Our current piece of real estate, a polished parquetry floor, is covered: a vast array of blinking & humming electronics with a heaping side of fine acoustic instruments. Not un-typically, I’m crawling on my hands and knees just about half hidden behind a velvet side curtain, sweaty hands fumbling for guitar picks as elusive as car keys.
So when finally the last pocket yields up my treasure trove and those ten backup .58 mm dusty pink Dunlop flat picks are stuffed safely into my pockets where they’ll function as both talisman and offering, I intuit without speaking my prayer to the upper branches of the tree: please let it be a solid and successful jump and a ride that takes my breath away.
Next thing the air is shaking, energy shifting barometrically like weather moving in. Bran shambles into the stage lights and plants himself dead in the middle, looking out over the room, his voice rattling with a laughter that enjoys itself and sporting a dust devil of a smile. Good for him. I’m glad he likes to be looked at because I don’t like it so much. Even if someone does decide to look at me, I know they’ll be back to looking at him just as fast as you can spit because he’s got a twinkling Peter Pan kind of Velcro thing going on.
“ Why don’t you pick out two songs and we’ll start, “ he says to me, strapping on his guitar, his choice of that instrument immediately limiting my options by half.
I notice Dirk materializing on the other side of Bran looking cool as a cucumber, and it appears that all at once he’s reviewing the sound board presets, rosining his fiddle bow and balancing a pint of beer on his left elbow; probably he’s also putting finishing touches on a 600 page novel or full length Hollywood film score although I can’t confirm that because the light is bad but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Out of the corner of my eye and across the dark room I also see that Garth has slipped into the room and parked himself inconspicuously on a bar stool, red skiing gaiters almost glowing neon like he was just come in from a long amble in the Robert Frost woods. Maybe he’s been up and down a whole mountain today. That would be just like him. He looks so healthy and happy and I’m trusting he’s brought along his old Martin guitar and that silver tube amp that looks like a small city, because he too can kick up some dust. Between him and our special guest Tyler on acoustic bass, the night is going to have some fun in it.
Our first set goes down in a rush of pleasure and pain. At the break I skip across the parquet floor to where Garth is sitting to thank him for yelling at us between songs. Only a fellow musician would have the grace to shamelessly and honestly offer a running commentary detailing how the acoustic music and the sound system are at odds. I lean down to give him a kiss and suddenly he is grabbing me by something akin to a lapel.
“You are an elite musician!” he rasps, furtively whispering directly down my ear canal.
The stubble on his cheek is pleasingly harsh for the fleeting moment it grazes my skin. I pull back out of habit, confident that I’m not hearing him correctly. He couldn’t possibly be serious. But my good manners generate a rote, verbal thank you that falls from my lips with some lingering sense of confusion. I feel for the flannel of his shirt to give his arm a gentle squeeze; either way, it might smooth things over. He pulls me close for a second time, his grip boldly clamping my biceps in a comfortable death grip.
“You are an elite musician!” he says again. We are again cheek-to-cheek and his ruddy outdoorsy complexion is closer than a guitar’s length, which would describe our usual posture. I’m stumbling to find words or ideas that can meet his concept.
“ If you mean to imply that I’m in your league, I am totally flattered, it’s just not possible though,” I say. “but I’m going to think about it and what is really cool is that you’re going to get your ass onstage right now and play with us, right?” Silently and inarticulately, mutual love and appreciation are inadvertently oozing from every corner of our poor communication skills.
The night heats up. We settle back into the comfort of our motley onstage camaraderie, inspired as we glance around at ourselves, a happenstance tribe, all the day jobs that have kept us going, the bread deliveries, the landscaping, the shit shoveling, the brick laying, the furniture built, all of it, and knowing each of us has driven scores of miles across Vermont to play tonight, over muddy back roads, hard muffler knocking ditches and wind driven snow. We’ll drive home on ice and through squalls with a Dunkin’ donuts cup riding high on the dash, after a night of playing with hearts open like that glimpse of sky you get leaning back on a swing.