After facing death by near carbon-monoxide poisoning in 2013, indie artist Ben Kweller retreated from live performances for years. When his son Dorian was killed in a car accident this past February, Kweller leaned into the summer tour he and Dorian were supposed to do together, all because of a promise he’d made to his son.
In 2013, when Dorian was seven and Judah was a toddler, the Kwellers vacationed at a tiny cabin in the snowy mountains of New Mexico. One night, Liz woke up feeling sick, and as soon as Ben stood up out of bed, he fell over. They grabbed the kids and rushed outside to call 911. They were told they’d suffered acute carbon monoxide poisoning, likely due to a leaky wall furnace, and had been minutes away from death. The experience rocked Ben and sent him into a depression that caused him to cancel all his upcoming shows and retreat from playing live. He didn’t step onstage for several years. When Dorian died, Ben knew that unlike in the past, he had to keep playing. “I saw how trauma just kind of took a chunk out of my life and I can’t let that happen again,” he says.
Five months ago, just a few weeks before his planned SXSW debut, Dorian was killed in a car crash near the family’s home in Dripping Springs.
On stage, he acknowledges that some might wonder how he could continue with this tour after such a tragedy. How he could ride on the bus and plan the merch and do the sound check for a tour that started as a collaboration and is now a tribute. How he could find the motivation to give so much of himself to an audience when he’s still learning to navigate this new existence, one transformed by a kind of grief that musician Nick Cave, who has lost two sons, believes can “alter us on an almost atomic level.”
“I promised him,” Ben tells the crowd.