Thursday, June 01, 2006

Our Lady Of The Waters

Subject: guitarist Rock Bottom

Friday, May 26th

Longshot Saloon, Portage Des Sioux, Mo

Friday night had us at a new place, sort of out in the boondocks, but yet also close to our stomping grounds. Portage Des Sioux is roughly between St. Charles and Alton on Missouri Highway 94, but if you aren’t going there, there’s no reason to go there. I remarked that if this bar were on the other side of the river, along the River Road, it would be a gold mine, much like the Loading Dock in Grafton. But, instead, I wondered what I was in for, going to some out of the way place on the one time of year where everyone goes somewhere, just not to a bar. One of the slowest gigs we ever had was Memorial Day 1988 at the Speakeasy in Breese, IL with the band Nassty. The Speakeasy was an old barn converted into a mammoth night club. But that night, there must not have been more than a dozen patrons, and we encouraged them to bring their seats up to the edge of the stage, and we performed ala Unplugged, in a cozy atmosphere. I was fearful this was going to turn into a Rock Bottom Unplugged moment.

First, lets talk about the drive. Now, a panoramic trek through St. Charles Co. wouldn’t seem to top the list of fascinating drives. A fascinating drive would be more like from Monterey and Carmel along the Pacific Ocean to Big Sur (which I’ve done); through the mountain passes of the Colorado Rockies winding along the Arkansas River to Durango (which I’ve rode); through the butte crested high desert plains of New Mexico outside of Gallup (another beautiful ride I’ve experienced). Winding along Clark’s Fork through Montana into the Upper Rockies is a beautiful drive. Driving through the southern tip of the Appalachians, along the Tennessee River into Chattanooga is another nice little stretch of highway.

But, I also used to drive a delivery route through Southern Illinois, through the coal rich areas of Red Bud and Marissa, through the fertile prairies of Pinckneyville and De Soto, into the Shawnee Forest and the edges of the Ozark foothills of Jonesboro and Vienna. As the seasons blend into each other, and you take snapshot looks of the subtle changes in landscape, the fauna, and the cultures that inhabit these lands, you find a gentle beauty that I feel most people miss. I found a subtle, glorious magnificence that would be overlooked by those who only notice the most audacious and obvious of nature’s treasures.

So it is, as I drive the quiet back roads to Portage Des Sioux, I again am reminded of the subtle beauty of Midwestern country prairies, and the gentle treasures it holds.

Lonely barns. Groves of trees lining river’s edges, soaring hawks and buzzards, aging farmhouses built in a time where front porch swings and long walks to the mail box were passionate affairs. All of this bore a simple beauty that I've grown to appreciate.

I took a mental snapshot look at the map to the nightclub Boozie ran on the web site , and with my courier skills, I quickly memorized where the bar was in relation to the tiny riverside village. Along the way, as I turned on Highway 94, I pulled up behind a pickup truck whose license read “1Boozie”. Must be our drummer! He shot me a phone call and asked if that was me behind him. He gave me the lay of the land as he’d already been there to set up his kit. Load in was up a flight of stairs. Yuk! Reminded me of the Gerald Roller Mill! Hoped it wasn’t as treacherous!

I trailed him into Portage Des Sioux proper until he took a wrong turn, and I peeled away, heading towards the river while he backtracked. I had the map of the town in my head.

As the evening sun set, Our Lady of the River shimmered with a pale blue glow just ahead along the bank of the river. Her yellow neon halo shined as a beacon both towards the river directly ahead of me, and into the town surrounding me. Our Lady is a statue, some 20’ tall that stands guard at the Mississippi River’s edge, along the waterfront of Portage Des Sioux. I know little else about it, but one of these days, when I have more time, I’ll investigate the history behind the land mark.

Across from the marina, I spotted the Longshot Saloon. Reminiscent of The Beach in South County, the bar was basically on stilts some 15 feet in the air, above the flood plain. It bore resemblance to the cabins in northwestern Ontario where I’d spent fishing, only much larger, of course. The large, wooden, screened in front porch sported two doors on both ends, and staircases descended below towards the middle, meeting halfway and then flowing onto the parking lot. Chuck met me at the bottom, with an air of excitement.

“Man, this place looks cool!” he said. “I’m going over there to that store and get a cheap camera to take some pictures!”

I, however, took a glance at the staircase, and while it wasn’t as treacherous as the Roller Mill (and there was no covering of ice during a crisp January evening), hauling two large 4x12 cabs was less than desirable. But, it had to be done.

