Saturday, February 27, 2016
Gail and I went to NYC recently to take advantage of tickets she won for the Cornell bus. I was shocked when she said we could use them to get to a Tim O'Brien concert, one of my all-time favorite musicians but not so much for her. She does recognize greatness though, and a trip to NY isn't just about one thing or event.
The show was at the Rubin Museum where they have a concert series called Naked Soul which is not amplified (amazing when you consider there is a booming nightclub outside and above it, must be one of the most soundproofed rooms anywhere). The Rubin is in the former Barney's Dept. Store and fittingly has a circular staircase in the middle of the building, fitting because it's a museum of Himalayan art that features many circles, spirals and helix. The performing artist selects a piece from their collection and presents it during the show and tries to match it with one of their songs, Tim chose Ganesha. Being the fan I am I insisted we get there early enough to get in line for seats in the front as it's general admission. Who wants to sit in the back where you might not be able to hear/see so well?
We got in the third row, right side, exactly where I was in 2011 when he played there and I went alone (11-11-11 actually, I walked down 11th St. at 11:11 pm). At that show he didn't have a banjo with him, which of course was a letdown for me, but he's so good on so many instruments he doesn't have room to bring everything when his tour bus is a Prius. Since he was leaving from NY this weekend to play a bunch of shows in Ireland and England I didn't expect him to bring the banjo this time either. When we got in there was one on the stage, though I knew it wasn't his and figured he borrowed it for the show.
He started the show with a Dylan song he often does, "Senor: Tales of Yankee Power" which was a good start for keeping Gail interested since she loves how he does it and might make up for some of the more lighthearted songs Tim often writes that annoy her, and I knew the title track of his new cd, "Pompadour" about more than just a bad hair day would surely be part of the set. At one point he left the stage and walked all the way around the room playing mandolin and singing a song. When he made nearly a complete trip around the audience he got to the row behind us and sat on the lap of a white-haired guy on the outside seat, just three seats away from me. I thought the guy looked a little uncomfortable, there tends to be many people at these shows who aren't necessarily fans of the artist but who go because it's a high-flutin' cultural event in NYC. I tried to get my camera out of my coat pocket but gave up to just enjoy the moment, getting a photo of a favorite musician a few feet away sitting on the lap of an uptight old-guy didn't seem necessary, I'd remember the scene without a picture. When Tim got back on stage he mentioned he likes to play jokes on people sometimes and said, "I appreciate that since Steve Martin loaned me his banjo for the night so I decided to have some fun at his expense."
Another look revealed, yes indeed, I was sitting three seats away from the first artist I ever went on a road trip to see. When I was 10 or 11 I rode a bus alone across NY State to see him in Saratoga during the "Wild and Crazy Guy" tour with my sister, Sue, who lived in Albany. With nine kids in the family I guess it was an acceptable risk losing one to a child-abductor on a Greyhound Bus in Schenectady or something. It was fitting that he was there to see Tim, who I once flew to Ireland to see and rode my bike around the country to catch a couple of his shows.
A few years ago Steve started awarding a $50,000 prize for excellence in banjo and when I heard about it I began investigating how to nominate Richie Stearns, a good friend and beloved banjo player from Ithaca. I have a frequently repeated joke (that happens to be true) in the Steve Martin style, "Richie is responsible for me being the fifth-best banjo player in Ithaca, named Joe." I couldn't find anything on Steve's website about how to nominate someone, but I found out who the panelists are who help select the winner and three of them are friends with Richie so knew he must be considered. I wasn't leaving anything to chance though, so as soon as the show was over I made my way to Steve (OK, so I might have pushed Gail and the little old lady next to her out of the way), grabbed his hand and thanked him for being partly responsible for me playing banjo, and that THIS IS THE YEAR RICHIE STEARNS NEEDS TO BE RECOGNIZED WITH HIS AWARD.
He said, "Oh yeah, I know about Richie."
I pointed at him, squinted a bit and said, "I know you know about him, and he should win."
Then I eased up as much as I was capable of in the moment and said I wouldn't possibly impose upon him for a picture, but I would like to get my picture taken holding his banjo. He was a bit hesitant, uncomfortable even, and said he didn't know about that and I'd have to ask someone from the museum but I said, "Well, it's your banjo, and it's right there..."
"Oh, go ahead, do whatever you want."
Wouldn't you know it, one of the first times since I was 11 that I didn't have my arrow-through-the-head with me: