Will Power in the Land o'Goshen
I had occasion to play a Labor Day gig this year with a r&b band called Will Power. They are usually a 5-piece show band outfit that plays in casino settings like Atlantic City, Las Vegas and wherever native Americans have set up shop to seek revenge for over 400 years of persecution. The band typically wears matching suits and shiny shoes. Terry Hall (Arlo Guthrie's drummer) and I (no one's drummer) are not usually part of the band and were new acquisitions for this gig, possibly replacing musicians who possessed better sense. We don't own fancy suits or shiny shoes. Because of us, everyone got to dress casual. More realistically, perhaps, it was simply because Will Power's show was at a rural country fair and the fancy Vegas suits and shiny shoes would somehow not been deemed de rigeur amongst the sweaty, heaving draught horses, greased pig races and copious amounts of poop?
My arrival at the fairgrounds in a deluge worthy of Noah was my first auspicious hint that this was to be a show of note, as it were. In what took a full hour of trying to locate exactly where in the fairgrounds I was supposed to be playing, a door to a world of Fellini-esque dimension was kicked wide open. Despite having earlier printed out a fairground map and parking pass that clearly stated that Will Power was to play in the 'gazebo', no one, beginning with the first of several beefy parking lot ladies, could tell me where the gazebo actually was - “Somewhere over there” pretty much pinpointed it. I was cheerfully referred to several parking 'authorities' with walkie-talkies, one after another, and then one very grumpy, power-tripping CT State cop with fierce eyes who interacted with me as if I were a terrorist leper. Everyone had a different opinion. I was entreated to way too many comments like: You can't get there from here; Cars aren't allowed in there, where do you think you're going?; You're not supposed to play there, you're supposed to be on The Entertainment Stage; I'll radio HQ and find out......wait, nope, they don't know where you're supposed to be either; You sure you have the right day?; (then from a friendly man in a golf cart who resembled someone's Uncle Efe) - "Follow me!" It was the best offer I'd had since I arrived, so . . .
Off I drove in my red Honda Elephant, flashers flashing, through the bowels of the Goshen Fair following Uncle Efe and his golf cart. We tootled past humongous tractors with two-story wheels that roared and belched ominous clouds of diesel smoke as they pulled tons of concrete slabs to nowhere. Past scads of tawdry booths selling overpriced, deliciously poisonous foods like corn dogs, sausage & peppers, fried dough, $10 bags of caramel corn, 'Whole Belly Clams' (what, no half-belly clams?), bilious pink & blue fibrous things on sticks, etc,. We rolled slowly past the giant, daft-looking draught horses waiting to impress the throngs with their muscle, and multifarious barns chock full of bellowing, crowing, oinking, screeching, smelly things. On and on we went, past shrieking, tootling ferris wheels, frantic tilt-a-whirls, thumping bumper cars and other various slam-you-around-until-you-puke contrivances that were lit up like Times Square on New Years Eve Further, still, past rows and rows of games of chance & luck (Fat chance, Mr. Lucky!) and even a small field with burly women throwing cast iron frying pans like discuses (disci?). Where in bleedin' hell was I?
All the while I was parting a sea of some of the most nefarious, elemental forms of humanoid life I've seen in one place for a long, long while. I swear to christ, I've not seen more bad tattoos, acres of cellulite, horrid dental hygiene, shaved heads and badly dyed hair...and this was just the women! The men, most with no necks and attired in some motley confusion of biker-meets-mercenary soldier-meets-mutant lumberjack, were equally frightening. And here's the really scary part: It would appear that the vast majority of this tired, poor and huddled mass longing to be free was either pushing baby strollers overflowing with snot-nosed spore, their grubby mitts full of inflatable green martians, mutant teddies and sticky food, or they were herding hordes of knee-high, mud-caked mini-clones of themselves. Several barked at me as I rolled by in slow motion that "the parking lot ain't in here", or playfully stuck out their thumbs to hitch a ride. They couldn't have known I was as lost as they were. Or could they?
It had been raining a good part of the past two days and the entire fairgrounds was a slimy sea of slop... which seemed to fit the theme nicely. Eventually Uncle Efe and I wound up at...The Entertainment Stage! It was quite large, equipped with a huge, flying PA and presumably a sound guy to operate it, though I didn't actually see one. Onstage there was a 9-piece Santana-wannabe band. They sounded pretty good, too, but really, Carlos had nothing to fear.
Scanning the haphazard crowd, I spied drummer Terry and guitarist Will ambling about...The Entertainment Stage. They were lost. They told me that we weren't playing here at...The Entertainment Stage. But according to their map and parking pass, we were supposed to be at the 'gazebo'. But of course. They, too, were told that they didn't belong at the gazebo and were herded to...The Entertainment Stage. But of course! Good, I was not going crazy. At least not alone.
