Published on May 22nd, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Musicians Celebrate the Remarkable Life of Nick Collins
Nine months ago, local singer/guitarist Nick Collins, a Mt. Pleasant native and founding member of rock band Fowler’s Mustache, was fighting for his life in a MUSC hospital room after suffering horrible injuries from an automobile accident. Doctors were shocked that he’d actually survived and considered him to be one the “one percenters” who make it through such ordeals.
These days, after gaining enough strength, stamina, mobility, and gumption, Collins is back in action as a professional musician, playing with his bandmates and doing local solo gigs. He’s in a wheelchair, but he’s up and running.
Collins was injured on August 3, 2012, in a major accident on I-526. Collins endured numerous surgeries at MUSC (including the amputation of his left leg) and months of intensive rehabilitation before leaving the hospital and settling in at his home in Mt. Pleasant. Since last fall, he’s made a remarkably quick and steady recovery.
In celebration of Collins’ amazing bounce back and his continued recovery, Awendaw Green will host its second NAC Wins: A Celebration of Life festival this weekend as an all-day local showcase and fundraiser for Collins. It’s a free event, but donations are appreciated to assist Collins and his family with their massive (and mounting) medical bills.
Local photographer and Awendaw Green ally Glyn Cowden helped organize and book the event. “I see Nick and Eddie [White, of Awendaw Green] often, and not long ago, we decided to do another NAC Wins,” he says. “We all got in touch with a bunch of bands and songwriters, and it all came together very easily. We had two stages at the first one, but we’ll have one stage this time. We’ll have the pizza ovens cranking, food trucks alongside, and a great bunch of musicians all day.”
On September 23, 2012, Awendaw Green hosted the first NAC Wins event in the field behind the Sewee Outpost in Awendaw. Hundreds of attendees showed up for outdoor concert and cookout. Thirteen Charleston-based bands — including string trio AcousticMuffin (members of Dangermuffin), songwriter Danielle Howle, groove-rock band Sol Driven Train, and Collins’ own group, Fowler’s Mustache — performed throughout the day.
As musicians and friends bumped into each other at the NAC Wins event, some of the shock and sadness of hearing about the accident turned to cheer and hope with every report and story people shared heard.
“I liked the energy that Fowler’s Mustache had when they were starting out a few years ago, so I was becoming a fan as I got to know Nick,” Cowden adds. “Shortly after his accident, I went to visit him in the hospital, and he was really messed up. But he never has complained. He always stays totally up, totally positive. In my opinion, Nick epitomizes what I like to call the ‘Lowcountry attitude’ — and he puts it out there the most.”
Set for Sun. May 26 at the Barn Stage behind the Sewee Outpost, NAC Wins: A Celebration of Life will feature performances by Katina Rose, Jamisun Hodge, the Hibachi Heroes, the Ryan Bonner Band, the Fairy God Muthas, the Estee Gabay Trio, Satellite Rodeo, Savage Tongues, A Fragile Tomorrow, Stop Light Observations, Fowler’s Mustache, Jeff Dent, Tim Styles, Lauren Hall, Mark Bryan, and additional guests.
Awendaw Green colleague and local musician Tim Brennen recently assembled a pack of local musicians and bands to compile and produce a compilation album titled NAC Wins Our Music, Our Help. It’ll be released on disc this weekend. Proceeds from the sale of the CDs will benefit the Nick A. Collins III Medical Expense Trust.
Metronome Charleston caught up with Collins this week as he was preparing to perform a pair of solo bar shows at the Shelter and Finz in Mt. Pleasant.
Metronome Charleston: This upcoming event at Awendaw Green has been nicknamed “NAC Won.” How does it feel to return to Awendaw Green in such a triumphant manner?
Nick Collins: I couldn’t be more excited to get back out to Awendaw Green. Ever since the first time I went out there, I thought what [main organizer] Eddie White and his team were doing was very special for the local music scene. I think every musician who sees what goes on out at Awendaw Green gets a motivation to promote Charleston and its beautiful and great venues for music.
Metronome Charleston: If the NAC Wins event last September represented a show of support and hope, this week’s event seems geared to be more of a celebration. Looking ahead to Sunday, do you feel about the mood and spirit of it all?
