After 20 Years, Kevin Devine Gets His Flowers

Music Features Kevin Devine
After 20 Years, Kevin Devine Gets His Flowers

When other parents at his daughter’s school learn that Kevin Devine is a musician, sometimes they talk to him like he’s in Mötley Crüe, even though he’s never sold out Madison Square Garden or had Machine Gun Kelly play him in a Netflix biopic. “You’re like, ‘No, no. So much more time in my pajamas, figuring out how to wire an audio interface into a speaker somewhere,’” he says. “Or, even the parts that might be sexy, I promise, some days I’m just driving a car for eight hours to play to 72 people in Ann Arbor. It certainly beats laying brick, if you don’t like laying brick.”

Devine and I have done three interviews together in as many calendar years; our conversations are nearly as plentiful as Billie Eilish’s in Vanity Fair. I am merely a guy in Ohio who was lucky enough to fall in love with Devine’s music at one point in my life and then get to know him at another. I’ve traveled across state lines to see him play shows in hot, thumb-sized rooms. And, as my taste has weaved in and out of many genres, from New Wave to folk to pop punk to disco, his work has been the one constant. When I was younger, I spun his lyrics to best fit whatever hurdle I was going through. Now, as I wander through adulthood, I am slowly growing into the narratives of his songs with authenticity.

Devine is about to take the stage at Baby’s All Right and Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn to play two shows in two days, each in celebration of the 20th anniversary of him being a bonafide recording artist, though that number is a loose guesstimate. He’s been playing gigs since 1994, when he was 14 years old and doing Nirvana covers. But Devine’s first record, Circle Gets The Square, came out, softly, in the U.S. in 2001 and then again in the U.K. in 2002. A small punk label, Immigrant Sun Records, made 500 CDs for the record and sent him and his band to England to play shows with a Norwegian hardcore band called Billion Dollar Mission.

A handful of the songs he was playing on tour became the foundation of his sophomore record, Make the Clocks Move, but it was almost two full years before Devine finally felt like he was a legitimate act with any type of intercontinental following. “I went on tour in the beginning of 2003, and that was really the first time I was ever like, ‘Oh, Rolling Stone reviewed Circle Gets the Square in Germany,’” Devine says. “There was an audience of 30, 50 kids in Cologne that knew the songs from that record and I was like, ‘What the fuck? This is crazy.’”

Devine has lived in New York City his entire life, a place where many great, transformative bands arose from clubs and dives in the early 2000s. This is not news, though. I am just retreading old ground. We know how powerful that era in rock ’n’ roll was, how some acts have become so important to this millennium’s zeitgeist, like the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, that documentaries are being made about them now. Devine, of course, doesn’t have the cultural staying power that the Strokes do, but he is just as integral to the musical foundation of the city. Actually, I would argue that his importance in East Coast rock ’n’ roll carries more weight than the guys who made Is This It, given that his discography is heavily populated with earnest, sometimes brutal portraits of Brooklyn, and the world beyond it. And, let’s be honest, some of those Strokes records are not very good. Devine, on the other hand, has never made a bad album.

Devine is to Brooklyn like Tigers Jaw is to Scranton, or like Pedro the Lion is to Seattle. So, it makes complete sense that, to celebrate 20 years of making music, he is playing just a few blocks from where he has spent his entire life. “Homecoming” doesn’t quite fit the bill, since he’s never actually left. As he says in one of his most beloved songs: “Brooklyn boy born and raised, chopping lines / Hey hey, it’s my birthday,” a line that was a “holy shit” moment for Andy Hull, the frontman of Manchester Orchestra, who became best friends with Devine while touring and making music together for years. “I remember hearing that line and just thinking, ‘Oh, man, I think we’re gonna get along,’” Hull tells me. Devine doesn’t carry a thick accent like you’d hear come out of someone from Queens. He’s soft spoken, rarely letting his voice travel louder than an echo, except when he’s onstage. “Kevin’s probably the only person that I know who’s actually from Brooklyn that lives in Brooklyn,” singer/songwriter Laura Stevenson explains. “[The city] is born and bred into every fiber of what he’s writing about.”

Watch Kevin Devine perform at the Paste office in 2009.

