A refusal to sleep

Greetings from the Stoughton, WIs. Quality Inn. There’s a Denzel Washington movie on HBO, a pizza on one of the beds and a fridge full of Old Style that won’t be attacked as heavily as planned. Scott and Ann are next door and Wendy and I are enjoying the air con and HBO. I think we’re all tired, physically, but it’s tragic to think of actually sleeping. That would too closely mean we’re in the final stage of a road trip that yielded what we wanted to do as a band, which was to play the Crystal Corner in Madison again, the Fourth of July Milton beer tent again, have Kenn’s sound equipment savvy save my ass again and hang with my dad in Stoughton when it was all done. Again.

It’s been a great couple of days of agains. Makes sense — they’re what any band thrives on as much as anything. Doing it again. Coming back again. See you all again. Etcetera and repeat.

There were a few firsts, though, like the guy blissfully freaking out at the Crystal because damn it if he ever heard any band do “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder.” There was the first of having former high school and college bar-bandmates Matt Arnold and Tam Arnold show up and join us Saturday on “Surrender.”

It was a first to have in the audience Matt’s brother Jeff, the area’s reigning master guitarist (and a musical hero of mine since he brought his electric into Mrs. Fagan’s sixth grade class). I caught him singing along to Ann’s dose of “Bell Bottom Blues,” and all seemed pretty right with the world.

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Jeff Arnold and Stacy, Matt’s fiancee.

It was a chance to catch up briefly with Mike Flaherty, my first Mankato roommate and a great songwriter himself, responsible for “Sold To Conoco,” the lyrics of which I submitted in place of my final exam in an Intro To Political Science class. Still wound up passing.

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Mike once knew all the words to “Lonesome Cowboy Burt.” He had no choice.

There was also the first of getting impatient stares from the parents of little girls dressed in all sorts of Vegas showgirl duds, ready to stomp up a storm as part of the Milton Fourth of July Tap Dancing Squadron (my name, not theirs). Sometimes life puts you in a beer tent in Wisconsin playing for a large group of people who want you to finish so their daughters can hoof it to hot-new-country tunes. Sometimes life gets surreal. Behold:

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There was a ribeye steak sandwich from St. Mary’s Parish booth, a couple of beers and the hope we can play next year, but maybe a little later in the day. Seriously, these girls were not amused.

Meanwhile, a new song has been hatched while here and should be performance ready by the time we play back home, again.

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What a bar band plays when it’s not playing a bar, volume II

SATURDAY

We had an enjoyable time performing at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater as the opening act for a triple bill that culminated with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra. It was one of those performances that seemed to last about three minutes. That happens often with this band, but Saturday’s event in particular felt way too fast for the hour that it was. The weather helped — the heat wasn’t holding everybody hostage and attendance was great straight from the beginning. It was nice to meet Ken Freed, the MSO director who along with Sara Buechmann seems to be keeping programming fresh and energetic for the Orchestra and its fans.

But back to Fish Frye. Our set included FF originals “Saigon Dance,” “Lie” and “Ford Bronco II (formerly “Let’s Drive.”) We covered Gram Parson’s “Grievous Angel” and “Sweep Out the Ashes” among the non-FF tunes, and ended with the feel-good bloodbath of “L.A. County.”

A highlight of the day had to be our idea of utilizing the rustic scenery for some cool promo shots, which Quiet Storm Productions Manager Mohammed Alsadig agreed to shoot. Hope you like the feel as much as we do.

SUNDAY

We performed for an hour at the fundraiser for the Grand Kabaret. The only pictures I took were of a fender bender that happened when I went to park. The other party involved was one of the nicest people who’s car you’ll scrape. We swapped insurance stuff, called a cop and waited around for the report to get written. While waiting, this guy gave me a prayer pamphlet authored by Billy Graham. With an adult son who was very ill, he found the prayers in it to be very meaningful.

He told me he had been on his way to work. I told him the music we could both hear around the corner was where I was headed. He listened for a minute and said … “that’s an old Johnny Cash song.” I hadn’t been paying attention. I asked if he knew which song. “The one that ends “Never speak hard words to your true love or husband,” he said.

“Wreck of the Old 97!”

“Yeah,” he smiled. And we stood there in the sun. That song’s album, the San Quentin concert is great enough to make two men pause and take it all in on a hot Sunday sidewalk. And when the officer emerged from his car with  paperwork, implying that I may or may not be hearing from the City Attorney, this man wanted to make sure that I didn’t get in any trouble for this, that it was a complete accident.

We’re back in New Ulm Aug. 18. I’m sending this guy an invite and doing that song.

What a bar band plays when it’s not playing bars

WEDNESDAY

We were asked by Lisa Coons to play the Solstice festival at Good Counsel Hill, an event the School Sisters of Notre Dame do annually to give props to the earth and the nature that unites us on the historical celebration of light triumphing over dark. Lisa and Ann had met earlier in the week to discuss the program and how Fish Frye would fit in. Wait, though. Did you see that first sentence about uniting us? I wouldn’t have talked like that a week ago. But this event has stuck around well after we said goodbye. And why not? Optimism, warmth, earth … it was all part of this gathering of a couple dozen people, many of whom we knew. Lisa and friends guided it beautifully. No politics, warnings, lessons or – double bonus points – hand-holding. It was truly a gathering for all. Anyway, as a veteran of Catholic mass sing-alongs and, in third grade, a fan of Lou Fortunate, it was a pleasure to put something together for use in a religious setting. Granted, it was just a refrain and about as complex as Twinkle Twinkle, but there it was. We entertained for a half hour or so, then in a a small “ceremony” Lisa would read, Ann would read, and then everybody sang the refrain: Deep Peace to All. And I found an unexpected shot of pride – I think we both did – being connected to the melody sung by the good sisters and the great people. I’ve since found myself using that line, that wish, deep peace to all, several times. Borrow it. You’ll be surprised how well it fits so many situations.

THURSDAY

Fish Frye’s television debut was thwarted by the lack of a third studio microphone. We were to both join Mankato Symphony Orchestra director Sara Beuchman on the two-minute KEYC-TV mid-day interview show to promote Saturday’s “Rockin’ in the Park” ordeal. We arrived to be told there were only two microphones for guests. I don’t think I literally pushed Ann, but I did engage in some behind-her-back gesturing and finger pointing. She went on, did wonderfully and of course cringed afterward. But I ask you, who leaves a local TV news program with local TV lights and says “I think that went really well.” Somebody in a different band. Here’s how I saw it.

That night we played at the YWCA fundraiser at Chankaska Creek Winery in Kasota. Scenic place (and we’re there a few times in the upcoming year) We played before at least 100 people who were milling about, sharing bottles of wine and placing silent-auction bids. There was an issue with sound equipment that resulted in being short a mike stand, so for the first time since the very first time we played, Ann went hand-held with her microphone. As our promo materials say, we’re a band that draws lots from ‘70s era pop and damn if Ann didn’t work that mic like Cher stepping onto the CBS soundstage circa 1972 — swaying, nodding and owning the hour. To switch channels for a second, there was no looking at each other without realizing we were a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and a whole bunch of being totally fine with it.