It was nearly 5PM. Load-in and sound-check was supposed to have been at 4:30 with a kick @ 6. No one seemed happy. No one. Uncle Efe and his golf cart had disappeared into the din leaving us to ponder, yet again, the whereabouts of the gazebo. Will was determined to find the elusive, secret gazebo, soooo, OFF WE GO, back through the same freekin' madness (only in reverse) with me in my red Elephant following, instead of Uncle Efe's golf cart, a hot-rod Mustang convertible containing a befuddled munchkin drummer with a cigar-chomping hipster guitarist at the helm.
When at last after another rain-drenched, hair-raising, slow motion cruise thru the inner dark nightmare of modern country culture we located the elusive Secret Gazebo, we were greeted by a phalanx of more grumpy State Police, the ancient order of VFW Vets, and cranky firemen/EMTs that all informed us, like some surreal Greek chorus: "You guys can't park here". I was hungry. I was soaked. I was tired. I was ready to kill.
Standing next to the Secret Gazebo were Will Power's pianist/saxman Mark, singer Iris and bassist Scotty. Exactly how they knew how to get there without all the hoo-hah that we had endured remains unknown to this day, but perhaps Scotty 'beamed them up'? I was relieved to have arrived at last, but was surprised to find there, live and in person on the gazebo stage, an ancient 40-piece brass band badly blasting away on Sousa marches. How the hell was Will Power supposed to load in all their gear, set up, sound check and be ready to kick it in less than 40 minutes? Yeah, yeah, I guessed the answer...Will Power.
Once the brass band finally got off stage - no mean feat as the average age was 76 (as in “76 Trombones”) - and they removed all their music stands, walkers, instruments and themselves...they still left the 40+ chairs for us to remove. I resigned myself to “It's not my problem.” Except that it was. I moved chairs.
Meanwhile it was still raining cats and dogs, or probably more appropriately, sheep and goats. Mark was his usual jolly self, grinning and levying directives. He had to set up the complicated PA/monitors (What? No house PA or sound guy?) plus all mics and his keyboards. Terry and I got busy with assembling the myriad drums and percussion instruments. And what do you know, by 6:10 we were off and running!
But apparently so was the crowd. Hordes of humanity, like drowning rats, were trooping out of the fairgrounds in slogging, waterlogged throngs. The rain had driven all the VFW guys to bivouac together under their sagging olive-drab tent; the grumpy state cops went back to directing traffic that was now rolling through the mud in waves; the fire department stood ready, lights flashing with the occasional electronic blipping siren sounds being emitting from the transformer-like fire apparatus parked 10 feet from the gazebo stage. I watched, stomach growling, as a popcorn vendor kept tossing huge boxes of popcorn into the trash. Hell, I would have eaten some of that. Now I was mad at him, too.
The racing pigs had crossed the finish line long ago. The draught horses and two-storey tractors were ensconced in their respective stables. Sausage and fried dough booths shut their awnings and closed their windows like somnalent eyes. The beer tent dropped its elephant-ear flaps. In the distance, the lights of the ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl defied the thunder and lightning and continued to twinkle like some intergalactic slot machine. However, devoid of human contact, they had ceased their death-defying gyrations. And the rain continued to pour down.
Amidst all of this, Will Power hit the stage of the Secret Gazebo and brightly and energetically began their three hour long set of mostly r&b and soft-jazz covers.
Overall the show was, well....interesting. Playing with a genius like Terry is always wonderful fun. Neither of us knew the material, but Mark conducted us well and we were able to follow his start/stop/dynamic cues fairly easily. I don't think either of us newbies did the band any harm!
Iris and Will have real charisma. Will sings and plays his guitar well, has great stage presence and is an entertaining frontman. Scott is a yeoman bassist...solid, understated and right-on the beat. Mark is, well, Mark – grinning and hopping around the stage here and there like a hobbit on psychedelics, he plays damn righteous piano and sax, too. Iris has a beguiling stage presence, sings well and she played the beautiful carny huckster, imploring (in her charming Dutch accent) anyone stolid, or silly, enough to have remained on the flooded fairgrounds to step up onto the gazebo because "We have lots of dry chairs just for you". And sometimes that actually worked. Several soggy, high-spirited high school boys took her up on it and loudly enjoyed themselves, much to the somewhat stunned disbelieve of two elderly couples who more sought respite from the rain than having any real desire to rock out with Will Power.
By 9PM it was over. My hands were swollen so much from spanking the congas that I couldn't put my ring back on! The fairgrounds was nearly deserted, pervaded by a storm-wracked eeriness. We then had to dismantle mountains of gear and pack it up. Still, there was time for a celebratory cigar with the band afterwards. But the best news of all for me was: the Secret Gazebo was located only 100' from the exit gate and I drove right out and into what was left of the night. This, friends, is the Lush Life!