I was surprised to discover we actually set up the stage on the front porch, and pointed into the bar, its glass doors propped open. Different. I got my stairclimber workout out of the way, and set up the rig. I played around with the settings a bit, sweat pouring off my panting chest, attempting to correct the adjustments the various guitarists made to my rig the week before at the benefit at Eddie’s. Basically, this stage was acoustically outdoors, and that in itself posed an interesting wrinkle. Much like the outdoor stage at Frog’s the summer before, the volume of my rig was much different in this setting, to say the least! While the river was directly behind us, I did notice a house over to our left, and wondered what it must be like for them to hear my amp blaring at them from 10pm to 2am? Sorry, kids. Also over my shoulder, I could see that glowing yellow presence of Our Lady’s halo, peeking through the trees.

I was famished. I elected not to eat on the way, hoping that the bar also contained a grill and was still serving food. My suspicions were correct, in fact they had quite a menu of specials like swordfish, and such. And to my good fortune, they were still serving. I ordered up a Longshot Burger with cheese and mushrooms from a very attractive blonde waitress, who seemed very disinterested in me, or the band pretty much, for that matter.

A modest crowd was gathering, and many of them seemed an older set, perhaps out doing some boating. Almost a Lake Of The Ozarks kind of scene, with wealthy (or atleast wealthier than me) boat owners out with the friends for the weekend. Although, several of our Riverbend friends had also already arrived. Nice to see familiar faces out here in the boondocks.

I shoveled the Longshot burger down my gullet, which was quite good, I might add. Up there with Big A’s burgers. I washed it down with steak fries and a Bud Light while watching the Cardinal game on a BIG screen. I’m good to go!

Final touches were put on our stage, and the young man that appeared to be the manager or owner mentioned to our soundman Carson within earshot of me to keep the volume down as some of the patrons were still dining. I acquiesced. No sense in running out the only crowd we had.

While they seemed an older crowd, they took to us quickly, and our first set was a resounding success. Several more familiar faces arrived, and by the end of the first set, it seemed we’d found a new place on our calendar. They danced, they drank, they got a little rowdy. All things yer supposed to do at a Rock Bottom show! From general expressions, I could tell that the unfamiliar faces in the crowd were impressed, and liked what they heard. One older gent bought us all a round of beers on break. We were quickly made to feel at home.

One thing to add, I naturally received my weekly request from our Salty Dog riders for Moutain's Mississippi Queen. My immediate reaction was to deny the request as I've never actually sat down to learn and rehearse the number, but then it occured to me: what better place to sing Mississippi Queen than 300 yards from the Mississippi! I summoned the "Force" and fought my way through it. Not my best fake job, but it sufficed. Regardless, they were appreciative of the effort, and had many nice things to say to me on break as I passed by their table. I think I also made a rule: whenever I'm within a half mile of the river, I'm forced to play Mississippi Queen. I have no excuse.

One unique facet of the Longshot is the alligator tank. Along the side wall, they exhibit a huge fish tank with a “terrarium” of sorts resting on top, lit with hydroponics lamps and filled with subtropical plants. The main feature of the tank is the three 36” alligators that prowl around amongst some goldfish, and a lonely turtle. Steve and I watched it for quite awhile on breaks to our amusement. While I never saw one come out of the tank and wander across the terrarium, they would rest just below the water’s edge, their prehistoric eyes peeking above the surface, scanning for prey. Quite a novelty!

Some of the crowd slipped away during the second set, but we’d brought in reinforcements, and the party continued. Darcie brought in not only her mother and her “beau” (from what I could tell), but her father and his girlfriend came up from Arizona as well, along with friends. She introduced them to us all, and we shared many drinks, and good times throughout the evening. I was rather unpleasantly notified that I am, in fact, older than both Darcie’s mother AND father. So it goes.

During the second break, as I staggered past the bar, someone shouted “Deron, what kind of shot do you want?” Now, Dr. Pepper shooter is the first to come to mind, but at a new place, I’m not going to start asking to light things on fire. They get nervous when I explain how to make a Flaming Dr. Pepper.

Jagerbomb is always a trusty choice, but also a bit tired. That's the easy way out. As I perused the shelves of liquor, I spied the familiar aqua blue bottle of Cabo Wabo Silver label! And a different flavor Cabo resting next to that no less!

“You have Cabo!” I declared.

“You want a Cabo?” the owner asked. He turned and reached for the unfamiliar white bottle, but I corrected him.