When I arrive in New York City, the person I’m crashing with asks me whose concert I’m going to. I say, “I’m seeing Kevin Devine in Brooklyn” and they proceed to explain how they don’t get out to Brooklyn very often, despite living just across the Williamsburg Bridge. They also have no idea who I am talking about, which is par for the course. In the years I’ve spent listening to, and nerding out, over Devine’s work, only one person I know has loved him, too, and that is the person who introduced me to his work way back in 2016. I try my best to explain Devine’s career, along with his proximity to other musicians they might know, like My Chemical Romance or the Front Bottoms, if there was any 2012-era Tumblr overlap to be had, and I quickly become a spitting image of the “Pepe Silvia” scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. So I say, “It’s kind of emo, but it’s also kind of indie folk and power pop.” They ask their Amazon Echo to “play songs by Kevin Devine.” The first thing that comes on is “Pyotr,” a Bad Books song Devine doesn’t sing lead on (it’s Hull).

But that interaction got me thinking about a story Devine told me over the phone not too long ago, about when someone approached him and asked if he would contribute some words to a book about early-2000s emo rock. He passed on being involved, not because he doesn’t hold that era close, but because his career has gone through a much different metamorphosis than that of an artist like Taking Back Sunday, the Hold Steady or Brand New.

“What’s the most cliche thing you could write about from that perspective, if you’re not one of those bands?” Devine pondered. “It’s basically writing about how you always had a fitful relationship to being called emo. You get to a certain point where you’re like, ‘I’m just stoked that anybody listens to it at all. You could call it “zydeco,” if that’s what you think it sounds like.’ But it’s not for me to determine. There are things that I feel more qualified to speak about than what it was like to be around emo music when a bunch of the people in it got famous. I didn’t want to spend 1,500 words wasting this person’s time talking about the ways I didn’t feel like I fit into that scene for 10 years.”

That really sums up a lot of Devine’s perspective these days. His “just happy to be here, making music for folks with an ear to lend” attitude is palpable. He’s a genre nomad who’s made so much music in so many different ways that he’s never been typecast in one place or another. And, for someone whose solo work has never been reviewed consistently by the big music magazines, he is pretty solid on what he’s accomplished, who he’s played with and where he might turn next. Devine’s performed with some of the best acts around, many of whom his career has outlived. That’s a rare thing, as the importance of critical favor and exposure has never been so immense in the psyches of folks just clawing at a chance to make it in the industry.

Listen to Kevin Devine’s Daytrotter session in 2009.

“If you have the combination of stubbornness and good fortune to keep going, you start and you’re younger than everybody. The first five, seven years, I was always younger than everybody on tour. I was the kid,” Devine says. “And then, at some point, you think you’re going to be peers with those bands from certain areas of your career forever. And then a few years pass on and you’re like, ‘What happened to that band? What happened to that person?’”

When you make the executive choice to become a musician who puts out records and goes on tour and does press junkets, you also are, at least in some capacity, acknowledging the very real possibility that fame may never come. The average career length of an MLB player is 2.7 years. Music is even more of a one-in-a-million deal. What percentage of the artists who post their work to Bandcamp or Soundcloud ever get a record deal or even a Wikipedia page? When Devine put out his last album, Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong, it came nearly six years after the one before that. The release cycle felt like a real victory lap, as songs like “Albatross” and “Override” quickly became essential parts of a career bursting with many already. Devine had returned with a brilliant milestone in a catalog that’s nearly as old as I am; he’d stood the test of time, or whatever mythical metric we use to measure success in the 21st century.

But an artist you love putting out a lot of records over a long period of time isn’t necessarily the shining example of stardom it might initially pretend to be. Not everyone can put out 30 records like Bob Dylan or Neil Young and sell out sizable venues in every city in America well into their life. Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong didn’t go Gold, but Devine didn’t expect it to. And the tour done in conjunction with it wasn’t successful from a box-office perspective. There were less people in every place than when Devine last did a headlining tour for a record (a long run of shows for Instigator in 2016-17). Why that happened won’t be known or understood for years. Did Devine’s audience shrink, or was the tour just another victim of COVID, much like most other things?

I think about when I saw Modest Mouse play a show in Columbus in August 2021. They were at KEMBA Live!, a venue that could fit a few thousand people. I reckon maybe 500 showed up. Modest Mouse are one of the most well-known 1990s bands still working right now, and The Lonesome Crowded West is a foundational album in post-hardcore indie rock. So what does that mean for lesser-known artists like Devine and great, monolithic records like Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong? Undersold tours can be debilitating to an artist who depends on ticket and merch sales, especially if you spent a long time away from releasing new material. Modern music is like a shark: If you stop swimming, you die.

