The venue was a large outdoor place. Have I explained the term “shed and festival” yet? If you do a lot of “shed and festival dates” it means a lot of summer outdoor venues, and the ones like this and Red Rocks, Great Woods, and Lakewood in Georgia are the best, but there’s a seedy end of things, too. You hear sometimes about bands past their prime eking it out on the shed and festival circuit, i.e. playing the local amusement parks, the multi-band bills with bigger names or better draws, that sort of thing. The thing about a place that only does shows for a couple of months out of the year is a lot of them are somewhat–shall we say–rustic in their facilities.
I’m not even talking about the plumbing or lack thereof but that the backstage areas are sometimes literally shed-like. This place was pretty nice, but there are some where you know they get away with stuff being substandard because they know you’re only there for a matter of hours so you’re not going to make a big fuss about it and if they’re the only large venue in an area they know they’ll have acts coming through trying to pack their tour schedules as efficiently as possible.
I’ll tell you about some crappy places later. The thing to know about this one was that soundcheck was at the absolute hottest point in the day–almost 90 degrees–and also the peak of the humidity. Anyone want to take a guess which men in the band were sensible and wore shorts, versus the rest of us who were in jeans? Only one: Martin. Drummers can get away with wearing shorts at any time. The rest of us only if you’re the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Angus Young.
The guys seemed genuinely happy to see Cray, which was good because that seemed to take Cray’s stress level down a lot.
So, surprisingly, did the lounge act. We got together on the stage–which was under the roof, thank god–and Martin (in brightly colored surf shorts no less) stood up on the riser and said, “I was gonna do something today but in honor of our special guest, I think Cray should do it.”
Cray gave me a look–a “you set me up, didn’t you” look–but I merely shrugged and explained: “Every day before soundcheck someone in the band sings a song or does some other thing. Doesn’t have to be long.”
“Or serious,” Martin added.
Cray looked like he’d swallowed a cockroach for a second. Maybe telling him it didn’t have to be serious wasn’t much of a help when my impression was he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. “Any other rules?”
“Nope. It can literally be anything.”
He looked at Remo, gauging whether we really meant it, but Remo just gestured to the center stage mic.
Cray shrugged. “Okay. You asked for it.” He stepped up to the mic, strummed a few times and said “Is this thing on?” then launched into a minor key pick-and-strum thing with a western feel.
“Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine, cahhhh-feeeennnn,” he sang, causing me to crack up because of my well-established dependence on the stuff at that point, and everyone else because they recognized the song he was parodying.
This was at the point in my life before I had heard Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” I got schooled on it later when I confessed this, though Remo swore I’d heard it at his house back in the day. Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash I remembered. Dolly Parton, not so much.
Anyway, the actual song is a kind of heartbreaking plea from the singer to the “other woman” (named Jolene) begging her “please don’t take my man.” Cray’s version on the other hand was a love song to the chemical I had a feeling I would be song-virused with many times in my life when I was in need of it.
It was a bona fide hit with the entire band and crew and Cray was on top of the world. He even smiled. Then we got down to working on what to do in the encore when he was going to join us onstage. It was helpful that he had played with Nomad before and knew what was what. We worked up two songs, one with a long country-ish jam that was going to be a hit with the local crowd. Or so I hoped.
After soundcheck came some more media for Remo and Cray and I made ourselves scarce. We found an unoccupied, underfurnished green room, and sat down with two guitars but neither of us actually was motivated to play anything right at that point. It was too hot and the outbuilding we were in had rather weak climate control.
“I’d say let’s go somewhere and grab a drink but we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Cray said. “As long as we don’t get dragged into ‘meet the press’ I’m good, though.”
“He loves dragging me into those things,” I said. “You too?”
“I think he actually hates talking to reporters,” Cray said, mopping his forehead with a bandanna. “It’s easier on him and harder on whoever if he doesn’t do it alone.”
“Huh.” I’d never gotten the impression that Remo was particularly reluctant to talk to the media. He was good at it: likable, poised, occasionally funny, and came across genuine. Whereas when I talked to reporters other than Jonathan, I felt like half of what I said was stupid and the other half went over everyone’s heads.
A sudden wave of mild nausea bubbled up through me and I put my hands on my head.
“You all right?”
“Oof. Still feeling last night, I guess.” I concentrated on breathing slowly and the moment passed.
We sat without talking for a while then, while our opener did their soundcheck.
“You know who’s on the side stage?” Cray asked.
“No, what side stage?”
“There’s a small stage,” Cray said in typical Cray fashion, not really explaining anything.
“Uh huh.” To be fair, maybe no other explanation was needed.
A little while later we did play some and Jam and Martin came in and listened. Jam was also in surf shorts. I can tell you right now that if Cray or I (or Remo) had put on surf shorts we would have looked one hundred percent ridiculous. On them they looked fine.
I had another wave of nausea. “Oog.”
Jam nodded knowingly. “You know what stops nausea dead.”
He brought his pinched fingers to his lips. Right. “Worth a try.”
So I smoked a little weed, which as usual made me quiet as the proverbial church mouse (where the fuck does that expression come from? Are the mice in churches quieter than regular mice or something?). Worked wonders on whatever was going on with my stomach. I was a bit more lightheaded than usual but I chalked that up to the heat.
So I was pleasantly stoned when I found Clarice and asked her to tell me if weed made my pitch go off or if it was only booze. And we sang a bit together and did exercises and warmups with Fran.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Clarice said. “Your pitch is fine and your clarity is actually better than usual because you’re relaxing your chest and neck.”
“Right. Which is one thing I’m supposed to be working on. But is it from weed or because I’m actually getting better at it?”
“How ’bout tomorrow we try it with no drugs and compare.”
“I think you’re more relaxed because Remo is more relaxed,” Fran said, fanning herself with a folded magazine. “I swear.”
“Could be. But yeah, let’s try that tomorrow. Memphis tomorrow?”
They both nodded. Memphis and then a day off. We just had a day off but somehow I felt like I was already ready for one.
Or a nap. Maybe that was what was wrong with me. We hadn’t slept much, after all.
I got into a bunk in the bus where it was dark and quiet and quite cold and let sleep drag me straight down.
(Skipped ahead a little in 1991 for this one. Been a while since we heard from Dire Straits, eh? -d)