Friends, family, fans remember Atlanta drummer Lance Tilton

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Music fans always knew they were at the happening show if Atlanta
drummer Lance Tilton was on stage, grinning and gigging.

Or in the crowd, quaffing and clapping.

Local music fans will now require a new Geiger counter for cool.

Atlanta musicians, fans and friends are mourning the sudden loss of
Tilton, who died in a car crash early Thursday morning returning from a
Cinco de mayo gig at Fox and Hound in Chattanooga.

He was 29.

Throughout his all too brief music career, Tilton blissfully bashed the
Cardinal Rule for drummers: Never upstage the boss.

Your eyes couldn’t resist wandering past the frontman and toward Tilton
when he played live.

The grin was too wide.

The hypnotic funk being beaten into submission on the skins was too
addictive.

The joy and the sweat pouring from the kid was too intense.

Tilton, a 1999 graduate of Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, first
got noticed on local stages a decade ago as a founding member of the
popular Dave Matthews Cover Band. The musical homage to all
things Dave toured the country constantly, nightly banging through the
DMB hit “Two Step.”

Recalled Tilton on his MySpace page: “I play the drums. They consume me.
More often than not, it’s all I can think about. When I was 19, I
stumbled into a band that toured the country for four years straight. It
was exciting, challenging, surreal. I played places I dreamed of and
met good people from all over. It gave me the confidence and belief that
making drumming my life was actually attainable.”

While the seemingly omnipresent Tilton routinely sat in with countless
musical friends in the city, his musical soul mate became Atlanta
singer-songwriter Ben Deignan.

The two young men bonded instantly over a mutual love of soul music and
the artistry of Prince, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Arrested
Development, Chaka Khan
and Miles Davis.

From Philadelphia where she’s working with singers Justin Bieber and
Jill Scott, Atlanta vocal coach and Deignan mentor Jan Smith
told Intel: “That groove of Lance’s, that funk, that became the
sound for Ben. He was the absolute perfect drummer for what Ben was
doing. Lance was the young drummer Ben had his eye on when we were
putting the band together. Ben even stepped up his game to get
Lance in the band.”

But it was Tilton’s kindness off stage that resulted in his
ever-expanding flock of friends.

Remembering his pal and former bandmate, Atlanta singer-songwriter
Sam Thacker told us: “Lance was a fan of everybody’s. He always
came out
to support you. And it wasn’t bullshit. He was completely sincere.”

Tilton was the type of guy who would email a thank you note after you
cropped his sweat-soaked T-shirt out of a newspaper photograph snapped
backstage at Smith’s Olde Bar with fans actress Katherine Heigl and
her husband, singer Josh Kelley.

As news spread of Tilton’s death Thursday, his Facebook wall filled
with tributes.

Posted Zac Brown Band guitarist and pal Coy Bowles: “Man,
the looks on the faces of ZBB when the news hit was something I’ll never
forget. You had a room full of guys that loved you swearing in
disbelief. You’re a bad ass and a sweetheart.”

A distraught Deignan, who was in London at the time of the accident, 
told us he’s cutting the trip short to head back to Atlanta. The singer
paid tribute to Tilton, saying: “You were a mentor, my brother and my
best friend. There is a giant void in my life right now.”

Tilton’s mother Sandra Lane Tilton Barnett wrote to her son’s
friends and fans: “My youngest heart piece was taken away this morning.
Thank you all for being a part of his life. Two Step on, I love you.”

Reflecting on Tilton’s musicality, Sam Thacker told us: “At gigs, Lance
was an in-the-moment player. He let things come to him. At rehearsal, we
would play things a certain way. I would always want to get it locked
in. Lance didn’t. There were times when it would make me crazy. But
Lance taught me that live music is best when it’s not planned out all
the way. That’s what will stick with me about Lance.”

Just last week, Tilton, Deignan and bassist Chris Price beat out
five other acts to win the Atlanta Ambassadors of Rock Hard Rock Cafe
Battle of the Bands at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown. They were scheduled
to go onto the national competition later this month.

That night, as Wednesday became Thursday morning, Tilton stayed behind
with Deignan to celebrate with friends and fans.

We had closed up our notebook for the night and were quietly making for
the exit when Tilton spotted us and made a beeline for the door.

Enveloping us in his trademark bear hug, Tilton said: “Thanks for coming
out, man.”

Recalling Tilton’s warmth, Jan Smith added: “He had such a sweet heart.
As heartsick as I am, I’m glad that Lance was doing what he loved most
in life when he was taken from us. God bless him, he’s home.”

On the drummer’s Facebook page, Deignan wrote two sentences that reduced
many to tears Thursday: “I love you Lance. I’m sorry I never said
it…”

Funeral arrangements are pending. Friends will gather to celebrate
Tilton’s life Monday night at 7 at Tin Roof Cantina at 2591 Briarcliff
Road. For details, go to the event’s
Facebook page.

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