Watch Kevin Devine perform for the Paste cameras at Deluna Fest in 2011.

“We live when we live and how we live and, even when you have some support around you, it’s really hard to make a noise. So, is that a success? Or is that a failure? Or is it neither? Or is it both? And what do those words even mean? How do you liberate yourself from these fucking binary metrics? The band was stellar, we played the record almost in full every night and I was floored by it, what we were able to do up there, the range and breadth and width of it,” Devine explains.

So how is Devine still here, putting out new music in the wake of a tour that, to be quite honest, didn’t meet his full expectations? The answer is much simpler than attributing it to luck or magic. The truth is, Devine is one of the most likable musicians we’ve got, and that translates to his live shows. “Going to see him play, you get to watch incredible music and thoughtful songwriting, and you get to watch it from an absolutely hilarious man,” Kayleigh Goldsworthy, a multi-hyphenate who provided keys, strings and vocals in Devine’s band on the Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong tour, says. “He’s a character in and of himself, and I adore that about him. I love how thoughtful he really is. Spending more time with him makes me love his music even more and makes me love him as a person even more. It’s infectious when you find those people that you connect with, musically, and you are lucky enough to be able to make music with. It’s the best thing you could possibly get.”

When I introduced my own partner to Devine’s work, I prefaced it with one truth: Devine has been in company with some of our greatest and most beautiful artists. Some of them have gone from opening for him to adorning the cover of Rolling Stone; others made good records and then faded to merely being just band names on private Spotify playlists. Luckily, the artist who’s always endured within Devine’s orbit is Manchester Orchestra. While on tour with Brand New in 2007, Devine and them were the co-opening acts but had never crossed paths before. After spending that time together, Hull and Devine became best friends and their individual brilliance motivated each other and eventually led to the formation of their band, Bad Books. “We just connected so quickly, because he’s so deeply funny,” Hull tells me. “I remember the first night we were hanging out, in Buffalo, or Rochester, and he just looked me right in the eyes after our show, while we were standing outside and packing up, and he sings Alanis Morisette’s [‘Head Over Feet’] directly into my face. And I just howled laughing.”

Kevin Devine photo by Erik Tanner

This is a recurring theme in the conversations I have with all of Devine’s friends—he is truly, without a doubt, the funniest musician alive who’s not doing comedic bits intentionally onstage. Stevenson tells me a story about him sending her minute-long voice memos of “silly jumbles of words and little songs”; Nandi Rose of Half Waif reminisces about him singing Outkast’s “Hey Ya” at her and Zack Levine’s wedding; Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws talks very adoringly about Devine’s ability to command crowds in-between songs, whether they are familiar with his work or not. Hull delves even further into it:

“The humor side is really, really important in our relationship and our friendship. We can be the most ridiculous people in front of each other. Silly, goofy, as dumb as you can be. And then, we turn a corner and have a conversation about eternity and what happens after we die. I think it’s unique, and it opened my eyes. I met him at a very young age. I was 19 years old, he was 26. When I met him [in 2007], he had lived a lot more life than me, so I’m really grateful to have a guy like that in my life, that, at that time, was like a mentor to me. And, as we’ve both grown, the mentorship has turned more into an equal-quality friendship and love for each other. But those early years, just having somebody that was checking on me and asking how my heart and brain were doing was really crucial, because they weren’t doing great at that time.”

Despite making records with too many musicians to count, though he does attempt to name them all at the show’s end, Devine took the stage at Baby’s All Right alone, opting to wade through his long, 150-plus-song catalog without the Goddamn Band, or Miracle of ’86, or Bad Books. The capacity of the venue is 280 people, though there were at least 400 in attendance. The crowd stretched through the pit, across the bar and out to the tables hugging the darkened front windows. When Devine offered a “hello” amid ovational applause, moments passed before he began playing. To know his work is to understand that he is a talker. I don’t even bring questions to our interviews anymore, as I’ve found it best, and most-rewarding, to let Devine do his thing on the phone. But, after 20 years, his quick-as-wind humor is sharper than ever and pulls in the audience’s trust immediately.

