July 26, 2013
I was invited to play a festival in White Sulfur Springs. Merle Haggard would headline, along with Todd Snider, Robert Earl Keen, and other names people recognize. As with other little acts I was asked to play for exposure, which meant a spot to camp in the high desert mid-summer. Having no money, no tent, and a very full car, I obviously said yes and began searching for local concerts to supplement my exposure (to heatstroke), and hopefully, shelter.
On short notice options were limited; however just an hour and a half away a biker bar in Helena offered me the second set in a three-act metal show and $200. I was thrilled. My third grade state report was on Montana and one of my bffs is Helena, so how bad could it be? (This is why artists need managers.)
The first act was a three-armed four-piece metal duo. Lugging his Marshall stack onstage with one arm the singer-guitarist-bassist provided me with a new definition for hardworking musician. He screamed, strummed, thumped while my teeth rattled against my chest. I wondered how the crowd would receive my acoustic ballads… but this wasn’t my first metal show. (Metalheads dig alternate tunings.)
As I began the crowd was silent, attentive, supportive. Then the third act showed up and began dry-humping in front of the stage, shouting profanities and - from where I stood - preparing to kill me. There was a lot of tongue and a lot of fist. I started doubting whether I could hold things together when the sound guy and one of the bartenders dragged the humpers outside and restored peace. I sold a dozen CDs, packed up my gear, and opened the stage door… to a wall of flames.
Having been obstructed from expressing his anger in general, and towards me, in particular, Humper #1 had set fire to empty boxes and beer cases, alarmingly close to my car. That is, about to explode everything I own. I stood in the doorway not knowing how to respond when once again Bartender and Sound Guy appeared, practically leaping over my head to put out the blaze. (This wasn’t their first metal show.)
I drove back to White Sulphur Springs in silence, admiring the dark silhouette of the mountains... and smiling. For having survived another night on the road. For the audience, the staff, the musicians - even the humpers. For the money in my pocket and the songs that brought me here. For the festival organizer, who let me sleep in her Airstream. For the Canadians, who adopted me for the remainder of the weekend. For Todd Snider, who made the drive from California worthwhile alone. And most of all, for the exposure.