A highway crash in North Carolina took the lives of Austin musicians Chris Porter and Mitchell Vandenburg on Wednesday afternoon, the state’s highway patrol office confirmed Thursday.
A third musician, drummer Adam Nurre, was injured but survived. The crash happened around 2 p.m. Wednesday on Interstate 95 near Smithfield, N.C., just southeast of Raleigh. Trooper Vincent Rivera said that the band’s traveling vehicle was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer and pushed underneath another truck in front of them.
The trio, touring under the name Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, had played on Tuesday night in Charleston, S.C., and was heading for a Thursday show in Baltimore.
Porter, 34, moved to Austin from his home state of Alabama in 2012 after playing in the Birmingham bands Some Dark Holler and Back Row Baptists. Since relocating, he’d released two albums recorded at Ramble Creek Studios in southwest Austin, working with noted musicians including Centro-Matic leader Will Johnson, former Drive-By Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker and Americana duo the Mastersons.
Austin rocker Jon Dee Graham, who played guitar and did the cover art for one of Porter’s albums, was planning to tour with him in December. “I called him Youngblood,” he said Thursday. “I’m heartbroken.”
Porter moved to Austin for a relationship with bassist/singer-songwriter Bonnie Whitmore, who he’d met at South by Southwest. Though they split up a year and a half ago, Whitmore remembered Porter fondly on Thursday.
“He was a very funny guy, and he was genuinely kind,” she said. “He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Vandenburg, who played bass and also wrote songs, had been a mainstay recently in singer-songwriter Carson McHone’s band, along with Nurre. He’d also played with Starlings TN, a long-running indie-Americana group that had started in Tennessee before relocating to Austin. The group split up last year, but on Thursday, they paid tribute to him on their Facebook page.
“He was one of the most musical cats we’ve ever known and one of the most amazing people to be around, period. As a band, we grew and expanded our horizons exponentially because of Mitch. He made us all better. I expect that is the case with every one he came in contact with.”