Many of the folks in the audience have been with Devine for the long haul. In the front row, a person came all the way from the UK. Some traveled across states to be there and be present with him in the celebration. Collectively, this microcosm, at least in the sense of the big, scary, still-expanding life of music fandom, has been with Devine through everything, from getting sober at the end of the 2000s to becoming a father in 2016. “There were more than a handful of people at these shows that I’ve watched grow up, and I suppose they’ve watched a version of me grow up, too,” Devine says. “Just, like, grow up from different stations in our relative lives. Someone’s been coming to see me since I was 27 and they were 16. And now, they’re 32 and I’m 43. A lot of ground gets covered in that time. It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of, that there’s a pretty large contingency of our audience that has stayed the whole time and grown with it. And I think that’s, really, the thing you hope for as a career artist.”

The 20th anniversary shows were a full circle moment for Devine, as his career started with him playing acoustic shows locally. The idea for the performances was to surf across the eras, covering everything from Make the Clocks Move to Put Your Ghost to Rest to Instigator. But, before playing through his career in semi-chronological order, Devine elected to open the show with his most recent single, “Let Go, Be Dragged,” a beautiful, harmonious, indie-pop gem that was left off of Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong. He could’ve opened with something familiar and lauded, like “Brother’s Blood” or “Cotton Crush” or “No History,” but he chose to play the one song that very few people in the crowd knew the lyrics to. “The fact that anybody listens to any of [my music] ever, whether they’re listening to ‘Ballgame’ over and over again or they’re listening to the new stuff, your hope is that coming to a show rekindles some impetus to engage the stuff that’s not hardwired to them,” Devine says.

The idea to play a new song first is a trick he picked up from his hero, Elliot Smith. “I remember when I was a college student, on the XO tour, going to Irving Plaza. The band Quasi opened for [Smith] and then they were his band,” Devine adds. “He’d just been nominated for a fucking Academy Award, and he came out and opened with a new song that would end up on Figure 8. And I remember it really set the tone for me. I always liked getting up at a show and immediately throwing a curveball like that. One [song] for me; 20 for you.”

How anyone could be anywhere else in New York City that night, I will never understand. When Devine played “You’ll End Up Joining Them,” a young person near the bar cried into the chest of their date. The crowd harmonized the breakdown of “Carnival” together, perfectly. Everyone made small talk with him in-between songs. Devine stepped away from the microphone during “Brother’s Blood” and sang the last part of the song from the very back of the stage, yelling the chorus with his eyes closed. “All that dialogue doubling back on me / All the tangled talk / All my growing needs / It’s my brother’s back / It’s my father’s arms / It’s every twisted fact in my sorry heart / My sorry heart, my sorry heart,” he screamed.

Who Devine is as a person lingers during his concerts. Not only is he one of the most underrated guitarists of this millennium, he is a goofball and an empathetic accomplice. “He is the most consistent live performer I’ve seen, in my experience of watching someone play many shows over the course of a few years,” Kiley Lotz, the voice behind Petal, says. “I was so transfixed by him and his band and the songwriting. He really is a team captain, class clown, guidance counselor and best friend all in one.” He is open enough to share stories about his daughter and his partner with the strangers in attendance, which translates to his songwriting, too. He’s always written thoughtfully about the people beyond himself.

As he grows older, the songwriting bends to the way the world changes. Devine is malleable, and thank God we’ve got him that way. “He’s wise beyond his years,” Stevenson adds. “He has a beautiful point of view and he’s very open to other people’s points of view. He’s always learning and, musically, the same. You can hear that in the way his records transform themselves. But you can always hear, at the crux of it, his voice, which is very strong.”

For years, Devine has been one of the most thoughtful political songwriters of his generation. During the George W. Bush years, he wrote songs in opposition to the Iraq War, and years later, when Barack Obama was in office, he wrote about military torture and disavowing Chelsea Manning’s criminal conviction. “There’s a spark in the lyrics, a nimble intelligence, a real commitment to make each line as accountable as it can be, even if it’s talking about something abstract,” Caws tells me. “There’s a precision in the language that I really appreciate. A mix of self-examination and sociology. It’s good at examining the big picture and the day-to-day.” Funnily enough, the last time he played at Baby’s All Right before the anniversary show was when he was a part of a Bernie Sanders event.

