Adam Cullum: 1981-2018

September 06, 2018  •  839 Comments


Having worked at New Brookland Tavern for over a decade, Adam Cullum has been a consistent reminder of the amazing cogs in the creative scene in Columbia, SC. On Tuesday, the city lost one of its most beloved musicians and all-around best humans. Like many of Adam's friends, I've spent the past few days reading about others' amazing experiences they've shared with Adam. Below you'll find some photos I've made of him over the years along with many of those memories and tributes to Adam and links to his music. I'm sure I've missed many links, so if you desire to add them in the comment section, I'll update the page.

Funeral services for Adam will be held at 4:00 PM Thursday, September 6, 2018 at Suber-Marshall Memorial United Methodist Church, 3900 Live Oak Street, Columbia, SC.

cant-kids-columbia-sc-2013-203cant-kids-columbia-sc-2013-203Toro y Moi at the Columbia Museum of Art - Columbia SC - October 2013 - by South Carolina photographer Sean Rayford

"Once we were rehearsing just he and I at his house on Oliver St., about a year and a half ago, and when I got there I walked into the kitchen and noticed he had made a lot of pumpkin bread. We played and hung out for hours working on melodies for numbtongue that needed special attention, and it was the first time we’d really hung out just the two of us before. It’s the night I think we became friends. As it got dark I wanted to get home to see my kids before the went to sleep. We had already said goodbye, and it was starting rain, I had already gotten in my car at started it when I see this silhouette running up behind on the rear view. Once I realized it was him I thought I had forgotten something. He ran up right as I rolled down the window and he said, or really rather exclaimed “here! Take some pumpkin bread home to your family!” With this grin as sweet as the gift on his face. I’ll never forget that. That was the first time I took a moment as I drove away and said to myself “wow this guy really is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.”

-Bobby Hatfield

Cant Kids music video - Columbia SC 08213-2Cant Kids music video - Columbia SC 08213-2Can't Kids music video shoot: "Walmart Parking Lot" - Columbia, SC. 8/17/14

Photos by South Carolina photographer Sean Rayford

"[Adam] was the most creative player and songwriter in Columbia and I defy anyone to name a sweeter man. It was as if he operated on a different plane than the rest of us. I remember the first time I met Adam. I was with my friend Ashley and we had taken a rather potent hit of LSD and we walked down to the Five Points Fountain to look at the water. And there we found this strange but sweet man playing an accordion. And we weren't sure if he was real or not -- how could he be? After meeting him again, in a more level-headed frame of mind, I still wasn't sure if he was real or not. The mind reels when you think of how many people he must have influenced over the years in this town. I'm not sure if he realized how truly loved he was by so fucking many people. Damn. Tell your people you love them."

-Chris Bickel


"I don’t know why, but when I heard the news, the first thing that came to mind was that ridiculous tie you wore to our wedding. Then I started thinking about the effect your playing had on me during our wedding ceremony. I was so scared and stressed and confused and excited and happy and nervous. I remember you sneaking one of my melodies into one of the songs we asked you to play. And then you snuck in one of Erich’s melodies, and then one of David’s. Before I knew it I wasn't thinking about anything but the music you were playing. Maybe I should have been more aware of my emotions in light of the way I reacted when the music stopped and Jeanette walked in.
I don't think you ever wrote your music to get a response. It was just in you. And it just came out. And responses were inevitable because you were so so so very talented and earnest and alive. You taught me a lot.
I complained to one of our friends last night. I was mad that everyone was sharing their favorite Adam pictures and stories. Then I realized that I wasn't mad at them. I was mad at you! And then I laughed because I was always mad at you, but could never stay mad at you because you smiled even when I was angry. I love you and I'm sorry."

-Ben Walker

crawfish 2011 0011crawfish 2011 0011(C) SEAN RAYFORD

"We lost a friend and a bandmate and the sweetest most gentle man I have ever had the privilege to be around. I hope all the people he touched in our town can draw peace and strength from his music that abounds and how he led his life ,always patiently giving and always listening intently, to every word you said or every note you played, smiling all the way. Innocent- pure-childlike- sad- beautiful, he was the best of all of us."

-Tom Hall

Columbia-sc-photojournalist-photographer-cant-kids-0761Columbia-sc-photojournalist-photographer-cant-kids-0761Fork and Spoon's Can't Kids perform at the New Brookland Tavern on Friday July, 6 2012. Photography by Columbia, SC photojournalist and concert photographer Sean Rayford

"I can distinctively remember the first time we met, Sarah and I had just moved to Columbia and we were exploring our new church. You walked right up with that infectious goofy grin and introduced yourself. Then you asked me if I preferred to be called Jessica or Jessie. I was a shy 10 year old who couldn’t believe an older boy was talking to me , so I panicked and stuttered “um, I don’t know, both”.
You didn’t skip a beat, “ok, Both it is then!”
From that moment on I answered to the name “Both”, I honestly don’t think you ever called me by my real name after that day.
Thank you for being the closest thing to the big brother I never had growing up! You will be missed, but I know you are somewhere sitting at a piano, playing “Brick” and sounding exactly like Ben Folds."

-Jessie Rosebrock


Shredquaters May 2016 13772Shredquaters May 2016 13772Shredquaters May 2016 - Photos by Columbia SC photographer Sean Rayford

"I’m not really sure what to say to those who knew Adam that you wouldn’t already know about Adam. We all experienced him the same. The unforgettable creative little light was within him- we all saw it and tried so hard to illuminate it brighter. The same big hugs, the same Counting Crows on CD listing party/craft time on the back porch at Shredquarters. It Was my home away from home where I could be me. So many times I’ll never forget. Thankful that he will live on through his incredible music but so, so very sad. I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to make music with him. I will miss him very much."

-Rachel Kate

indie-grits-photos-2014-0992indie-grits-photos-2014-0992Let Me Take You There - Columbia, SC - April 2014 Photo by South Carolina photographer Sean Rayford

"Hi Adam, when I got to the internet today, I expected it to be a little darker because of your passing. Instead, I found the bright light of friendship burning very hot with the love you gave to each person.

I remember one morning after I'd forgotten to go to sleep, you invited me in for a coffee and an egg. From the back porch, you showed me which plants were winning in the battle for your back yard. You told me you've been working on an egg experiment, and invited me to stay for a second, wilder egg.

It was a good egg. You're a good egg.

Thanks for doing the things you didn't have to do. It means more than you know."

-Shigerahu Kobayashi

Cant Kids music video - Columbia SC 08256-2Cant Kids music video - Columbia SC 08256-2Can't Kids music video shoot: "Walmart Parking Lot" - Columbia, SC. 8/17/14

Photos by South Carolina photographer Sean Rayford

"Not quite sure what to say Adam Cullum. It has been at least 15 years since we spent several nights a week playing open mic nights across Columbia. So many great memories and songs which led to the last time I remember seeing you before I moved to Charleston. It was a songwriter’s night at Delany’s that we were both playing and we chatted about a song lyric that you had written at least a decade before but you never finished the song. I asked you why you never finished it to which you remarked “you seemed to like it so much back then that I figured you would finish it. So how is it coming?” You were so talented, so selfless and so kind. Truly one of a kind.
This world was a better place for having you in it and is a little darker now that you are gone."

-Justin Register


"Many years ago, as a impressionable (very) young musician in Columbia, Adam had a huge impact on me. His love of music, songwriting, and collaborating with friends changed the way I thought about local musicians. He inspired me to create in a way few others have done. I’ve watched for years as he did this very same thing for many many others. I’ve listened to his songs, watched his bands, seen him care for others and observed him make Columbia’s music scene a better place.

I could go on... but for now, Goodbye Adam. Thank you for caring about a young, naive musician. There is a hole that wasn’t there a coupe days ago. Much love old friend. I’m so sorry."

-Kenny McWilliams

mardi-gras-columbia-sc-photos-219mardi-gras-columbia-sc-photos-219Columbia, SC by South Carolina photographer Sean Rayford
March 2014

"I met Adam freshman year at Carolina in the Maxcy Residence Hall, now 18 years ago. We became quick compatriots through our musicianship and our love of Radiohead.
I was immediately struck by Adam’s quiet intensity. As others have mentioned, when he looked at you, he LOOKED at you. Working with him through Radiohead covers in the stairwell, I was immediately impressed by his command of not just the songs but how in touch he was with the musicality of them. This guy was on another level. I was just a crackerjack guitarist; this guy had music coming out of every pore. Frankly, his musical wizardry, easy confidence, and exceedingly calm demeanor made him a bit intimidating at the time. He listed off bands that I’d never heard of and I looked them all up eagerly.
When I played with Adam, I wanted to be a better musician than I was. I wanted to try to be on his level. That was his impact. I specifically recall singing harmonies with Adam on ‘Black Star’ in the stairwell and how easily he put his voice where it needed to be. I can't not think of that when I hear the third verse of that song.
I had the pleasure of playing some Radiohead covers with Adam for a talent show at Russell House that same year. I kind of just showed up and plugged in whereas Adam had a band, was switching between piano and guitar, and even knew a guy that played theremin. Of course he did. The guy was friggin’ magnetic.
In the coming years Adam continued to flourish as a songwriter. He became a Columbia Standard. I don’t know anyone in that beautiful town's magical tight-knit community of musicians and fans that doesn’t have something good to say about Adam and his music. May he rest in Peace."

-Jeff Crews


happiness_bomb-1happiness_bomb-1Falling Off a Building, General Olglethorpe and the Panhandlers and Happiness Bomb at New Brookland Tavern on April 4, 2012. Photography by Sean Rayford

"One time me and Adam Cullum were at some show party and all night we kept saying weird shit to each other like ‘but the script was written before the script began’ and when someone spoke we’d look at each other ‘that was part of the script.’ And we’d giggle and it was like we were in our own world.
I didn’t hang out with Adam much but every time I did, it was like I was outside of time. He was such a unique, beautiful, thoughtful individual, so much himself which is such a complement, such a strength in a world that tries to make everyone the same. I really really really really loved his singing voice, you could hear all that uniqueness, beauty, thoughtfulness when he sang.

I love you Adam, whereever you are, I know it is your world."

-Justin Blackburn

Make Music Day Columbia SC 54879Make Music Day Columbia SC 54879Make Music Day - Photo by Columbia SC photographer Sean Rayford

"Adam Cullum: such a kind, gentle and loving soul, the very embodiment of compassion, intelligence, and wit.
And talent, of course.
Adam could effortlessly entertain a room, equally and intimidatingly adroit as he was on guitar, bass, keyboard — or in the absence of those on one beautiful and unforgettable occasion — a steering wheel, the dashboard, and his voice were the only tools he needed for a chill-inducing performance from the driver’s seat of his car.
Rest easy, buddy. You earned it. Our love goes with you forever."

-Michael Jones

Make Music Day Columbia SC 54855Make Music Day Columbia SC 54855Make Music Day - Photo by Columbia SC photographer Sean Rayford

"I wish everyone in the world could’ve spent an hour with Adam Cullum. That they could’ve known the joy of receiving a big, from-the-elbow wave or one of his back-breaking hugs. In a conversation, years ago, he told me he thought of his friends as arrows he kept in his quiver. He’s an arrow I’ll always keep in mine."

-Marti Hause Tordjman


"I just ran into you Friday at a dumb restaurant and we stood beside a gum ball machine and made small talk. As I was leaving you said, 'you taught me how to write songs, Erich and I thank you for that," but YOU TAUGHT ME how to write songs. You taught me how to love music. I don't know how he got it mixed up, but he always had a way to brighten up your day by saying something nice as you walked away with this big smile on his face. He was quirky and we didn't keep in touch enough. We were roommates when we were 20 and then again at 23 and fought about stupid stuff. I didn't know you were in pain and I'm sorry for that. I hope they have a nice piano wherever you are tonight, Adam Cullum @ Columbia, South Carolina

-Erich Skelton

Make Music Day Columbia SC 54805(1)Make Music Day Columbia SC 54805(1)Make Music Day - Photo by Columbia SC photographer Sean Rayford

"It was about this time yesterday when the crying finally slowed down. Up with my daughter, just she and I like always right now. Every time I stand at the coffee maker on the kitchen counter, with her voice behind me in her high chair eating Cheerios, the way the sun’s light is coming through the window as a white haze ... it will all just be that yesterday that won’t stop happening now. Every bit of the mundane window sill where the succulents you loved so much, some I bought my wife for her birthday, the stare of the groggy morning just warming up ... it will all keep happening to remind me of the moment I heard you’re gone. How it drowned my heart and overtook my whole self; that raw arresting sorrow whose maw wants to swallow me up. Crying so long until my eyes hurt all day. And still today. I shouted the oh Adam, the no we all did when I read the words ... I wanted reach and tell you I’m so sorry.
I wanted to be there and tell you that, as if somehow I could make it untrue and stop it.
I wish I’d been able to give that time I had before having family. The aimless endless hours of younger days. The way you still could and did give, for so many people always. Because I would have given it. I have heard and seen story upon story of those moments made infinite with you, from literally every single person I know. Stretching back what feels like centuries. How did you find all that time for so many?
I was late to the party of you. I just couldn’t bring myself to go last night. We toasted your name at the Whig last night, those who found our way there. It was a good clink.
I want you back in the band again. I want you to walk into practice Thursday and say “sup dorks” and give me one of those back straightening hugs. The kind that helped us stand a little taller in ourselves after. I want to go back and find a way to get you back in the music again, make the time that we couldn’t for all the reasons both in and and out of our control. You were a crucial part of helping me find my musical footing again. You encouraged me that I wasn’t crazy and made me feel like what I was doing meant something. I hate that I cropped you out of a picture for a show announcement the other day just because you weren’t playing with us regular these days and I didn’t want to confuse anyone. Those who wanted to see you playing always. I was so grateful and humbled that you wanted to participate so ardently in my foolish and overwrought endeavor of self expression. I asked you to play trombone, guitar, piano, tambourine, high hats, the drums ... anything to have you be there.
And I wish it didn’t have to fade to black like this.
I want to hear your voice sing harmony again with me, in that one precious moment in the set. I want to tell all the stories of you that I’ve got.
My heart is sore, my soul has a hangover, my whole body feels like whiplash.
I feel like I’m betraying his better longer friendships among so many of you to feel like I did and now still do. I didn’t expect to know him. And then I did. And it was good and warm and kind and loving and hopeful in others and mindful of hurt and yearning and inviting and whimsy and joy and reckless and brave ...
I’m stricken with the deep ache of this..
If all I had was me, what would I be? If all I had was me, could I believe anything? All our plans they fall in love. And I’m thinking if you Even when you’re gone.
If your love is all about you I’m ever gonna know I only feel it in the afterglow...
Your heart is living in my head.
I loved you Adam."

-Bobby Hatfield


"I first met Adam Cullum when, I guess, I was 20 and he was 19. I couldn’t mash down more than four chords on a guitar, but he played along through my screw ups and we yelled Counting Crows songs through the windows of DeSassure 301. We woke up the ghosts of that building that Sherman didn’t burn because it was a hospital during the Civil War.
Adam taught me Nashville Numbers and talked to me about music and writing like I was his equal. Truth was, Adam was always a few planes above me. That’s how I always felt, anyway.
When I was in law school and hated myself, hated where I was, and hated where I was going, I’d see Adam in the bagel shop at Cornell Arms, usually doing prep work at the far end of the counter. He’d often show one of those wild-man grins of his and invariably do or say something to make me feel better. That’s what he did for a lot of people. Adam picked people up.
All through my 20s, my circle of friends and I drove around a lot. I think that’s how we dealt with anxiety. I think that’s how we dealt with being overcome by dreams. We’d burn off to Charleston in the middle of the night just to listen to the ocean. We’d roll out to Dixiana or St. Matthews or someplace, looking for a all-night Gas Station that sold Blenheim. We’d maze around the University, through Shandon and Rosewood, way out to the Lake Murray Dam and back, looking for something we were never going to find.
I remember one of those drives with Adam, up to Johnson City to see a band he’d wanted to see. We set out after we got out of work for the night and got back just in time to go back to work in the morning. It snowed dishrags on the way home.
On the way back to Columbia, we sang Garth Brooks songs like “Cold Shoulder” and “Wolves” because they were songs about snow. We both loved the lyrics and the stories. Whoever wasn’t driving was playing the chords on a guitar, with the seat reclined and the neck turned weird so the driver wouldn’t get poked in the head. We recited our common liturgy about being in Tony Arata’s shoes at a place like the Bluebird, singing a song we’d written like “The Dance,” and having someone like Garth Brooks sitting back at the bar with an ear on it. Adam was a lot closer to those kind of dreams than I was, but he hashed them out with me like we were equals.
I remember seeing him play the Art Bar, sitting behind the kit, singing a song that he’d played for me in Joey Opermann’s apartment sometime before, while he was still writing it.
Funny that Adam’s not really known as a drummer, but my favorite memory of him, he’s on the throne, throwing the sticks around wild, as if he were up on some sacred mount, rolling rocks down, throwing down words, and shooting down fire in a manner so Sagittariesque. I wish I had a copy of that song, because I only remember the hook:
“You’ve got a lot to answer for. You’ve got a lot to answer for.”
I never did ask him who he was examining in that song. I didn’t know what to do, other than drive him around our familiar side of Columbia, on one night he had something really heavy on his heart and a country radio bleeder from our high school years—a goodbye song—stuck in his head. He sang that song word for word, with the car radio off and the whirring of the car engine muted, three or four times over. Slow and painful in a way that made me mad I couldn’t help him with whatever he was carrying.
I didn’t know how to respond on that drive to Johnson City when he talked about a moment in a song I didn’t know (Adam knew so many damn songs) and said “God. That part right there. I could just kill myself.” He repeated what he said two or three times.
It wasn’t cavalier. There was gravity in his voice. I never forgot that. Now, in a very selfish manner, I’m trying to figure out how I could have better responded. As if it was connected across all those years. As if I could have done anything at all, distance of time and space notwithstanding.
Adam and I were not the closest of friends. But he wove through certain stitches of my life in a way that made him a very significant presence across a significant part of the life I’ve lived so far.
The last time I saw him and spoke to him was at my wedding. But when I found out he died, he was sitting right next to me in that candlebox car cabin again, singing songs we loved and talking about people we loved.
Adam Cullum was a wild, wild wind of a man. He was a beautiful human being, and he was my dear friend.
There are people-for the most part in Columbia but thrown out across a whole continent- today who are crying because he’s gone. We are searching through picture piles and looking down fretboards; trying to write bridges to unfinished songs and looking for people to bear hug. Anything to try and break the impenetrable plane, to let Adam know that we loved him. We all lost big when he left.
Rest easy, bud."

-Travis Nagy



"Friends of Adam Cullum, in our grief and emotion following his tragic passing many tributes have been posted and recordings come from out of the blue. Our old bandmate, John Bolten recorded adam when he showed up needing a place to crash - please Listen to this unscripted version of Townes van Zandt "Pancho and Lefty-" straight off the cuff, one of the most copied songs but I never ever heard it this original and this heartfelt/- his music will always be with us -- its the only cover i can remember him recording and it captures everything about him.. All this music has to be preserved-
from John-
In 2007 I told Adam that if he wanted to crash at my place again, he needed to learn a Townes song... He showed up and pulled out this breathtaking version of Pancho and Lefty. No lyric sheet. nothing... what a loss. I loved that guy.

-Tom Hall




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