We were young once.
The thought crossed my mind Thursday night as I slowly squeezed through the crowded concourse at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena, shuffling along shoulder to shoulder with folks, all of whom seemed to be heading in different directions. “Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me. Hey, how are you?” and all of that. Some were holding their tickets, furtively glancing up at the markers above each doorway, hoping to find their section. Others were grabbing popcorn or queueing up for a cold beer. More than a few seemed to have already had a brew or two, and were ready to party.
Finally, the boys were back in town.
As I’m certain you likely saw in the state media, or on one of your social media feeds, Hootie & the Blowfish, the band that formed in Columbia and exploded out of Five Points after the 1994 release of their debut album Cracked Rear View, played three consecutive nights in the Capital City last week. The three shows — all of which sold out the massive arena — were the first ticketed concerts the band had played in Columbia in well more than a decade.
Hootie got an exceptionally warm greeting in Columbia last week, and there are probably a few factors that came together to trigger that reaction. The band is about to release a new album, Imperfect Circle, on Nov. 1, the first new release from the group since 2005. Then there’s the enduring popularity of lead singer Darius Rucker, who’s found a professional life outside of Hootie as a mainstream country music crooner.
But perhaps the most meaningful trigger to the sold out homecoming, I believe, was simply timing, and what that timing meant to a swath of South Carolinians. There was just something about the fact that Cracked Rear View — which, at 21 million copies sold, remains one of the best-selling albums ever — recently had its 25th anniversary. And as I slowly made my way through that corridor Thursday night, and took in the crowd around me during the show, I was struck by just how fast a quarter century can pass.
When I looked at the faces around me, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the crowd was generally near my age. People in their 40s. To be certain, there were younger folks there, as well. Plenty of college students and even some kids who were there with their parents. And, sure, there were some folks who were pushing toward (or past) 60 and beyond.
But for the most part, I saw my contemporaries. People who would have been teenagers or in their early 20s when Cracked Rear View dropped in 1994, and when it exploded on the Billboard charts in 1995. It was quite a time.
It’s hard to describe what that album meant to us then. How exceptionally rare it was to have artists come out of this tiny state and become — if but for just a moment — the biggest band on the planet. We’ve never had a lot in this state, but here, somehow, we had a band that surged out of the University of South Carolina and was on MTV and the Late Show with David Letterman and on the cover of Rolling Stone. And we — from big towns like Columbia and Charleston to little places like Saluda and Abbeville — for once had a someone on the biggest of stages, singing to us, and for us, and about us. It was pretty special, honestly.
That’s at least part of why I think the band was received so rapturously in Columbia last week. Was it nostalgia? Sure, there was some of that. But there was also a sense that many of us have now come to an age where we recognize that things often come back full circle. Much like the fortunes of a rock band over time, life has a way of taking us up, then down, then back up again.
And so we gathered and danced and sang “Let Her Cry” and “Hold My Hand” at the top of our lungs and remembered when we all went through a thing together, 25 years past. And for a couple hours we were young again.