But, while on tour in 2016 with Petal, Julien Baker and Pinegrove, which, in retrospect, is an all-star lineup of indie acts that, somehow, got together and played a bunch of shows, Donald Trump was elected president and, for many of us, the hope of moving forward felt especially bleak. But the show had to go on, and Devine went from being a headliner to a mentor. It wasn’t just about playing music anymore; it was about making room for people who feared their space in the world would shrink, something he continues to do, as he donates merch proceeds to various organizations and causes and elects to give platforms on his tour to people who are still disenfranchised in the industry.

“To come into the environment of the tour, which is very much a bubble, and have that be a real safe harbor was really crucial,” Rose, who was the keyboardist in Pinegrove in 2016, says. “I’m grateful we had that space to navigate those times and talk about what was going on. Kevin is a real leader, a friend figure, and an older brother figure. I think he has really gone out of his way and really taken it upon himself to be that kind of role model for a lot of younger musicians, which is really admirable and has certainly had a big impact on me. He knew when to goof around. And he knew when to ask us how we were doing and immediately was like, ‘How can we raise money? What organizations do we want to collect for?’ It was instant. We were encouraged by him to take, what really felt like, a hopeless situation and rally together to make it better. The fact that he always went out of his way to constantly touch base with everyone and find ways to make us giggle, it meant so much.”

Though the perfect backdrop of Brooklyn was palpable at the Baby’s All Right show, what lingered throughout the night was the idea of family. Everyone who walked into the venue came with a companion of some kind. A lot of hugs and kisses came and went, as Devine cascaded through love songs and political manifestations. His mother, brother, in-laws, partner and her parents were in attendance. A recurring joke throughout the set came from a story about his mother heckling him for taking more sips of water onstage than Paul McCartney does. His daughter, Edie, was supposed to come, but opted not to because no other children would be in attendance, which ended up being for the best, as Devine proclaimed he would not have made it through a performance of “I Was Alive Back Then” had she been there.

He played “Yr Damned Old Dad” for his father (and drunk Irish storytellers), who passed away in the early 2000s from a stroke but always had Devine’s back. “I have such strange, funny, dissonant memories of my father being at fucking basement, DIY shows on Staten Island, shaking hands with my friend Freedom, a socialist, vegan, Marxist,” he says. “My dad [was] a fucking born-in-1935-in-Park Slope retired cop, is in there shaking hands in the basement while my band’s setting up our amps and shit. After I graduated college, I was like, ‘I think I want to be a musician.’ [My parents] were like, ‘Totally, go for it. You just have to pay your rent and figure out how to support yourself because we’re not going to subsidize your attempted career in music.’ And that was totally the right thing. They weren’t like, ‘Yeah, go for it, and here’s a $50,000 nest egg to do that.’ They were just like, ‘Sounds great. I hope you have a job.’”

And then, Devine played the familial catch-all “I Used to Be Someone.” “Rest assured, I used to be someone / A brother’s brother and a mother’s son,” he sang, while strumming daintily behind the microphone. “I love playing those songs when they’re not around, because it’s a way to invoke them when I am alone or when I’m far away,” he says. “But when [my family is] there, I have to be careful because, if I look at them too long, I can get emotional.” When I ask him what it feels like to play in front of him, Devine’s answer is not so immediate. He pauses and takes a second to think on it. “It feels like an opportunity for me to acknowledge, and celebrate, in public something I acknowledge and ruminate on in private with fair frequency,” he adds. “Hopefully it’s a tribute to them. Hopefully it’s not embarrassing for them, or, hopefully, they don’t feel like I’ve hijacked the narratives. But, you know, they still come [to shows], so I guess that they don’t feel that way.”

So many of Devine’s songs mention his family and the various people who’ve come and gone from his life. But perhaps the biggest figure whose presence could be felt throughout the night was Devine’s eldest brother, who passed away in 1998 at the age of 39 after contracting HIV, which developed into AIDS, from intravenous drug use. He is the subject of “Brother’s Blood,” and imagery from Devine’s 19 years of knowing him, and the daydreams of a future life with him in it, reappears throughout his catalog, most recently in “Let Go, Be Dragged.”

Watch Kevin Devine perform at the Paste Studio in 2017.

