I went out to hear a band play last night. The venue was a smallish back room bar with a five buck cover charge and cheap beer. There were three bands on the lineup, but the friends I met there all came to see the opening act, as they knew a couple of the musicians from Morris dancing circles. The music was good, if a bit hard to follow. The band was attempting to create a wall of sound effect in a venue rather too small for it, and the house sound system wasn’t doing them any favors.
Pardon my rant, but audio is a bit of a hobby of mine, and how my brother actually makes his living: I just recycled some old speakers that might not have sounded much worse. I was glad my brother wasn’t there to hear the abomination against his profession. Actually, the sound system was probably perfectly adequate if your objective was to get a bunch of twenty-somethings dancing to the beat, because you definitely felt the percussion. A band that includes two electrified fiddles, mandolin, and vocals, though, requires some level of sibilance, which was sadly lacking. End of rant.
After the second beer, I was feeling a bit more charitable, and decided to write off the sound as more or less classic roadhouse. That led me back to a night thirty-one years ago when we were dating, and the two of us went out to visit my brother on a weekend when he was doing sound for a band in a local dive bar, affectionately known as “Piggy’s” by the locals. It was one of those nights we’d tell stories about years later, mildly annoying at the time, but funny in retrospect. From there it was on to memories of a few nights we spent with our New York friends closing down a bar or two or three in an evening.
She sometimes referred to herself as a ‘Bad Idea Bear’. My daughter included that in her remarks for the memorial service program. It’s a reference to a couple of characters from Avenue Q who offered helpful advice such as “Buy in bulk, it’s cheaper!” when considering an alcohol purchase. Her ‘bad ideas’ were generally of a milder variety, and usually not bad ideas at all. If you don’t do something frequently, go all the way with it when you do. Don’t go to the bar often, but when you do, make sure it’s with a big bunch of friends, and close the place down. NEVER leave a theater before the orchestra finishes the last bar of the exit music, those are some of the best musicians in the country in that pit, and they deserve an audience for every note.
So I decided to go with that, and stick around for all the bands, dodgy sound or not. Besides, what did I have waiting for me but an empty house?
One more time, I got just what I needed and wasn’t expecting.
The second group was OK, but again, and probably even more so than the first, they were trying to build a sound too big for the space they were playing. By the time the last group came on, my friends had left, one-by-one and two-by-two. So had most of the rest of the audience.
The last group was smaller than the other two. Vocalist, guitar, bass, and drummer, that’s it. Their audience consisted of just a handful of customers and the musicians from the two other bands. They played straight-up blues, spare and clean. The perfect music for a roadhouse sound. I was really glad I stuck it out, they were my pick for the best act of the night, and yes, a dose of the blues is exactly what I needed.
The blues is the music of down, but not out. That’s where I live now. It’s in a minor key, but it just keeps rolling on. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while now. Somewhere along the line, the refrain changed from “I can’t possibly bear this” to “I will have to bear this” to “I can bear this” to “I am bearing this”. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I see it now. The load is heavy and it will never get lighter, but I have learned to carry it.
Our journey took us down to the river, not Old Muddy, but the Styx. She crossed over, and I watched, helpless and broken. For a long while I wanted to follow her, but it’s not my time. I can’t do any more for her.
Now I’m walking back to the land of the living. They need me, and I need them.
Cue the road music.