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Mason Mauldin was one of the first new faces The Observer met when he moved to Little Rock in late 2009. We'd seen him with his band Big Boots, at the Rev Room. A couple weeks later, we met him while working at Boulevard Bread Co. From that first shift, it was obvious Mauldin was not your run-of-the-mill dude. His eyes shone with a mischievous sparkle, and it was apparent immediately that he was incredibly sharp, and not because he went out of his way to show you. No, it was subtler than that. It was the way that nothing got past him, and how he never passed up a chance to crack a hilarious joke about something.
Over the next couple of years, we learned just how tight-knit Mauldin and his group of friends were, through music, art, sports and good-ol' fashioned goofing off. We also saw him as a caring soul who comforted his friends in times of loss.
Mauldin, a longtime fixture on the Little Rock music scene, playing with the likes of Sugar and the Raw and Collin Vs. Adam, died in a plane crash in Louisiana last Thursday. Mauldin was the pilot. He worked for Central Flying Service. Three men from Louisiana also died in the crash.
Mauldin and Rhett Brinkley had been friends since their college freshmen days. "For the past three years we've been pretty inseparable," Brinkley said. "He was this friend that I shared everything with, and I feel like I was that friend to him too."
Brinkley spoke of Mauldin's remarkable talent on the soccer field and his enduring enthusiasm for the sport, which wasn't diminished by ACL injuries. "He was a graceful soccer player. He had natural skill and a passion for the game and the way it should be played in his mind, and he refused to be beaten. He wouldn't give up."
Brinkley told a story about watching Mauldin — then playing for the University of Dallas — score two points when his team was down 1-0 to win a game over Hendrix College. "He came over to the sideline with a teammate right after he scored that second goal, and the teammate got on his knee and Mason stuck his foot in the air and the guy fake shined Mason's shoe right in front of the Hendrix fans," Brinkley said with a laugh. "It was really funny."
Mauldin's longtime friend Jack Lloyd attested to that sense of humor as well. The two were finally forbidden from working any more shifts together at Boulevard, on account of the escalating hijinks that ensued.
"They sat us both down at a meeting and [owner] Christina [McGehee] was like, 'We have to start scheduling you guys away from each other.' " Before the meeting, Mauldin had told Lloyd that he was thinking about quitting that day. "We were trying not to laugh out loud, and in the middle of the meeting she said, 'You're not going to quit, are you Mason?' And we both just busted out laughing."
In the last few years, Mauldin had embarked on a career as a pilot. Like music and soccer and surely other endeavors before it, he took aviation very seriously, learning everything he could, said his longtime friend and band mate Mike Motley.
"He was an equally serious and silly guy — and silly is the right word," Motley said. "He was an original thinker and he wasn't afraid to do something bold musically or artistically and to make it work. He wasn't afraid to stick his neck out."
"He had tons of friends, and with the amount of support that has come out in last couple days, the outpouring of support to all of us, he would have been blown away," Motley said. "He was a very popular guy, a very well-liked guy and I don't know if he realized quite how many people loved him and how many people cared about him."
It's a devastating loss, not only for Mauldin's friends and family, but for the wider community of music lovers, a sentiment echoed by Mark Lierly, another friend and band mate. "He was a really vibrant, special dude," Lierly said. "It's a crushing loss is all I can say."
There will be a memorial service for Mauldin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Robinson Center Music Hall, with a wake at Stickyz from 3-6 p.m. Attendees are asked to wear red.