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Bent Nails & Broken Pipes: Bluegrass Night at Barfly

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For over two years, ever since we came to Montreal, I've intended to go to open mic bluegrass night at Barfly on Boulevard St.-Laurent.  It happens every Sunday night, and out of over 100 opportunities to take it in, how many have I grabbed? A big Ze-ro. Every Sunday night I think how interesting it would be to go down there and listen to people who've written their own songs, backed by the house band or whatever they've got there, harmonizing and maybe even yodeling once in awhile. Maybe, I think each week, if I feel brave enough, I'll sling along my old guitar and sing Bent Nails & Broken Pipes or one of my other compositions. Blend right in there with the hootenanny. One of the great things about having this new resolution to daily do something I've never done before, is that Sunday has come around again, and I'm heading out the door! I'll give you a report later when I get back home, like I did with the Strip Spelling Bee.

A lot later: Which hole-in-the-wall was I looking for on the Main? Why I guess it'd be the one that has a guy in a cowboy hat standing outside with his cigarette. Long time since I'd been in a place like this, though I knew it well. Half pint of cream ale, sitting on a barstool remembering how late the music gets started in bars - guys playing pool, no rush, then that thing where musicians get on and off the stage shouting TEST and twanging and thwacking around with their woofers and tweeters for a long time. Last time I sat on a stool like this guys used to hit on me. Now I'm more of an oddity, older than a lot of people here and wearing a jewelled turban, which I wear under my winter hat because it forms a weatherproof seal around my ears. Age knows no dignity. I forgot you are supposed to go to bars with friends, not alone, even if you're just there for the music, which has started. I remember how much respect I have for musicians. So much intricacy and mathematics wrapped in a gossamer of timing outside time. I'm happy as a family dog when my daughter shows up and stands next to the chair I pulled over from the pool table. Sometimes there are women, she says, but tonight it's nearly all men. Bluegrass is heavy on the men. That's another thing I forgot, though I don't hold it against anybody. Neither is there any original music - it's all old pieces. There is one woman who gets up - she leads a Sacred Harp group in town that my daughter has joined, and when she sings it's all mountain purity, Carter family hollering, a clear, straight stream. I'd like a lot more of that.

The sign-up blackboard is all Joe and Chuck and Tom, and they know what they're doing. You can sing three songs and the band will back you. For me and my daughter to come and sing, we'll have to practise. I've got two songs anyway that would fit in here: Bent Nails & Broken Pipes, otherwise known as The Bad Husband Song, and Without Trees the Wind Could Not Whisper, which by rights should have Dolly Parton on vocals. But I'll do it one night if I get the nerve. What the hell, it's my song and I'll sing it. Came home long after midnight and my other daughter was waiting. I had resisted pizza and poutine on the way home, I told her. But you hate fast food, she said. That's what you think, I said. There were some baked potatoes left over from supper on the counter. They don't look very appetizing, she said. Watch me - I fried them up with onions. Are you gonna put grated cheese on that? Yes, get it ready and we'll have Kathleen Poutine.

Here are the bass player and the guy in the cowboy hat.



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