For several fun-filled summers before marriage and children and home ownership and all of the other responsibilities of adulthood, I played with the Barbeque Brass. We were all adults, mind you, but for 42 concerts every summer we let our hair down and took the New England outdoor gazebo circuit by storm.
Our concerts were filled with music that was easy on the ears and light on the soul. We almost always started concerts with a signature tune, then did a little light classical Bach to Bach, featured each member in a solo piece, played some patriotic highlights and always included a big band medley to feature our fearless leader, Jay Daly. Jay can play Harry James and Louis Armstrong solos like he is cut from the same cloth, and pulls off Bix Beiderbecke and Herb Alpert imitations just as smoothly. He stole the show every night with his lyrical interpretations, silky tone and sophomoric jokes. He had a special way with the ladies, those over 75 at least, and many audience members returned to see a second or third show each summer just to hear him croon.
Most of our summer concerts were one-offs, where we'd arrive, set up, play, break down and go home in the same day. This particular summer, Jay was asked if the group would perform at the Barton County Fair in VT as featured entertainment for the chariot races. He enthusiastically accepted, although he knew that he had a conflict so could not commit to the multi-day schedule. The rest of us were free, so plans were set in motion. Jay would meet us at the next concert in Derby Line, VT.
Housing was a big concern for that weekend since the event took place on fairgrounds and pretty much everyone who attended stayed in a camper. I honestly can't recall if he bought, borrowed or rented the camper that we brought, but I hope he got his money back. I remember sitting in rehearsal listening to him describe this great camper with running water, electricity, a bathroom and plenty of. sleeping area for 5 of us (Jay's sub for the week was driving his own van since we were moving on to other concerts after the fair). What we saw when we met at the carpool location was a dilapidated camper completely bathed in linoleum with 4 pull out sleeping bunks and a tired engine that chugged hard when it was parked in the driveway. All of us were very concerned about the competence of the vehicle and even more concerned about the sleeping arrangements, so we threw a big tent into the camper before we left just to make certain we had cover at night.
It took about 4 hours to get to the fair, and I thought several times during the trip that we were going to have to go out back and push the camper up a few of the hills. Top speed maxed out at about 45mph on flat ground. But finally we pulled in at the gate to the fairgrounds. Nancy was driving so asked the attendant for our site location and about how we should hook up to power and water. The attendant chuckled and said we didn't have a reservation with those services and directed us to a location in the middle of an enormous field. Nancy said there must be some mistake—the event organizers had promised a site with water and electrical hookups. The gate keeper had knew nothing about it and once again directed us to the grassy field.
We all took a second to comprehend what was about to happen. We were going to spend 3 full nights in a fairground with no water, no power and no way to cook or refrigerate food. Roy, our sub trumpeter, pulled up in his van, but his smile quickly faded when he saw us standing outside the sad looking camper. He immediately decided to sleep in his van. There was little time to figure anything out since we were due to play our first concert shortly, so we all got dressed and headed over to the stadium to warm up.
BBQ Brass always looked as good as it sounded, and this year we sported colorful shirts, white pants with suspenders, white sneakers and white straw hats. We bounded in backstage at the stadium as horses were doing warm-up laps and were surprised to run into a couple that we knew from our school concert circuit. These two were married, and their act was all showman. They had been hired to emcee the event—tell a few jokes to the crowd and introduce the entertainment. As we unpacked the gear, they explained to Nancy that our job was to play between the races during the time that the cleaning sled came by to pick up the horse shit that was left on the track. We had 10 minutes at best for each mini-set, and the first one was about to start.
Nancy came back in a panic and told us the schedule. We were all dumbstruck but, since we knew we had to go on, we quickly came up with a few short sets using pieces from our show so we could get through the chariot races ahead. Just a few minutes later the applause died down and the emcees introduced us. When we walked out on the stage, we really hadn't prepared for what we saw. There were perhaps 25 people in the stands on the other side of the race track, probably close to 30 yards from the stage area. We could barely make out faces, and as we started the first number, the echo of our own sound in the cavernous stadium was nearly deafening.
Our show was all schtick, tied together by cute jokes and a few antics. With less than 10 minutes to play and the din of the shit picker upper whirring by us, we said little and just played loud numbers. The crowd reassembled towards the end of our mini-set just as the races were about to begin, so we finished up and went back stage to regroup. Before we went back out for the next set, we took off our straw hats and left them back stage—this just didn't seem like a straw hat kind of crowd.
We went back to the camper after the races, our path lit by lights from other campers and a few overhead poles along the way. The field had really filled in and the fair was in full swing, bells dinging, colored lights flashing, laughter and loud music surrounding us. We were tired, we were hungry and I just wanted to go to bed. We grabbed a hot dog on the way back to the camper knowing full well our beer would be warm when we arrived.
Hans and I had already decided that we weren't going to sleep in the camper...it felt too small and would be tight with 5 people. Nancy agreed, so the 3 of us decided to set up the tent and sleep outside. It was an enormous tent and would have slept all 6 of us comfortably, but we were short a few poles. We were short so many, in fact, that we could only put up an A-frame with one long pole lodged against it to keep it upright. It looked just like a tent from the front view, but the side view was flat like a Hollywood movie set storefront. We laid out our sleeping bags so our heads were at the front of the tent and our feet tucked underneath the collapsed back panel and settled in for the first night.