“[My brother] is going to pop up forever, so will other family members, so will a lot of people I love, so will other people who love me, so will other people who don’t love me. My dad died, my brother died and a bunch of other people were sick or died in my family by the time I was 23,” Devine says. “There was a pile, and some people get all of that by the time they’re fucking five. It also is no less painful if all those things happen in dribs and drabs over the arc of your life. It’s still hard, you know? So, my experience is not any harder or softer than anybody else’s. It’s just my version of it, and I think the nature of my wrestling match with those things has moved around from Make the Clocks Move to Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong. But, yeah, ‘Brother’s Blood’ became a skeleton key to the whole shebang.”

“Overcome” is a heavy word that is, sometimes, overused. I wouldn’t say Devine has overcome his demons, because, do any of us ever, really? Part of trauma is changing it from a roar to a hum, making it manageable while trudging through the shitstorm of just being a person. More succinctly, Devine has taken his life, one populated with drug addiction and illness and death and rebirth, and, over a long, changing course, made sense of it all. I think it’s easy to look at a musician you adore and expect them to have it all figured out. I’m sure when I spent my college nights listening to “Ballgame” over and over, I believed that the song came from a place of softened perspective.

But Devine is quite candid about how he is still growing, both as a person and as an artist. He couldn’t have made Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong in 2009; he’s in a mutual aid society and practices unlearning self-destructive behavior through spirituality. “[My records] are like a literal journal. Make the Clocks Move was whatever version of me was trying to figure out whatever the fuck I was moving around in as a person at 23, and then 25, 26, 29 and 31,” Devine says. “Put them all together, line them up spine to spine, and what you effectively have is, a hopefully artful and entertaining presentation of one person’s experience of personhood.”

I didn’t attend the second show at Saint Vitus Bar, as I had to catch a flight back to Ohio earlier that afternoon. But, I later learned that he opened with “Protest Singer,” one of the songs off of Circle Gets The Square that has endured in Devine’s setlists for years. “I don’t want to let you down / And I’m convinced it only rains in New York / And I am surrounded by everything that really scares me / A room full of empty people regretting every time that they inhale / And I want to write one perfect song / To make you cry in your sleep,” he sings.

I am always thinking about what it might feel like to be 40 years old, singing the songs you wrote when you were 25. There’s that line in “Cotton Crush,” when Devine proclaims: “Maybe we need to be hollowed to get up and grow.” Of course, I am not the authority on who gets to survive in the music industry, or how much trauma someone must undergo in order for their songs to mean something to anybody. I don’t think there’s a real answer to that, nor should there be. All I know is what a joy that we have Devine still with us. At one point in his life, he asked us to listen to him. Now, he is repaying us all by listening to what we have to say and telling stories of the world through our eyes.

At the end of both nights, Devine closed his set with “Ballgame,” a six-minute track he’s been adding verses to since 2003. It’s his most poignant chronicling of a self-destructive adulthood, in which his behavior pushed away people he loved and shut him away from the world. “I can’t make room in my life for anyone else like me,” Devine sang to the hushed crowd. 20 years ago, when “Ballgame” first came out, perhaps that idea was true. But 20 years later, it’s unequivocally clear that his circle is quite larger than his 23-year-old self ever dreamed it could ever become.

When everyone stepped out of Baby’s All Right, many sparked a cigarette. Someone stole the show poster off the front door. On the street, at the corner of Broadway and Bedford, you can’t see the Manhattan skyline, nor can you see the Williamsburg Bridge you had to cross to get there. Everything is small, especially when a few dozen folks wander aimlessly under stars. If you drove past all of us, you’d never suspect that we all just got done celebrating half of somebody’s life inside. In his work, Devine brings a special language, one that is bursting with homages to his family, his friends and the people he’s found along the way in his career, all of whom he’s loved, and still loves, deeply.

Maybe that’s why a night like that felt so magical and perfect. Maybe that is why I, and so many others, continue to come out and hear Kevin Devine sing. Two decades ago, he dreamt of making the perfect song. When you spend a night with his music and the people it’s touched, no other musician in the world is more famous and more beloved, a statistic that box-office metrics could never measure. And, to be quite honest with you, I think that’s a pretty perfect thing.

Matt Mitchell is Paste’s assistant music editor, and a poet, essayist, and culture critic from Northeast Ohio. Find him on Twitter @matt_mitchell48.

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