During the break between Old Crow and the Sharpies, I began my trek: "Excuse me, can I get by?" Given my white hair, these always-polite young people in their 20s and 30s would reluctantly create just enough space for me to forge ahead. I would then explain that I was "The Dad."
Those were the magic words: "Hey guys, he's The Dad!"
After relentless "I'm the Dads" I finally made it to a 2 ft. by 2 ft. niche, surrounded by the young, the sweet, the friendly. Good view of the stage, close enough to enjoy Alex' wild gyrations, his natural instinct to connect viscerally with the audience and band members. At the beginning of "40 Day Dream," which he often introduces with the metaphorical question, "Are there any children here?" Spotting a 10-year-old girl with flowing blonde hair, he asked her to join him on stage to sing with him and the band. Later he told me he'd only done that once before. She knew the words, she sang, she was special.
That's Alex. His spontaneity, his ease, his spur-of-the-moment choice of songs, the length of the songs, depending on his intuition, his feel for the audience.
A slight case of claustrophobia began to creep up on me during the first coupla songs. The cold air was replaced by lots of body heat from the young and excited kids around me. My windbreaker and jacket came off, jammed between my knees. But my turtleneck stayed on...no bare chest this time...
My excitement took over, arms pumping in the air, singalongs in this sea of 8,000. A young lady next to me asked if she could take a picture of me with the crowd and the stage in the background. A guy in his 30s, on the other side of her, kept high five-ing me, screaming with joy that he'd seen the Sharpies four times already.
Eyes blazing, he asked: "Are you going to join them on the train?!" I said, "No, unfortunately not."
"Ye gotta man, ye gotta, take the train to New Orleans, how can you not, whadda ya gotta lose, man?!"
He was right, of course. I'd contemplated doing that, but my old-man-syndrome, my attachment to my blue swivel chair, took hold of me, and I thought, "Naah, too much, won't get any sleep."
I promise you, if this tour gets going again next spring, I'll be on that Train, sleep or no sleep!
At the end of the Sharpie set, loud and relentless cheers from the audience after "Home," I asked Skarlett, the girl who took my picture if she could send it to me via Facebook. She said, "I'm on Facebook too, I'll do that!"
The Sharpie-crazed guy asked if he could follow me, he wanted to meet Alex. I said, "Of course." I once more launched my slow squeeze trek to the side and the VIP section, lots of "excuse me, can I get by's," a slow go, dragging my windbreaker and jacket behind me. The crazed guy followed in my path. By now I couldn't wait to get outta there, take a break before Mumford.
Just as I was about to escape the sardine crunch, a coupla 250-pound giants, obviously drunk, got into a nasty shoving match. Since we don't know how we would react in such a situation, I was surprised by mine: "Hey guys, stop that!" I didn't recognize myself!
Fortunately two even bigger security guards in yellow jackets were there in an instant and broke the thing up. They dragged one of the brutes away. Right about then, I noticed I'd dropped my windbreaker in the crunch, lost forever. Oh, well, no matter, I thought.
My golden wristband got me into the VIP section, where my old friends were waiting in great comfort, having loved seeing their little boy, Alex, create his stage magic, albeit from further away and from the side.
The crazed guy couldn't get back there; I told him to wait, I'd find Alex, who had disappeared somewhere.
Forty-five minutes later the poor guy was still waiting by the VIP entrance, I apologized that Alex was nowhere to be found.
I'd checked out some of the Mumfords, the last band to play, liked their lyrical, sometimes sad ballads, but fatigue was getting to me. My Palos Verdes friends, with whom I was staying, were by now eager to leave.
Had I been on my own, I would have pushed thru my tired mind and body, hung around, checked out the train, parked right next to the venue, 15 sleek silver California Zephyrs, complete with bar, restaurant, film equipment, sleeping berths for musicians, families, crew.
As is, my friends and I agreed to call it a night.
Just then, Mr Alex finally appeared, hugs all around. He said, "No, you can't leave, you have to stay 'til the end, all of us will be on stage singing 'This Train is Bound for Glory', you'll love it, it's awesome!"
At the VIP entrance, the crazed guy was still waiting! I apologized again, told him Alex had to get onstage, no time left to meet him. I said goodbye, he followed me, asked if he could have my golden magic band. Of course I let him have it. He untangled it from my wrist, happy as can be. I wished him well. Hope to God he got to meet Alex. I should have asked him if he had Facebook…
We watched "This Train is Bound for Glory" from the side, a little ways back. Pure childlike joy, dancing, singing, instruments exchanged, 25 musicians and singers clearly ecstatic to be together on this magical journey. Alex jumping around, tambourine in hand, Marcus Mumford strumming for dear life on banjo and guitar, a whirlwind of kids on a wild ride. I grabbed my friend Irene, danced, sang, clapped, swayed.
Time to say goodbye to a special place and evening. Goodbye Alex, sweet lovable Sharpies; goodbye, Marcus, whom I'd met earlier, the nicest guy imaginable; goodbye, stage, swirling lights, silver train...'til next time!
I figgered I would never see the photo the young lady took of me; she'd surely forget to send it. Because of an amazing "celestial coincidence," I turned out to be wrong. She could not find me on Facebook, but someone named Andrea La Pietra found the young lady's search for me on their mutual tumblr site and e-mailed me the link just yesterday.
Old Crow, the Mumfords, the Sharpies were a perfect combination: different styles and dynamics – pure twanging bluegrass, British ballads, folk rock celebrations – but they somehow complemented each other, making a whole out of different cloth.
San Pedro and the (Sirius Radio) broadcast have expanded my affinities for pop/indie, including the sardine squeeze, the nice young people, the crazed guy, the photographer, named Skarlett, so enthusiastic to be there.
Especially the broadcast. It allowed me to sit and listen in my blue easy chair and drag Barbara, my daughter Gabi and her boyfriend Travis into my study to dance, cheer, hold hands during that wonderful all-the-bands-on-stage "This Train is Bound for Glory" grand finale.
I was amazed at myself spending four hours listening to pop/indie, sometimes stomping my feet, sharing reactions with Gabi, who's a pop expert and a huge fan of all three bands.
I look forward to Old Crow/Mumford jams at Bluegrass!
Gabi heard all of them in Tempe, along with George and Beth Gage, who are big Sharpie fans. At the last minute, Gabi decided to jump on the train and accompany these lively troubadours to Austin via a stop in Marfa, Texas. She said is was one of the great experiences of her life hearing them jam, sing, love, and laugh together. Wish I'd been there too.
Alex Facebooked me after their New Orleans farewell concert, said he was in tears, along with lots of other newfound friends. The whole joy ride was a "revelation" to him. On Monday, May 2, at 3:58 a.m., he posted this on his wall:
"Vivid dreams messengering the grave and the great...time to awake, to awake, to awake – to be the promise, awake awake awake – it is time it is time it is time!"
I think he feels very inspired!