originally published March 7, 2012 on Open Salon
The bar no longer exists. The band, however, does.
It's a quarter after one in the morning on a Saturday in early August, the tail end of a Friday night gig that started at about nine. The venue is a small, smoky neighborhood bar on the outskirts of downtown (the ban hasn't gone into effect yet), a place that hosts live music most nights and has a decent jukebox. No kitchen; the most elaborate food they serve is potato chips. If you want something more than that, order in a pizza. I've seen it done.
There's a small, dark, cramped stage stuffed into a corner behind a pool table that's rarely in use. You can't see the whole bar from the stage. The band typically opts to set up near the door, a decision originally made as an attempt to collect a cover, but it turns out that the bar has a back entrance, so now the hat is passed.
The band ends every performance with the same a capella tune. The regulars all know this; some of them usually sing along. When the song ends, that's it for the night. The drummer, under the weather and exhausted, is anxious to get home so as soon as the tune starts he gets to work breaking down and packing up his kit, which he does with a rapid efficiency that comes with decades of practice, like a drill sergeant breaking down an M16. By the time the song ends, there are no cymbals in evidence.
Tonight, however, what's left of the crowd starts whooping for more. The drummer glances up from what he's doing long enough to give everyone concerned a "What the f*ck!?" look, then gets back to work. The whooping continues anyway.
A band playing a large venue would go offstage, then turn up the house lights and the audience would presumably get the hint. The bar has no offstage (and the band isn't actually on what stage there is to begin with), the house lights have been up all night, and the audience is at eye level with the band at a distance of perhaps six feet. Hiding in any form is not an option.
At some point it occurs to Rich, the bandleader, that he might actually have to call an encore. Ordinarily, no sweat, there's plenty of repertoire to pick from as he's been playing with some of these guys on and off for better than twenty years, but this is rock'n'roll and he suddenly has no drums.
At two minutes out, most of the drums are in their cases and the whooping hasn't diminished at all. Rich starts a slow blues progression on his guitar. The song is called Lil Red Rooster.
To hear this performance, go to www.freethemusic.net and scroll down until you see a row of flashing yellow dots just above some album cover art. Two lines above that should be Lil Red Rooster, an mp3 file. Click on it.