Monday, January 12, 2004

Live characters weekly

It's the end of an era. Last night #1 Dad played its final Sunday show at the Crystal Corner, and so ended a stint that began--I've just confirmed, in a bit of archival research--March 10, 2002.

The show was a smash, the best birthday gift I could have asked for. A good thing, too: the #1 Dad show has been a bit of a drag for me for some time, and apparently for audiences as well. Attendance was down from the insane peaks of a year or so ago, when throngs packed the bar, drank like fish and danced like pagans. At least that's the way I remember it.

And so it came down to January 11. The old guard of fans was out in force. It was like "This Is Your Life": someone was there to represent every phase of my country-music career, even a healthy contingent of Benders fans from the heady days of 1999. A dedicated group from Chicago drove up that included the other member of the Anderson Brothers, the Windy City duo that was my first country project.

Ed Larson and I played our hearts out. Almost every song we performed was a tribute to someone we love--for Pat we played "Cowboy La Cage Aux Folles"; for Bob, "Stranger in the House"; and for #1 Dad we played "Family Tradition," which, improbably, emerged sometime back as our unofficial theme song. We played my own stuff, some Willie stuff, some Waylon stuff, some Jerry Reed, and my favorite George Jones song (maybe my favorite song, period), "She Thinks I Still Care."

We started with "King of the Road" and signed off with "The Race Is On," and standing ovations called us back for two encores. The first was "I Saw The Light," and the dance floor was packed, just like in the old days.

During the second encore something extraordinary happened, perhaps the most extraordinary thing I've seen in the nine or so years I've played live music. Someone requested "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and so #1 Dad did what we usually do with that song: play it in a medley with "Daddy Sang Bass" and thereby emphatically answer the Carter Family's question: "No, the circle won't be broken."

People were still dancing, singly and in pairs. Then, inexorably, one by one, the dancers put their arms around each others' shoulders and formed a circle that rotated slowly. The circle was small at first, three or four people, and then grew to fifteen or twenty people--many of them strangers to each other--rocking and swaying and spinning. It was magical. It perfectly summed up what all these years of entertainment have taught me: the power of music to bring people together. Like #1 Dad itself, the dance was a little wacky, a little ironic, a little unironic. The circle will, indeed, not be broken.

After we were done playing, person after person came up to shake my hand and hug me and thank me for the music and the memories. It was a gorgeous, moving night for me, and #1 Dad--and, for now, my career playing music on a regular basis--could not have concluded on a better note.

And this morning: my back ached and my head hurt with what I came to accept some time ago as my Monday morning secondhand-smoke hangover. I'm not going to miss the smoke, and although part of me feels foolish and ungrateful to walk away from what every local musican wants--regular work--some part of me knows I'm making the right decision.

Viva #1 Dad!

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