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Did I Ever Tell You I Once Opened For Michael Meldrum?

Brian Lampkin, former proprietor of Rust Belt Books and a long-time judge at Michael Meldrum’s annual Bob Dylan Imitators Contest, sent us this remembrance upon hearing of Meldrum’s passing on Thursday evening:

People are imperfect. Perhaps the pure products of America have all gone crazy, but more likely they never existed in the first place. Michael Meldrum was like all the rest of us: contradictory, confounding, complicated. It wouldn’t be right to reduce him to savior of the local music scene, saint of the underground streets or spirit of the creative spark in all individuals looking to make a life in art. No, you can’t reduce Michael Meldrum to just those attributes, but you also can’t deny that on some magic nights in Allentown he was savior, saint, and spirit to an entire community.

Michael Meldrum hosting the Bob Dylan Initators Contest at Nietzsche's on April 14.

Michael took people in. If he saw or heard any hint of passion, talent or desire in a singer, songwriter, poet or musician, then he’d immediately draw that artist into his circle. He was always looking for something, always trying to nurture the young into the full blossoming of their talent. It wasn’t selfless altruism; he was getting what he needed from these relationships as well. Those who try to arrogantly “do good” for a community—as if they know what a community needs and wants—can do so much damage. Michael was trying to make a world out of his Buffalo scene that made sense to him, that would fuel his own vision of what a life worth living might look and sound like. Yes, he wanted to find the next big thing and would do whatever he could to help you, but he wanted a piece of that elusive fame as well. The piece he wanted? To be known as the person who nurtured, supported, inspired. It might not be purity, but it might be something much better.

Michael believed in the local because he innately understood that art can only be found right here where you live. His tireless promotion of artists was legendary and made more remarkable by the fact that he wanted you to succeed, to be extraordinary. He had your back. (And not just artistically. When something bad was going down in the bar or street, it was great comfort to know Michael was nearby. He was a pacifist by conviction, but also a fierce defender of those he loved or cared for. He was no one to trifle with.)

If you knew Michael then you knew the litany of fame he would casually associate himself with through the course of an evening: Ani, of course, but also Suzanne Vega, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Dylan, Michelle Shocked and on and on. There was an arc among those who first met Michael that I would see play out over and over. Upon first encountering him there was a kind of awe at his energy, enthusiasm, and connections. Then one would tire of his need to keep coming back to his attachment to fame. But then each of us would circle back to a steady and solid appreciation of Michael as a man with a few idiosyncrasies, but a man who did more for all of us than any of us probably deserved.

I will forever attach myself to Michael Meldrum’s fame. I will drop his name at every opportunity. In North Carolina, a few Ani DiFranco fans will know of whom I speak, but in Buffalo an entire scene will nod in respect for the man. Because there was one other thing Michael offered. At times I would wander lonely and down into Nietzsche’s. If Michael was there, his big smile would radiate across the bar and an embarrassing kiss and massive hug would follow. Michael Meldrum knew how to show love and affection and care. He offered a place in his heart and that vulnerability made him a great man. My love goes out to Diane and the Meldrum family.

We’ll keep publishing remembrances of Michael Meldrum all week. Feel free to send yours to Or post it below.





  • Michael Sheffield

    How beautifully observed, Brian.