Saturday was a pretty lousy day here all around. I came home late that afternoon after a situation involving a family member who’d been injured in a traumatic accident. I sat down to collect myself and look at my messages. I saw a text that said, “Damn. Mike passed away.”
I know several people by that name, so I asked Mike who?
And the answer came—Mike Hamilton. My tears were immediate.
How could this be? I often told Mike I couldn’t keep up with his schedule. No one was more dedicated to the music community here. Mike was all about photography. And music. Those were his passions. He lived them every day.
I can’t count the days and nights he’d come out to Rebecca and Jennifer’s shows. He’d snark at me playfully when I came a little late and then I’d go into my “I’m a free roadie, so I get to set my own hours” routine. At these shows, Mike and I would talk in between sets, and we talked about everything. He was a walking encyclopedia on the North Florida music community, and I never heard him say a bad word about a single person.
I met Mike the same way so many who knew him did—through music. He was at a show of Rebecca and Jenn’s one evening. That began a relationship that deepened with time.
Most of the bar and resort owners knew Mike through music too. At several venues where Rebecca and Jenn performed, as soon as he walked up to the bar, Mike’s signature drink, a coca cola, would be served.
Like others who’ve been involved in my daughters’ music, Mike became part of our family. We hired him—insisting on him taking payment he didn’t want to take—to shoot beautiful photographs of Rebecca’s wedding. He also did Jenn and David’s maternity shoot. Mike’s video of Rebecca and Josh’s wedding brings me to tears every time I see it. Mike wasn’t just good at shooting pics, he was good at editing and multimedia.
On occasion, he’d go up to the mic and do a duet with Rebecca on the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis. It’s a mid 90s song, but it’s very popular still. Once the song was over, Mike would head back to the table and pick up the camera.
I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks, because Rebecca had shows out of this area and we had a lot going with other matters. On the way home from West Palm Beach as Hurricane Dorian challenged even the best forecasters, I asked Rebecca if she’d talked to him. She said they’d texted, and he was fine. “Just busy.”
I told her I hoped he was okay. The last time I’d seen Mike I could tell he didn’t feel his best. He seemed sad. I pestered him a little—I can’t help the mom in me. He kept telling me he was fine, and I realized after several exchanges, he wanted me to drop it.
I can’t imagine not seeing Mike again at shows. Whether it was our own band or another, Mike would often be out shooting photographs. I once wrote that he was a quiet advocate for North Florida’s music community. He covered all the indie bands who make this big city sing every single day. He covered performers in all genres, and he did it by having an eye for light and composition that made him such an exceptional photographer.
Mike Hamilton died too young. He died unexpectedly, and when you lose someone like that, it’s like a rug being pulled from beneath your feet without warning. He was a gentle spirit and a talented artist. He captured many moments from North Florida and South Georgia’s music community, and he shared those moments freely. Mike was a true artist. There aren’t enough words to say how much he will be missed by all of us.
He told me not long ago, as I thanked him for doing such great work, that he appreciated us. “You made me part of your family,” he said. I told him that’s one of the easiest things we’ve ever done.
Rebecca and Jenn will have a statement of their own about Mike. We also learned of the death of another longtime band supporter shortly before we learned of Mike’s death. We had a day here at the Day household yesterday, and we’re still processing it all. We’re reminded how precious life is, and how important it is to let those you care about know how much you care. We’ll carry Mike in our hearts for the rest of our days, and his work will continue to represent his passion and his talent because art is a discipline that confers a small sense of immortality in the legacy the artist leaves behind. Mike can be proud of his legacy. Few can touch him when it comes to shooting the human form.
On his Facebook page, many people expressed sympathy to his family. Many nice things were said about this young man whose talent touched such a broad array of musicians here. We should all hope our own legacies will be as positive and impressive as the legacy left by Mike Hamilton who had a shorter time than most to craft it. He will be sorely missed by many.
(Kay B. Day/Sept. 15, 2019)