Nick Collins: I like the fact that people are celebrating life and, hopefully, are realizing that a dramatic experience such as mine can happen to anyone at any time. I think it’s very important to live for the moment and not stress about little things because you never know what is going to happen that can change your life forever. To me, though, this is more about saying thank you to everyone who has been by my side or sent me letters and donations, and who showered me with love and attention. I believe what happened to me happened for a reason, and I am glad and blown away by the amount of attention and support I’ve received from all over. There are too many people to name who have been there for me, and I honestly don’t think I would be this far along mentally or physically without the constant attention I have received from my friends, families, work colleagues, and musicians from this town.
Metronome Charleston: Looking back on the first weeks and months of your initial recovery last summer and fall, what were the toughest challenges for you — mentally, emotionally, and physically?
Nick Collins: Recovery was interesting. There were good days and bad. I had the best nurses and doctors around me 24/7, as well as my family and friends who would stop by every single day. I was very, very rarely alone, which helped a lot with the mental aspect of recovery. Some people didn’t know what to expect when they would come see me, but shortly into the visit they realized that, mentally, I was all there. Although, I had some of the most painful days and nights of my life, having friends and family around can really take your mind off things. Mentally, at first, I was really shocked and didn’t really know what was going on. As I started to snap back into reality, little by little, I realized that my life was going to be changed dramatically when I got out of the hospital. The more I spent time with friends and family, they made me feel so comfortable about what my life was going to be like when I got home. It was like I had 200 brothers and sisters constantly asking how they could help. Physically, it was tough as well, but at the time I was able to start therapy. I was so motivated to get out of the hospital bed and start my recovery so I could go home, it seemed to by a little easier everyday. Again, I believe I was surrounded by the best in the business when it came to physical therapy. I would say the toughest part was getting aggravated with people who were only trying to help. I would get angry when people asked if I needed help doing very simple things and sometimes would lash out. Deep down, I knew they only wanted to help, and it took me a while to realize that this was new to them as well and they were only trying to help in any way they could.
Metronome Charleston: Only a few months ago, your physical condition probably prevented you from playing guitar and singing in a comfortable and functional way. How and when did you work up the strength and stamina to perform on stage again?
Nick Collins: It took a while for me to gain strength back in my shoulder. Due to me sitting in a wheelchair, I have to hold my guitar more over my shoulder almost like a stand-up bass. My stamina was definitely lower than it has ever been, but I picked up most of the songs and licks pretty quickly — almost like riding a bike. I felt very comfortable as early as February to play with the full band because they could set all my stuff up, and if I needed a break for a song here or there, it was easy for them to play a tune with me not doing much. Two weeks ago today was my first solo act, and I was nervous all week about it. I had been playing two-to-five nights a week for the last nine years, and to have nine months in between my last solo gig and not knowing how many lyrics I would remember made me pretty nervous. I didn’t want to play the whole day, and up to the second I started my first song, I was thinking of backing out. I knew that would cause some problems due to the amount of people who were there, and I’d never done that to anyone for any gig. The second I started playing, I literally could not get enough. I played from 7-9:50 p.m. with no break and then took a bathroom break and played an extra hour after. I completely forgot how much I love to play music, and I was surrounded by my close friends and family. That made me confident to start booking again all over Mt. Pleasant and downtown!
Metronome Charleston: How are your bandmates in Fowler’s Mustache doing? Have y’all finalized any recent projects or started working on anything brand-new?
Nick Collins: Fowler’s Mustache is doing great right now. We finally finished our second [studio] album, and we’re currently planning our CD release party for the end of this summer. Playing music with your best friends since second grade is an experience I don’t think many people get to enjoy. We’re playing at Party at the Point on June 7 with Stop Light Observations and then the Wild Wing after-party [in Mt. Pleasant]. We have a gig at Art’s Bar on May 31, and we plan to do at least one show there a month. That is where we all started playing regularly. We are also getting organized to get back in the studio for the third album, which I cannot wait for.
Metronome Charleston: What musical ideas seem to pop into your head these days? Guitar licks, lyrics, arrangements, bizarre chord structures, crazy rhythms?
Nick Collins: Since I’ve been home from the hospital, I have been exploring every aspect of music, from Latin-jazz, bluegrass, and funky rhythm and beats. But I’ve never had so many lyrics flowing freely out of my mind. I started to realize that some of my best songs were things that I had strong emotions towards and with everything that I’ve been through the past year. I have so much to be thankful for and so much joy for the little things in life. A lot of my new songs are very simple chords with free flowing lyrics — a lot of lyrics per song. I’m pretty excited about a handful of them, hence why I can’t wait to get in the studio.
