Death is a certainty for all of us, but this one came as a cruel surprise.
Sara Romweber, who died on Monday at the age of 55 reportedly of a brain tumor, is indelibly woven into the DNA of North Carolina music, as a fabulous drummer and a wonderful human being.
My sadness is leavened somewhat by the joy of recalling a couple brief encounters with her; I suspect that’s true for many of us.
I first met Sara at the Garage, Winston-Salem’s late and beloved listening room, in 2009. She had recently joined her younger, more famous brother in the Dex Romweber duo, helping to bring him back to form. We sat in the venue’s only booth after soundcheck during a quiet interlude before the fans streamed in. Dex displayed his customary reticence. Sara, on the other hand, was warm, engaging and enthusiastic. She shared impressions and reminiscences like an old friend.
Next to Dex’s inscrutable brilliance — he’s a crooner and guitar player par excellence whose raw rockabilly sound provided a framework for no less an eminence than Jack White — Sara could be mistaken for the cheerful helper, her drumming assisting her brother to reach his full potential. That would be a misapprehension.
Physically slight, she was musically bodacious with a big, rumbling sound and impeccable timing. She played an integral role at several inflection points of the North Carolina music story. Her wild yet unfussy drumming helped define Let’s Active, the Winston-Salem power-pop group that set a template in the early 1980s for indie rock. By the middle of the decade, she had moved on to Snatches of Pink, a Chapel Hill band that injected Stones-inspired chaos into the burgeoning American underground.
During that 2009 interview, Sara mentioned that she remembered driving from Carrboro to Winston-Salem as a teenager and taking the Peters Creek Parkway exit to get to Mitch Easter’s house to rehearse. That was her reference point to one of the three hugely influential bands she played in — just a casual reminiscence that related a particular place to a different time.
Five years later, again at the Garage, I remember Sara expressing her enthusiasm that I was writing a concert review, while lamenting that many music writers only reviewed records for their blogs but weren’t interested in hearing live music.
A music writer is supposed to maintain a professional distance from the subject. But Sara Romweber made me feel like a part of it all. Isn’t that what rock and roll is all about?