Saturday--Las Vegas

I pledged to blog the whole trip, but already I"ve missed a day--the first day.  But it's 6 in the morning, I'm in Vegas, and most people who are wandering around me in the lobby look decidedly as if they have been up all night, so I don't consider it Sunday just yet.

Saturday afternoon Dave & I played a short set at the SF Free Folk Festival.  Surprisingly for San Francisco, which has a proud folk tradition and an eclectic and left-leaning populace that normally supports anarchistic gatherings and movements with gleeful abandon, this is a very modest and low-key affair, held at the Presidio Middle School out near the ocean on 30th Ave.  The true believers are there--people in tie dye and hemp, drawing their identity from the 60's, and now in 60's of their own.  There are the jammers, sitting around the alcoves and school benches in little clusters playing impromptu fiddle tunes or strumming and singing the oldies (and in folk music, oldies means something--we're talking Barbara Allen and Greensleeves) in classic communal out-of-tune folk style.  There are folk dancers, clogging and jingling and jiggling themselves happy.  These are the people who embody the folk ethos--oblivious to how they look or sound, and uninterested in displaying anything recognizable to the untrained eye as "talent," they worship at the alter of elemental harmony, primitive rhythm and simple communal connection.  And then there are the featured performers--more ego than ethos, perhaps, but still committed to giving their time and talent for a short while and holding forth with music that the mainstream has relegated to this little eddy.  They are mostly local, all acoustic and resolutely eclectic--singer songwriters, jug bands, cabaret singers, country cowboys, and players of everything from mandolins to saws to digeridoos.

Dave and I have only played without Vickie a couple of times in the past ten years, and are a bit lost without her beautiful voice and clear fiddle.  What's more, Dave's quiet lead picking is more or less nullified by the lack of a PA and the drone of other players in nearby rooms.  But this was a low key affair in a classroom with 20 or 30 folk faithful listening attentively, and went pretty well despite my gnawing insecurity about singing and playing without audible backup.  Another ledge I need to push myself over more often.

We connected with some lovely people--Richard Rice who runs this affair,  Bob Heilleson, Meghan McLaughlin and Laura Zucker and her talented daughter, then shot off to the airport for my flight to Vegas.

Vickie had hauled our children (both human and instrumental) to Vegas in the aging Sienna minivan on Friday (while I finished up at work), so they already had put in 24 hours and 5 or 10 miles of walking the endless casino lobbies, malls and vast spaces between, when I arrived Saturday evening.  We stayed at the Mirage--a surprisingly honest name for a casino. As I strolled past the 20,000 gallon saltwater fish tank and artificially misted, fully enclosed indoor rain forest (and bar of course) near check-in, I was expecting to see t-shirts proclaiming "The Mirage--It's faux real!"  I hiked on resolutely, navigating easily a hundred yards of hard-sell-- rows of slot machines and upscale shops--while being pounded relentlessly by energetic music presumably selected to maximize the urge to hemorrhage money.  I finally reached the elevator banks, conveniently placed in the very back of the casino.  Up the elevator I went, where the musical onslaught continued at a decibel level I've never encountered in any other elevator.  

Finally found the family intact and happy, and we headed for dinner and a show--our big splurge.  We had dinner at BB King's, which promised authentic southern cooking backed by southern blues.  The food and the blues were both tasty, but eating while listening to live blues in a darkened club had a few disadvantages--the menus were hard to see, much less read, and  the dinner conversation was reduced more or less to hand signals, mouthed words, and the occasional shout of something really important, like asking the waitress where the restrooms were, always expecting the music to stop just as the fateful words blasted out.   I gave serious consideration to actually calling Vickie from across the table with my cell phone.

Then the highlight of the day--the Cirque de Soleil show, Love.  It's all the spectacle the world has come to expect from Cirque--gorgeous dancers and acrobats performing superhuman feats, bizarre costumes and props, massive and complex mechanical marvels of stagecraft, all set to amazingly clear waves of Beatles music, snippets of Beatles recording studio chatter and ingenious presentations of iconic Beatles imagery.  Our daughter Olivia leapt to her feet for the nearly obligatory Cirque standing ovation, and proclaimed undying love for Love. 

Back in the room there was no time for contemplation--we just undressed and conked out.  But this morning at 6, as I walked the lobby in search of coffee and a quiet place to write, my eye fell on a t-shirt in the window of a rock and roll memorabilia shop, which put a fitting final commentary on an exhausting day crammed with music.  In elaborate gothic script it read  "Music:  The Art or Science of combining  vocal or instrumental sounds or both to produce Beauty or form Harmony and expression of Emotion."  Amen. 


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