Well, even novels have a germ of truth to them. I just hope nobody gets sick with the germs I’m putting in Hatteras: A Novel.
In those days, there was live music everywhere in the Poconos, every night except, I believe, Thursday, everything from jazz and country rock to bluegrass, texas swing and folk, and all of it pretty damn good live music, too. So there were plenty of venues to cruise chicks, as we used to say. I was working as a single a couple weekly at the Hilton, then started playing with CP, a musician who had gotten a summer job up at Pocono Environmental Center and had a pretty large repertoire that vaguely overlapped mine. He played a little banjo and I was getting pretty good at mandolin, so we switched up our instrumentation and started developing a pretty good sound, good solid harmonies on songs way harder than any I had done before.
About that time I heard rumors of a local bluegrass band, and it turned out that one of the guys that played in it had made my acquaintance at places like the Bottom of the Fox and the Blue Note in Water Gap, and several other joints that have since burned down or been demolished. He was charming and urban, something different than the standard brew of musicians, and out of curiosity I went to hear the group a time or two. One week C had to drive back to Cleveland, and some friends had decided it would be a good weekend to get out on the river, something I did whenever I got the chance. So I hired the bluegrass crew to fill in for me, and despite their raw sound, they did well enough to suit the manager, then even showed up a couple times to sit in and jam.
I had studiously avoided bluegrass when I was down in Carolina because I was so taken by the Delta blues and finger-picking guitar, but as summer drew to a close, C was going with it, and the banjo player started wooing me to play stand-up bass for them, something I wasn’t particularly interested in doing. Oh, I had played bass in some garage bands back in the 60’s, but I had invested considerable time and effort into getting good at what I was doing, and it was something that I had fallen in love with from going to the Philly Folk Festival, back in the days when even a poor boy could afford it.
Oh, the good old days when Fred had the Chevy Van and we would roam the camp-grounds listening to the jams and stealing as much material as we could, asking where such-and-such a song came from so we could sit down and listen to it on somebody’s turntable, picking up the needle and putting it down dozens of times until we got all the lyrics and chord changes. The last festival we went to, it was 95 degrees and humid as hell, and we were pretty ripe, trying to chill in the shade on Sunday afternoon, when the sky opened up and a torrential down-pour instantaneously turned everything into a sea of mud. We sniffed out the storm and made it back to the van, and watched as people rushed to leave, getting stuck in muddy ruts a foot deep. There was something nice about being dry and comfortable while watching others who weren’t, but suddenly we saw something I sincerely believe I will never be able to unsee.
All weekend long, two enormous guys in bib overalls sat on top of their RV, drinking beer and tossing the empties to the ground below. We came and went, and never once did we see them leave to get more beer or to take a piss, and they just looked cross-eyed at you if you tried to chat them up. They were, we decided, kind of creepy. But as soon as the rain began, and while nimrods of all stripes smoked their tires and threw mud everywhere, the pair descended from their perch, stripped off their clothes and produced a bar of soap, showering up in front of God and everybody.
Man. That was the last thing I remember about the Philly Folk Festival, with its multiple stages and musicians that told stories of hotel jams that went on until the sun came up. Sign me up, Scotty! That’s the way I want to live!