Monday, January 02, 2006

and a Happy Cajun New Year

Got a message yesterday from Allegra Braughton of Solid Air (a duo of her and Sam Page) about New Year's gig in Santa Rosa with her cajun band, the Wild Catahoulas. Seemed a good chance their accordion player would be stranded in Ukiah by the flood -- Highway 101 was closed between here and there -- and so she drafted me to be a possible substitute accordionist. Luckily, I had no other gig lined up.

Called her back. I asked how loud the band was. "Better bring the accordion with the mics in it so we can run it through the PA" she said.

A verification call from Gus Garelick, the fiddler, verified the emergency, so I officially signed on. He suggested also bringing a piano, since Allegra would have to cover for the accordion player's vocal tunes with some of hers, and maybe piano would suit them better. Fine. When asked me if I knew cajun tunes, I said, yeah, sure, both of them...Jambalaya and the other one. He wasn't reassured. I think I frightened him.

I hauled out the monster accordion to make sure it still worked. Hadn't touched it in probably a year or so. Set up the Kurzweil to make sure it worked, too. Made a little list of the 8 or so easily available patches and taped it to the top. Last time I couldn't read the tiny screen on it well and hit the wrong button and lost the piano patch until the break. But it seemed to work ok. Tried it and the accordion through a little Boss mixer I picked up on Craigslist. It also had acted up once -- or I'd gotten it patched wrong. A patch cord seemed possibly noisy, so I replaced it with another. Had some trouble figuring out the controls on the accordion. I used to know how it worked...OK. Everything ready.

Loaded up the equipment and planned to head out around 6pm. As usual, I found other things to do, and diddled around, and got out late. Had forgotten I had to fill up the Echo with gas. Headed up Old Adobe Road, figuring the back roads would be faster on a holiday. Soon found myself behind a line of cars stopped by a flagman with a stop sign, and some sort of utility trucks working. "Hmmm," I thought, "must be a line down. Oh, what's that pickup across the road, upside down? Must be something more..." Got disgusted waiting and made a U-turn and headed back and out to the highway. Zoomed through amazingly little traffic to Santa Rosa, getting to The Black Rose only a few minutes late. Met Gus the Fiddler and Vic the fill in drummer. A five piece band, and the drummer had only played with them once, and I'd never played with them at all. And the accordionist who half fronts the band was gone. This could indeed be interesting.

We hauled in our stuff and got our free dinners -- part of the deal. Good fish and chips for several of us. Allegra and Sam, a fine bassist and her partner in Solid Air (as well as in life) and Gus worked through some setlists, trying to find tunes to do. They all looked the same to me -- various unintelligible French names. Oh well. How hard could they be?

I set up stage right, balancing the giant accordion on my lap, with the Kurzweil in front of me. Behind and to my left was Vic the drummer, and in front and to my left were Gus, Allegra, with Sam across from me, stage left, so I could see him well. Gus counted off some tune, and we just jumped in. Sam knew the tunes, fortunately, so between listening to Gus and watching Sam's fingers I could generaly tell what was up. My education begun.

Wait. That verse had two extra beats, I think. Ok, it starts on the 1 chord, and then goes to the 4, and then repeats, but not every time. Next time I'll count the measures. What? Oh, it's my solo? Ok, here goes.

And that's how it went all night. Gus helped cue me, and Allegra sung, and Sam gave me helpful hints through his imaginative facial expressions. As the night wore on I got into the swing of things and felt a little more assured. But my left arm got more and more tired. By the last set I'd given up on the accordion and stuck to the piano.

The crowd couldn't have been nicer and more enthused. At one point a trio of young college girls danced their way right onto the stage with us. We did the midnite countdown and everything. A good New Year's Gig.

Even better, the owner took our names down and wrote out individual checks for us. Cool. Nice waitress. Good cook. Great crowd. Excellent band. What more could I want?

Well, it would have been nice if Bonnie had come along. She'd have loved it. She had already promised to attend a neighbor's party, so that's what she did. Said she had a nice time.

Who knows. Maybe there will be some more cajun gigs in my future.


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