This morning Barb asked, “Are you going to write about last night?” I hadn’t gotten that far in my thinking. This morning I’m sapped and stunned. Then Barb added, “I miss so many of the older folks and it would be something I can have to remember.” Talk about pressure.
This summer the Gypsy Carpenters found an artistic home and last night we were able to bring a lot of pieces together in one place to create something much bigger than us. Years of friendships, and gigs, and open hearts made for a magic night. Here’s how it started.
Firstly, Zondra. The Z grew up here and has been a part of the Gardiner music scene since she could walk. She is carrying on her father Wayne’s legacy as an ambassador of live music and a community builder. Wayne was a master of getting th emusic going and going and going. Zondra has inherited that gene. Zondra came with a venue and a weekly slot and a pile of musical talent and energy. Zondra rocks that bass and is game for anything, anywhere. Let’s play! is her motto and nothing we do is too difficult of weird. She gave us the energy and the desire to get out of our trailer and commit to playing regularly for fun and practice. A regular gig does wonders for the skill, relaxation, and repertoire. Which leads us to the Wonderland Cafe.
Stacy and her staff, everyone of them, make us feel like we are exactly where we belong when we show up to play. Last night I asked for a cobbler after the show and when it looked like they might have forgotten it they said, “No, don’t leave. We want you to be fully satisfied!” That Flathead cherry cobbler showed up 2 minutes later. We’ve been told we can play whenever we want. We can play whatever we want. We can invite guests. They can eat, too. And the food is good. The clientele are mostly tourists looking for a good time and they tip generously. We give them a night to remember when we play a favorite song or bless them with good wishes to see their dream animal in the park.
Cody. Remember, Cody? Refresh yourselves HERE. In brief, we picked up Cody hitchhiking in Texas nearly 10 years ago. He and his bike were pinned down in a vicious wind. Cody is currently working seasonally in Gardiner. He’s a percussionist living an improvised life like us. We’ve been pestering him to sit in with us all summer but his job intruded. Last night he finally showed up with his cajon to beat out some support for us.
After a couple of gigs in July we knew this was a place to settle in and have fun making music. I texted our former bandmate Barb Piccolo and asked if she wanted to come down and visit and play a night with us. I knew she’d be in the area for other events and hoped to loop her into one of our shows. Barb has been a steadfast friend and mentor to me through thick and thin. In the beginning she was the thoroughly skilled and knowledgeable player that encouraged me to keep at it. As my skills grew she kept encouraging me. There was always positive energy from her as I developed. Barb has never wavered in her support and kindness to Burt and me. There was a dark time in our lives when very few people would associate with us. Barb stood by us and played music with us. All that and she loves the stuff we play and kills it on accordion. I really hoped Barb would join us for a gig but we saw her plenty at various Montana jamborees and did a lot of tunes together. Last week Barb said she was going to come and see us. Then she wasn’t. Then she was.
In the midst of Barb trying to find time to play with us we ran into Johnny at the Dearborn music campout. Johnny is a long, lean boy of 16 that is coming into his own on the fiddle. Two years ago when we met him I would not have invited him to sit it. This summer he played a couple of tunes with us and I found out he lived about 30 minutes away. He had not played a public gig. I said, “Johnny, you want to play with us?” I didn’t even check with Burt. Johnny said yes. The logistics nearly ruined it for him but despite his confusion on locations and dates and missing our one practice he made it to the gig.
Magically, Zondra, Johnny, Barb, and Cody all convened on the same night with the Gypsy Carpenters in the Wonderland Cafe. We had never played all together at the same time. But the solid foundation of the Gypsy Carpenters was perfect for these dynamic players to build upon. The house was full of tourists and friends. In another bit of kismet several folks that had wanted to see us were finally able to make a show. I took advantage of knowing the house was friendly and boldly compelled the restaurant to near silence as I announced to the audience that they were in for a special night. I told them they were lucky and we were lucky. Burt and I were surrounded by players and listeners that loved us. Johnny was here for his first gig. Barb and Zondra had played with us for years. I gave everyone’s back story. I opened their hearts to us as a ragtag group that had miracuolously come together. And then we got going.
We almost always start with I am a Pilgrim. It’s easy, it’s upbeat. We can warm up the harmonies, and our hands. In a masterful move, Burt gave Johnny the first break in this first song. A song Johnny had never even heard before. That’s how we do it around here. Stay loose and ready. So the music was good. It was fun. It was unpredictable. And we were off. Johnny fired off some fiddle tunes. Barb and Zondra sang a duet. I’d never heard Zondra sing in twenty years. A man named Alex showed up with an ukulele. He was playing along on the sidewalk outside. I invited him in. Then he said he had a trumpet. We sent him home to fetch his trumpet and we had everyone in the place singing ring of fire while Alex blasted out the iconic trumpet bits. And I had my dream come true of a horn section. People were having a ball on and off stage. The tips were huge.
And then it was over. Many people think playing music must always feel good, it must always be fun. Those people are not musicians. It’s our job to make it look fun and easy and look as if we are enjoying ourselves. But we’re often hot, tired, or we can’t hear ourselves, or we are annoyed that nobody is listening, annoyed that they ARE listening, annoyed the tip jar is empty, annoyed the restaurant has cruddy food and they made us move the tables. Last night was the kind of show we dream about. It was fun and joyful. We got to share the love with everyone. The show ended and we sat for an extra beer and a cobbler. A group of men from Seattle came up and told us they enjoyed our singing. They wanted to know how long we’d been practicing together. I explained it was our first time playing as a group but Burt and I had been a duo for ten years. I asked if they were musicians. One man, they grew up in Southern India, said he studied Indian singing. As we sat in the nearly empty restaurant he sang us an Indian folk song. I tear up recalling it. What a gift it is to inspire people to share their music.
This morning as we grew teary missing Wayne and Tom and all the other musicians that led us here I said to Barb, “But look at the first gig we gave Johnny. It was joyful, generous, good, fun…The crowd loved us…We’re doing it right bringing up the next kids. He will always have that to remember.”