“No, the Silver label,” I said. I know I love the Silver Label Cabo. Why take a chance?

He chilled it and served it in a proper glass, and I toasted Chuck, who bought it, and all those there at the bar shooting with us. Ah! The sweet nectar of 100% Blue Agave! As I’ve said, I can’t stand tequila! But Cabo, that’s the shit! The owner was impressed that I had such fine taste in good tequila!

Well, needless to say, that shot hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was doing quite well at this stage. We gathered up for the third set, which is still unscripted, for the most part. I had become increasingly pleased with my guitar tone, and even jacked it up a bit, now that the “dinner crowd” was either in the palm of our hands, or out the door. Carson even had it in my monitor a slight bit. I guess he knew with the outdoor ambiance, there wasn’t as much stage volume as I’m used to.

The third set felt good, and while the crowd was thinning, and not all that big to begin with, we were all having a fine time. The owner made it over to Chuck’s side during a song, waving four more shots for us to drink in plastic cups, all on him!

“Cabo!” he said to me, waving them with a smile. Excellent!

At the conclusion of the song, we passed them around. Boozie took his readily, yet Steve was very cautious. I snapped mine up as Chuck gazed into the bottom of his and asked “What is it?”

“Cabo!” I told him.

He kind of looked at me cockeyed and said “Tequila?” I nodded.

“The best!” I said. He seemed skeptical. “It doesn’t even taste like it!” I assured him.

“Naw, I can’t drink tequila,” he explained, shaking his head firmly. “When I do, someone gets their ass beat, and it’s usually me!”

Steve declined his as well, which didn’t really surprise me. Steve rarely drinks many shots, and for good reason. When he does, he usually gets really fucked up, and then is pretty much incapacitated, which he isn’t a big fan of being.

“Come on,” Boozie protested, as Chuck and Steve turned up their noses. “It’s just a shot!”

I knew it was of no use. Then I hit on a plan. I grabbed Chucks Cabo and poured it in my glass. Then poured Steve’s in Boozie’s glass. No one protested, and Boozie and I quickly pounded them down. Zowie! A double shot of Cabo has quite a kick! Still smooth though. Kicks Cuervo’s ass every day of the week!

We rounded out the night to our Riverbend fans and Darcie’s family, along with the staff and the owner’s friends who seemed to really enjoy the show. Despite the lateness of the evening, they demanded an encore after we’d finished, so we sent the night off with one more, and all of us felt like it was a positive night.

As we wound down, the owner made it quite clear that we couldn’t stay inside and drink, and that all of those waiting for us would have to go outside. But, he had a plan. He wasn’t running anyone off.

He moved some tables and chairs out on the back landing for all our guests, and even sold us all some buckets of beer to enjoy while we tore down. Apparently, that was quite legal.

So, most of us sat out back and pounded some brews under the stars, conversing with Darcie’s parents, and I was shooting bottlecaps off the deck by snapping my fingers, aiming for a large satellite dish pointing towards the sky. A pleasant wind down from the evening’s events. Beats the hell out of me what we had to talk about, but we talked for quite a while.

I packed my gear, and drug it down the steps to my SUV. Boozie and his wife and their friend were making their exit, when Carson mentioned to Boozie that he hadn’t been paid yet.

“Yeah you were,” Boozie chuckled, as though Carson was playing a prank.

“No, I wasn’t,” Carson insisted.

“I gave it to you first, then paid everyone else,” Boozie said.

“No,” Carson said. “You didn’t. I haven’t gotten paid.” There wasn’t any anger in Carson’s tone, but he was sounding more and more convincing that he wasn’t paid. I could tell Boozie was starting to get confused, as I slammed the tailgate shut on the SUV, and made my way to the cabin of the Durango.

“Look in your front pocket,” Boozie declared. “You put it in your front pocket.”

“No I didn’t,” Carson said, as he reached into his pocket.

“Yes, you did,” Boozie said. Carson reached into his pocket, and pulled out a wad of money, neatly folded up.

“Oh!” he said with a chuckle. “I guess you did!”

I shook my head and ducked out of the parking lot. The night was very black, with only the amber glow of the Clark Bridge in the distance. As I drove home, I pondered what to do about breakfast. I was feeling hungry. Hardee’s was quick, but it also sucks. What I really wanted was Waffle House, but I didn’t feel like going inside. Too damn tired.

None the less, I talked myself into it, and found myself staring down a plate of hash browns covered all ways, and a couple eggs over easy.