The New York rock band Oakley Hall was nearing the end of another long-ass tour. They had reached the left coast and returned, via some stops in Canada, and were playing to a smallish crowd at Local 506, rousing those in attendance with swooning harmonies, a throttling guitar sound and a fiddle. But their eyes said that they were tired.
Still, Merge Records staffers made up nearly half the crowd that night, having already become friendly with the Oakleys when they toured with Merge artist M. Ward. Merge owners Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance both come out on a Wednesday, not a light gesture. When I invited the band to have supper at Mama Dip's, they politely declined, saying, "Believe it or not, we have dinner plans." I told them to have fun with the Merge folks, only half joking.
Post-show, things got serious: talk between the band and Mergees of radio promotion, looks of deep concentration furrowing the brow of long-locked Pat Sullivan as he listened (when he and I weren't discussing Gulf Coast oysters). Another inkling: CMJ was days away, so maybe Merge was buttonholing them before the label rush at the music conference.... The rest is elementary, really, as Merge officially announced its new love the first week of November.