Selfies abounded in front of “Cement Resurrection”, a statue created by Randi Hubbard depicting Cobain playing guitar.
Before her statue was unveiled, she spoke about Cobain’s support of the rights of women and others who are different.
There were cookies topped with Cobain’s face and signature in frosting baked by Tami Dragoo, brought by Aberdeen City Council Member Kathi Hoder.
Regina Pruett Jones, also born on Feb. 20, 1967, attended Robert Gray Elementary with Cobain, she said. In the second grade, “he made me the coolest picture for Halloween with a graveyard and skeletons on construction paper.” She wishes she still had it.
Arthur Andrews, husband of new council member Tawni Andrews, won a drawing for a green Stella electric guitar signed by Gebular band mates DePriest, his brother Branden DePriest and Clint Mullins, as well as Mason and Burckhard.
Andrew Chayer of Seattle, who has a band called Reverend Bear and is a producer at Robert Lang Studios where Nirvana recorded, said he came to celebrate Cobain’s birthday with singers and guitar players Caleb Kallander and Michael Parents who play in their own bands, Sons of the Sound and Tatarus, respectively.
So far, Chayer is the only one of the three who supports himself with music. All hope for a revival of the grunge scene in the soulful, bluesy rock music they like to play. Though in different bands, they like to harmonize and are working on a recording project together.
Kallander, who bears a striking resemblance to the lead singer of Nirvana, said Cobain is “the voice for every teenager’s emotions whose songs and lyrics were for the common person.”
Nirvana’s music is genuine, authentic and so will last, Parents chimes in.
“No one had heard it and everyone needed to,” said Chayer.
Later in the blue dark of evening, the Wishkah River ebbed over dolphin pilings at Kurt Cobain Landing, the Seattle musicians joined several revelers to sing the songbook of a prior generation.
Kallander and Parents took turns playing acoustic guitar as the voices of men and women sang and howled the raw lyrics of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.
Joy and angst sang harmony and warmed the chill of the night of Kurt Cobain’s day.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin.