By Matt Williams
Asheville has one of the most intimately connected artistic communities in the world. These close bonds form tightly woven stories with common characters, and so many of our stories — especially in the music community — begin with Sean Mason.
Arriving as a new musician in town, you hear about a jam, so you head out, walk in and sense the most welcoming vibe. While looking at the stage full of instruments, you feel a hand on your shoulder. As you turn around, you’re greeted by a happy, spirited gentleman, clothed in earth tones from head to toe, who invites you to join him on stage to make music. Through his warm, playful smile he says, “C’mon, we’re about to hit!” At that moment, your story begins like so many others here, privileged to have just made an instant lifelong friend named Sean.
It’s difficult to know why we must say “goodbye” to our beloved friend this soon, but it’s so very easy to know why we loved him from his first “hello.” As we learned of his passing, this community felt a sudden shift and lost the strong beats of our groove. We’ve counted on his steady pulse for so long that it seemed as though we’d never have to keep time without it. His truly genuine friendship reached “deep in the pocket” of so many lives.
Sean Mason was a connector-of-people, a seemingly endless source of energy, a passionate performer and an inspirational human. With unwavering persistence, he pushed everyone around him to take it to the next level, and when you thought you were there, he’d show you that there was always another place to go.
On stage, Sean put his whole heart into every beat he played, and his entire soul into every song. Off stage, he taught us to dig deep and give everything we have to everything we do. His love and respect for the power of music has overflowed into every corner of every musical space we’ve made. Years of Sean’s vibrant vibrations have soaked into our stages, flooded our festivals and painted positivity across the walls of our halls. He is everywhere — and that’s nothing new.
You could hear that uncanny strike of his snare from a mile away and know it was Sean. It resonated relentlessly — a mighty crack with an equal balance of snap and thump. You could find him wherever fresh funk was formulated. You could listen for his laugh, joyfully joking around everywhere jazz was jamming. You could meet him anywhere music was made, and you would see him selflessly shooting for the moon and illuminating stars.
Sean lived and breathed the working musician lifestyle, and he was always grateful for each experience. There was no genre of music he wouldn’t play with an unbridled enthusiasm and a true appreciation for the elements that made it sound authentic. His versatility shines on dozens of recordings that span decades of focused productivity.
Sean lived in a state of continuous collaboration. As hilarious as he was to be around, he would readily put all jokes aside to listen intently to others’ ideas. He enjoyed the challenge of combining opposing perspectives into a unified approach. He walked the walk of a true artist and spoke deeply from his heart, where sincerity and strength resided in harmony with his altruistic nature. The generosity Sean illustrated by always doing the right thing to help people was matched only by his efforts to play the right part to best serve every song.
Remembering Sean is as easy as remembering your favorite story. His character was that of the dependable best friend, the encouraging brother, the much-needed comic relief, the willful student, the wise teacher, and the humble hero. Sean Mason is legendary.
There are infinite memories of Sean that will undoubtedly echo forever across our world, just as loud as his drum set. We will carry his spirit with us, on and off stage, on the road and in our homes. As musicians, we will play on, and when we get to the end of our set, we’ll play one more song for Sean — and make sure to go big at the end. As people, we will love one another and help each other accomplish not only the dreams at arm’s length, but also those shining brightly in the distance. We can do these things because Sean gave us all the energy we will ever need, and he gave it “str8 4rm da ❤️.” He will be with us always.
Sean Mason unexpectedly passed away on Aug. 30. He was 38 years old.