The Future’s so Bright…

The first time I remember hearing “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” by Timbuk3, I was getting ready to leave for high school. This was somewhere between 1989-1993. The TV was on, to a rerun of Head of the Class. I had my trench coat on and my backpack was slung over my shoulders. My trench coat was probably either bunched up under my shoulder straps, or at my lower back, under my back pack. Happened every time. As I adjusted my coat, the song came on as a video the kids created, and I stood there watching it until it was done. I loved it. It was catchy and cool and fun.

It didn’t become an anthem for me, but it was a moment I remembered years later, when my late husband told me he booked Pat MacDonald to play Brio (now Abreo) in Rockford, IL.

I didn’t know the man’s name, but then Jason told me Pat MacDonald used to be a part of Timbuk3 and played “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”. I was super excited and couldn’t wait to hear him in his new band, Purgatory Hill.

I remember the first time they played Brio, and the beautiful cigar box guitar Pat played. He didn’t use it for every song, but he used it enough. In the low light of Brio, with the new tunes of Purgatory Hill being strummed from that fantastic instrument, I fell in love with the band. The music was amazing, the instrument was magical, and it turns out, Pat MacDonald and his band mate/girlfriend MelanieJane were amazing people.

They played Rockford several times, and I went every time I could. I loved the band every time I saw them. One April, Jason and I were invited to Sturgeon Bay, where they live at the Holiday Music Motel, for an interesting event. I don’t remember what year, but it was after 2006. (I was already diagnosed with MS at the time of the event.) The event was called Purgatory Hillton. We were invited to see Purgatory Hill record in their living room. The entire thing was a bit magical.

One of the nights we were there, after the recording session, we were invited out to an Irish pub. We were offered Irish stew, which was thick and rich. Perfect for a chilly spring night. I sat and watched mostly, listening to the music and the people around me.  It suddenly occurred to me that I was hanging out in a bar with a one hit wonder from the 80’s. I was blown away by the entire experience.

Fast forward to May or June of this year 2017. (Jason has been gone 4 years.) I have Pat MAcDonald and MelanieJane, as well as Purgatory Hill on my Facebook feed. I see that they are gathering money for Begging His Graces, the Songs and Sins of Pat MacDonald by the artists of Steel Bridge. If you’ve never heard of Steel Bridge Songfest, it’s pretty awesome. It’s a festival put together by Pat MacDonald and other people who were interested in saving an old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay. Read about it here.

The artists wanted to put together a 3 volume 8 CD set of music from all the music Pat has written during his lifetime. It’s a tremendous amount of music; many artists contributed their talents. I wanted to donate. I looked at all the options, but didn’t know how much to donate. I didn’t know what perks I wanted. I went back to it a day or two later, and saw the guitar.

At first, I mistakenly thought it was Pat’s guitar, the one he played. In that moment, I had to have the guitar. It was a lot of money. I told myself I couldn’t afford it, then I realized I could. I had just finished paying off my car, and I didn’t have much on my credit card. I COULD afford it. And if I did donate, the guitar would be mine, even if they didn’t reach their goal. It was on a site that allowed the funds to go through, regardless if the goal was met.

I felt a little panicked. This guitar, this instrument, which reminded me of good times with my late husband, could be mine. I didn’t know if I wanted to spend the money, so I thought about it, asked for some opinions in person and on social media. Though some people thought I should not buy it, most were encouraging me to get it.

Before finally making the purchase, I reread the description and found that it wasn’t Pat’s guitar, but it still reminded me of his and it still brought memories of the Purgatory Hill Shows. When I made the purchase, a week after first seeing it, I felt good. I was helping artists make music and I was getting a pretty sweet guitar from the deal.

Funding ended, and the progress updates were emailed out, letting us backers know things were going smoothly. I have to say, this is probably the fastest fundraiser I’ve backed. I already have all the music and the guitar.

And getting the guitar is a story in and of itself.

My MS was acting up a bit more than usual at the beginning of August. I felt awful for five days and missed two days of work due to MS fatigue, which is not normal, but has happened before. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much par for the course with MS, or my MS anyway. Nothing to call the doctor about, but fucking irritating anyway.

