Wisconsin 1968 - Plus 42 Years
22.10.2010 - 22.10.2010 10 °C
Last week, I was going about the business of my job, arranging the brewing schedule, ordering ingredients, analyzing (well, tasting really - it's a job) the beer that was to be packaged that day. One of my brew house mechanics came to my office and told me that Arlo Guthrie was scheduled to play in Monroe (a charmingly rural locale of 10,843 people and 300,000,004 cows) the following week. My interest was peaked, as my Love and I had seen Arlo perform in Madison WI about ten years ago. Great show, so why not see him again? How many chances would we have to see a performer, so close to home, who very nearly defined a generation so many years ago? One, apparently. I quickly checked out the local paper online and found that the Monroe Arts Center was sponsoring the show in just ten days, and it was to be held at, of all places, the local high school auditorium. What? Arlo, the marijuana smoking, anti-insanity of government scion of the sixties, playing a concert at a high school? Hmmm, how times have changed. I found that the ticket prices were reasonable ($20-$75 a seat), so I immediately emailed my Love with this exciting news. We have to go, she replied within 12 seconds. I agree, would you order the tickets my Dear? Absolutely. We opted for the $25 seats, just in case the $20 seats were behind a pole or lighting set-up. And besides, how big can a high school auditorium be?
Two days later, the tickets arrived in the mail. Our excitement grew with each passing day. We hadn't been to a concert in years, and this promised to be a classic. I even went so far as to email Arlo on his website asking if it would be acceptable to bring a few cases of beer to the show for the group. I had visions that Arlo would answer me personally, inviting us backstage, or at least onto the tour bus to share a beer and talk about days gone by. He didn't. The day of the show crept slowly closer, and still no answer. Not deterred, I called the Monroe Arts Center to see if they could help out in realizing my vision. The lady I spoke with was very personable, and though we couldn't have beer backstage (it was a school after all), we might be able to give them my beer directly after the show. She thought it was a very nice gesture that we would consider thanking Arlo with a hometown product. Hey, I have 200,000 cases of beer in my warehouse, so it wasn't really a stretch to bring a couple of cases.
The day of the show finally arrived, with still no word from Arlo himself. Rats. Hope springs eternal, and the day at work passed quickly. I drove home, singing out loud lyrics from "Alice's Restaurant, Comin' Into Los Angeles, and City Of New Orleans". I caught the attention of a few dairy cows grazing peacefully in their pasture, but they were mostly unimpressed. I'd have to work on my singing technique. My Love had dinner almost waiting for me as I returned, knowing, uncannily knowing as she is, that we would be up way past our bedtime by the end of the show and would be in no mood to dine. Cocktails yes, but dine no.
As we drove into Monroe, a town I know quite well, we turned toward the high school. It seems that I don't know the town as well as I think, because though I know where the high school is, more or less, I don't know where the auditorium is. Couldn't be too hard to find, could it? Just look for the tour buses in the parking lot. And there they were, diesel engines quietly humming away keeping the batteries charged. One never knows about tour buses, what kind of energy they consume.......perhaps the batteries were needed to power amplifiers or cigarette lighters or some such, but the engines are only ever allowed to rest at night, after the show is done and the occupants are fast asleep.
Doors opened at 6:45pm, and we were 10 minutes late for that. The show was to start at 7:30pm, so we had plenty of time. Not to worry Dear. There were already a dozen or so people milling around the lobby, exchanging greetings as rural folk are apt to do. I would guess the median age was about 58. We asked at the ticket counter (really, a small table manned by two nice ladies from the Arts Center) as to the whereabouts of the lady to whom I spoke about bringing beer. She was pointed out to us, and we strolled over to her and engaged her in conversation. She suggested we speak to the people manning another table, Arlo people, who were occupied arranging and selling sundry concert-type merchandise (CD's, T-shirts, bumper stickers) on another small table. Perhaps we could bring the beer to the buses at intermission, or even after the show. She told us that Arlo would be leaving immediately after the show.....this dashed our hopes for autographs and chat. We were hoping for autographs.....my Love even brought along two very old vinyl albums in hopes of securing said autographs, as well as a letter from our best friend in Florida who just missed the chance to see Arlo in Chicago in 1963....both were underage, and our friend was not allowed into the club Arlo was playing (funny, since our friend is 2.5 months older than Arlo). We chatted with Arlo's people, who were very friendly, and because we believe in the cause, we bought the latest CD and another bumper sticker. They arranged for one of the bus drivers to escort us to offload the beer onto Arlo's bus. Sweet. Still time for the show and maybe an introduction. We led the nice young man, Ashely, to our car, parked conveniently next to the buses, and brought the beer to the main bus. Say, nice bus you guys have here. Oh yeah, it's kind of home away from home....see, there are 12 bunks, a back room for playing music, a bathroom. Say, any chance your boss will come out and have a beer? No, not really, he's prepping for the show. Oh well, no harm in asking. Thank you Ashely, for the brief look at the daily life of a traveling band.
