Tragedy struck Austin-based band Porter & The Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes this week. An interstate accident in North Carolina claimed the lives of lead singer Chris Porter and bassist Mitchell Vandenburg on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Drummer Adam Nurre also suffered injuries but survived.
Porter and his band were traveling through North Carolina on the way to a show in Baltimore. They played in South Carolina the day before. But on the trip up, a tractor trailer struck the back of their touring vehicle and pushed it up underneath a truck in front of them.
According to reports, at least three other wrecks on that stretch of Interstate 95 slowed traffic throughout the day. The band’s vehicle was completely stopped in traffic when the 18-wheeler struck them. That driver, a Florida man, now faces charges in their deaths.
The 36-year-old Porter moved to Austin from Alabama in 2012. He got his musical start fronting Alabama bands Back Row Baptists and Some Dark Holler. But his potential really blossomed when he transitioned to his solo act after moving to Austin.
Porter recorded his debut album at Austin’s Ramble Creek Studios. That 2015 LP This Red Mountain (released under the name Porter) showcased a promising Americana artist with a deeply poetic pen. Prolific producer and Americana heavyweight Will Johnson took the reins on Porter’s debut record.
The album loosely focused on his move from Alabama to Texas. Though it’s more conceptual, Porter admitted the main character in the album “is a lot like me.” He told the Austin Chronicle his biggest influence was “humans… humanity gets my motor running.”
He credits Austin for helping him reach a higher potential musically.
But love motivated Porter’s original move to Austin as much as music. His former flame, bassist/songwriter Bonnie Whitmore remembered him fondly. The pair met at South by Southwest in Austin. “He was a very funny guy, and he was genuinely kind,” Whitmore told Austin 360. “He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Though their romance didn’t work out, Porter found a musical community that responded to his rough-n-tumble Alabama squeak and outlaw sound. Since his move, it didn’t take Porter long to find a musical family.
Porter’s bandmates Vandenburg and Nurre also carried weight in the Austin community as reliably musical musicians with a knack for songwriting too. The three all lived together in addition to touring together.