On the road (with Wilco)

On the road (with Wilco)

"On one of the first nights that we were playing," Shannon Worrell recounts, "I think it was in Charleston, South Carolina, Jeff [Tweedy] came up to me and asked if I was afraid of him. That was one of the first things he said to me. I said, ‘No.’

"He said, ‘Well, sometimes people are afraid of me, so I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to be.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not.’"

Shannon Worrell

This encounter took place in 1997, shortly after Worrell and Kristin Asbury’s duo September 67 hit the road for a national tour with Wilco, who were supporting their then-latest record, the double-LP Being There.

The awkwardness of that initial exchange subsided ("I’m a huge straight shooter, so we kind of got along because we’re both brutally honest," Worrell says of Tweedy), and the bands enjoyed an East Coast and Midwest stint together. "It was great fun," says Worrell. "It was before Jay Bennett left, so everyone was still getting along. We had a song where they would all come out and sing background vocals with us in this barber shop, doo-wop way. We all made fun of each other, and we kept in touch after that." Wilco bassist John Stirratt even played on Worrell’s 2000 solo album The Moviegoer.

Worrell remembers New York and Detroit as standout nights on the tour. "Irving Plaza was a great show," she says, "[New York Times critic] Jon Pareles wrote a really nice review that he put us in." Pareles noted that Wilco "played as if it were on the verge of outgrowing clubs" and described September 67 as "a lean country cousin of The Throwing Muses." In Detroit, Worrell was surprised by the crowd’s warm reception. "Detroit Rock City, you know? I thought they would boo us, but their fans were very good to us."

One of the best things about Wilco, Worrell says, is that they keep improving and putting together great concerts. "I’ve been a fan since A.M., their first record," she says, "and it’s great to see them getting better and better. I think it’s good to see people really working on their live shows. It seems like they work hard to make it a religious experience for the people who love their music. It’s a gift that they are giving. It doesn’t seem like they are doing it for themselves. I think those kind of musicians are few and far between."

Worrell enjoyed the band’s collective efforts at their last Pavilion gig, but Tweedy’s brilliant songwriting is a key to their greatness, she adds. "Even the stuff he’s thrown in the trash," she says. "Give me what he’s thrown in the trash, and I’ll take it."