Back in the auditorium, we found our seats. We couldn't have been more than fifty feet away from the stage. Not bad for $25. I couldn't see paying another $50 each just to sit right up front...we could see everything from back here. Showtime approached, and the audience was filing in. My God, there can't be more than three people here under the age of 50, including me!!! I hadn't seen this much gray hair since our last visit to Florida. I started feeling downright young by comparison.
The lights went down, and out came Arlo, his son Abe, the Burns Sisters (backup singers), and the bassist, guitarist, and drummer. Thunderous cheers from the mostly geriatric crowd rang in my ears. Geez, these people still have some motivation in them (or so I thought). Arlo started at the piano, ran through several songs, then came up front to sit at a stool and regale the audience with his famous tales. Classic song after classic song came from the man, sprinkled with some pretty amusing stories, including a rather lengthy parable of the Biblical Joseph and his trials. Do you wonder what one person can do to change the world, Arlo pronounced? Well, the guy who pointed out to Joseph's brothers where Joseph had gone after fleeing his family....that unnamed individual who quite possibly changed the course of history, that's who. "He went that way". The audience was downright gleeful, fascinating for a bunch of old folk from the Middle of Nowhere. Oddly, as Arlo sang songs that had been part of everybody's life for nearly 45 years, the audience hardly moved, save for applauding at the end of each song. Gleeful, but unmoving. Such is the way of rural life. My Love and I were tapping our toes and nodding our heads with each passing refrain.
Intermission came....fifteen minutes for the band to pee and have a drink. And the audience.....again, geriatric, so a good pee was in order for most of them. We simply stood, moved out of the way for folks heading to the bathroom, and stretched. A couple of ladies seated next to us got up, then voiced that they needed to remember where they were sitting. I told them "just look for my shirt (a red Hawaiian number). Oh, yes, we will see that when we get back. A few minutes later, they returned and sat down. We chatted a bit, about Monroe, Unions (oh, I think the brewery has the last Union in town), and, as older folks are apt to do, their health. Seems one of the ladies had had a stroke at work, so she now cherished every day (fitting, for this concert). And, as she proclaimed with all earnestness, if she ever got "the" cancer, she would "take marijuana", because that chemo and those cancer drugs just don't work. I think I might have wet myself laughing, because this woman is possibly the last person anyone would ever imagine "taking marijuana". I couldn't believe my ears. My Love almost fell over. This one single profound statement made the entire night. This woman was someone's grandmother, and yet, even in today's climate of zero tolerance for anything "out of the norm", she was willing to "take marijuana", even though it could land her in jail. And she knew where to get some too, just in case. Jim Morrison was right....people are strange, when you're a stranger.....and this woman didn't know me from Adam. I was in awe of her. You go girl. Live long, and be happy.
Arlo played for another hour, switching between six-string guitars, twelve-string guitars, and the piano. Each band member had their moment to shine, and all did with gusto and skill. The lights went up, and the show was over. We bid farewell to the two ladies next to us. Once in the lobby, we made sure to pick up the album, with autograph (sorry, Arlo will only sign one item per person), and headed home. I can't really blame Arlo for not sticking around and chatting - this is his job, and I don't like to hang around after my job and chat when I'd much rather just go home. Sometimes you have to talk to your fans, and I'm sure he does, just as I do when visitors to my brewery want to ask me every question they can about brewing. It goes with the territory.
What a show, that's all I can say. Thank you Monroe Arts Center. Thank you Arlo. Next time, I'll plan a little further ahead. Three cases, that'll do the trick. Yeah.....