I get back to work on a Tuesday and am told I have a couple packages. One was the CDs and t-shirt from Begging His Graces. I like the t-shirt. It’s simple and the fabric is soft. The CD box is signed by Pat MacDonald and there’s a Thank You note inside. But there was no guitar and no indication of where it was. I didn’t mind. I knew it would probably take longer. I figured I’d give it a week and then email them.

I didn’t have to. The next day, Wednesday, I received an email from Anna, the woman taking care of sending out all the perks. She wrote the craziest thing to me.

Between purchasing the guitar, and getting the email, I had had this wild thought: Pat MacDonald and MelanieJane live in Sturgeon Bay, WI. It’s not that far from me. Wouldn’t it be wild if they decided to drive it down to me? I always dismissed the idea, but I loved that idea. I wanted to see both of them again. I’m bad at keeping in touch with people, even the lovely ones, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss people or don’t think about them. The idea of seeing them both gave me a smile.

Imagine my surprise when Anna said they wanted to drive the guitar down to me. I cried in happy surprise. Pat would be in Milwaukee at the end of the week, and they thought it would be fun to drive down. I let them know I loved the idea and we worked something out. I felt it easier for them to drive to my job, which is half an hour closer to Milwaukee than my home. Also, I kind of felt like showing off. I mean really, an 80’s musician wanted to deliver a handmade cigar box guitar to little ol’ me. Hell yeah, I wanted people to see that happen.

There was one possible hitch. Pat unfortunately has cancer and is going through chemo. That’s why he was in Milwaukee. It would be him and an assistant driving down, but if Pat didn’t feel well enough, he probably wouldn’t come. Which of course, after five days of my MS kicking my ass, I totally understand.

The date was set for that Thursday, 3pm. They showed up a little late, but that happens. Some of my co-workers were wondering how in the world I wasn’t waiting at the door for them. For one, I was at work. Even though I didn’t have much going on that day, I wasn’t going to neglect my duties. Also, I am not good at waiting so I needed something to do.

Finally, I went downstairs because a co-worker said she saw a truck driving back and forth as if looking for something. I go outside and see a completely different vehicle stop and a guy I vaguely recognize gets out of a vehicle. He nods and then I go around and see Pat MacDonald. We reintroduce ourselves and head inside the office. I was hiding my nervousness quite well, I think. The next few minutes are a blur of pictures, guitar and introductions. I couldn’t stop smiling.

I invite Pat and his friend Brett to come back to the cafeteria and chill for a few minutes. Yes, my job is that cool. Guests are allowed (with warning) and they can sit and chill. I also pointed them toward the snacks and drinks. A co-worker, also a musician, sat with us as well. Brent Shelton from Mana Kintorso sat with us and talked with Brett while Pat and I talked. I could not have asked for a better situation.

Pat and I talked a little about his health, a little about Jason and then he spoke of one of the artists on the CD set. He spoke so highly of her. I cannot wait to listen to all of it and hear her. She is the woman I was emailing this entire time. It’ll be interesting to listen to her sing with the emails and the nice words Pat said about her in my mind. Like listening to a friend in a band.

At one point, Pat asked if I knew how to play the guitar and I said no, but I wanted to learn. Including the cigar box harp, I have three guitars. I should learn how to play them. Pat said if I come up to Sturgeon Bay again, he’ll teach me. I loved that idea.

Though I work for a very awesome company, I knew I had to cut the meeting shorter than I wanted. Also, Pat and Brett had to drive back to Milwaukee. It’s about an hour from my work, when traffic is kind. We said our good-byes and they left; I felt like I was floating on air.

The entire experience left me on cloud nine for a couple days. Thinking about it is bringing back that feeling. This wasn’t like meeting Pat while he was playing, this was he and I talking about life. It was a short talk, but it was memorable to me and meant a lot. One of Jason’s wishes was that his friends make new memories. I made new memories that day to add to the ones he and I made of Purgatory Hill.

I’m not the sort of person to assume people will remember me. Life is too big for that. We meet too many people in life to be able to remember everyone. Pat may or may not remember our meeting, but I will. And that’s enough for me. That day is etched in my mind as one of the many fascinating days I’ve lived. I hope to add many more to that list. Otherwise, what’s the point?



  1. I really enjoyed your story Cat. I like your spirit and attitude. Congrats on the great meeting and guitar!

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