Metronome Charleston: What’s in typical solo show set list, a mix of Fowler’s songs and choice rock covers?
Nick Collins: For my solo shows, it really depends on who is in the crowd and what they want to hear. For years, I used to have a clipboard and would let regulars at the places I played write down some songs for me to learn that they liked. That really opened up my cover song selections. I play few Fowler’s tunes, although, I do play a lot of originals that are more acoustic-based that the band doesn’t play … yet. But I take pride in pleasing a wide variety of genres people want to hear. I constantly take requests, and if I can’t play the song they want, I usually know a band or a song they will enjoy. I get so much joy in seeing people sing and dance or even just tapping their foot when I play. No mater how many times I have to play “Wagon Wheel” and “Use Me Up,” just knowing someone or some people are enjoying it makes me happy to do it. Also, with my loop station, I can switch up the rhythms and kind of make the songs my own so I don’t get too bored. Also, with my solo gigs, every guitar solo I play over the looped chords are always 100 percent improvised, which gives me the option to take the song anywhere I want it to go. That is what I call fun.
Metronome Charleston: What’s the game plane for the Fowler’s Mustache set at Awendaw Green on May 26? Any special guests, fancy stage work, or oddball song surprises in the works?
Nick Collins: For this event Sunday, I’m curious to see what time we will actually hit the stage due to the number of acts performing. We’ve had a couple of great practices the last couple weeks, and we had a killer set with new cover tunes and a couple great new originals at a music festival in Tennessee two weeks ago. We also take pride in playing to what the crowd around us is looking for, so mostly our songs are a game-time decision. We have not once ever made a setlist and gone down it song-by-song. It always changes with how the crowd reacts.
Metronome Charleston: Either as the featured musician of the day or simply as an attendee, what are looking forward to the most at Awendaw Green this Sunday?
Nick Collins: The thing I am looking most forward to is speaking with as many people as I can to tell them that I truly appreciate their help and support. I want everyone to know that I am not just saying these things, and that I will always remember these days and their support. I am excited to sit in with a couple friends’ bands for a song or two because it has been a while, but I really just want everyone to have a great day without having to spend any money. I hope it is as successful as I see it in my mind.
Metronome Charleston: What is your main musical goal for 2013, as a musician, bandmate, and songwriter?
Nick Collins: My main goals right now: first-off, to get this CD we just got mixed and mastered out to the public. In my opinion, there are more than a few radio-worthy songs, and I can’t wait for people to hear songs that we don’t play live. My favorite part of being in a band is planning a CD release party. All six of us put a shit ton of work on this album, and my wreck didn’t exactly speed any of the process up. But we’re finished now, and it sounds great. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. For my solo shows, I really just want to start getting energy enough to start gigging three-to-four nights a week, and I hope I can keep the crowds coming to help all the local businesses. I have more desire and motivation to learn new songs so I’m not playing the same tunes every night. I want people to be amazed by the different genres I can perform with just a guitar and a loop station. One thing I am the most grateful for is that in the 27 surgeries I had and three more coming up, my hands and fingers were not damaged one bit. Also, I had a tube going through my throat to help me breathe for close to 80 days. They said my vocal chords were ‘bowed,’ and they may need to be fixed, but thank God I feel stronger vocally than I ever have before. Less grunge and graspy more clear and confident.
Metronome Charleston: What advice would you give someone who can barely play rock guitar but really wants to learn more?
Nick Collins: This is a good question. I am convinced that anyone can play any instrument they want. It just takes practice, patience, and determination. Nowadays, you can get a free lesson for any song you want to learn on YouTube or Google. I have a friend who says they have zero musical ability and are tone-deaf. I don’t believe in that. I believe they give up too quickly because music is not something they want badly enough. But if you know some who wants to learn more about guitar, I have more than enough free time to show that person some things for free. I enjoy teaching and love to help any way I can.
NAC Wins: A Celebration of Life takes place at Awendaw Green on Sun. May 26 from 12-9 p.m. Homemade pizzas, chicken dishes, burgers and hot dogs will be available, and the Carolina Creole food truck will be on hand. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Proceeds from NAC Wins benefit the Nick A. Collins III Medical Expense Trust.
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