Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 21 - Lost Vegas - or - What to Do in Vegas in the Rain with No Money and a Twisted Ankle

The alarm clock woke us in our just barely too expensive motel room in Phoenix. We had to get to Vegas today with time enough to look around, and that meant getting the car fixed as fast as possible. With news of Elizabeth Taylor’s death ringing shrilly from the cheap TV, we packed up and showered fast.  We even had to skip the pool.

The night before I found a nearby repair shop called Cactus Auto Repair. I called them to see if they could take care of us right away. When we sheepishly crept into the windowless office, Dave got us taken in right away. In minutes, they were peering under our hood. In about two hours they had us squared away. A new radiator hose was the prescription, and we got away for cheap.  Dave was nice enough to buy a CD and give it a listen.  If you're ever broken down in Phoenix- go there.

It was now just past noon, and the day was wearing on fast. We hit the highway and booked it toward Vegas. We figured we’d get there in time to check in with the venue, and take some time to walk the strip. It was a pipedream really, considering the drive time.

Going through Arizona, we began to see crazy, Dr. Seuss-like trees. These Joshua Trees multiplied again and again. Soon the desert was filled with them. They are weird looking, but provide little in the way of shade or other creature comforts associated with trees. The Galt Line doesn’t care for Joshua Trees.

After some time rolling through dry hills, we took a curve and were greeted with enormous red mountains that stretched to the horizon in every direction. These peaks were surreal, as they seemed completely lifeless. There wasn’t a blade of grass on them. A sudden dip brought us to the exit for the Hoover dam. With a quick jerk of the wheel, we hopped off the highway and softly motored across the top, gliding through all of the tourists on foot.

In 45 minutes, we were descending the hills into Las Vegas. It is a sight, with shining buildings stretched across a sprawling valley floor. It sparkles from a distance. We pulled in to The Freakin’ Frog parking lot with some time to spare. Jack, our big and bearded bartender, greeted us, and when we established that we were playing that evening he set us up with beers and burgers. The Freakin’ Frog is a comfortable spot with a spacious bar and many private booths lining the walls. They have a thousand beers, and 6 hundred whiskeys. We made ourselves right at home with a Lucifer burger and a Teriyaki burger, a Coco Brown Ale and a Red Tail Amber Ale.

We were told to wait for Howard the owner/manager before we set up, so we opted to stay rather than walk to the strip for fear of missing him when he walked in. We waited a while. It was kind of a long while. Howard finally arrived, and sat with us to explain his business, Freakin’ Music, which is essentially a promotional company that helps bands without labels to tour.

We also found out, a little too late, that The Vernell Brown Trio was also playing with us. They have a residency every Wednesday. Howard decided to let them play first, looking to increase our crowd later in the night. We’re easy, so we acquiesced. We went to the stage to pull our gear back to the wall. Somewhere in this process I twisted my ankle. I didn’t even notice until about 10 minutes later when we were watching the trio set up. It started throbbing while I was sitting on a bar stool, downing another free beer.

The trio started up, pumping out experimental jazz jams. Vernell pounded the keys in rhythmic bursts, and experimented with tambourines on the strings and vocal recordings played back from his phone recorder. In about 30 minutes, he began ranting into the mic, explaining about the format of jazz (melody, solo, melody kinda thing). He then openly insulted his drummer. He music stopped shortly after, and he mumbled into the mic “We’re gonna take a short break or whatever, and we’ll be back”.

The drummer began angrily packing up. This was strange behavior for a Wednesday night residence spot, from a band playing to about 11 people. We gathered from several details that the trio had just recently been nominated for a Grammy. Something strange was happening. We watched Howard run toward the stage and have urgent looking conversations with everyone around.

The crowd began filtering out as they grew bored. Howard came up to us, apologies all over his face. He asked us if there was space in our schedule in the next few days. There isn’t. He asked us when we’d be back. “November maybe?” Howard visibly deflated and asked us to come back as soon as possible and to please not say anything bad about Freakin’ Frog.

We didn’t play. We came all the way to Vegas for some free beer and two burgers. I limped a lot as we packed out. My ankle was getting worse. Also an icy wind kicked up, and it began to rain (IN THE DESERT!). I guessed that we wouldn’t be walking down the strip. One pleasing detail rears its head. Jack took us up to the Whiskey attic, and showed us the beautiful collection of Bourbons, Scotches, and Irish Blends.

Soon we found ourselves in the Holiday House Motel, down near the end of the strip. We crawled into bed with a little cider and talked over the night’s debacle. “ At least we didn’t play to nobody. Whatever that means.”

Thanks to the Freakin’ Frog for the burgers and beer. Jack and Howard made the best of a very strange situation for us, and we can't wait to get back to the Freakin' Frog to play our show.  Also, Vernell Brown is a douche. We did get to talk to him a bit. He walked away in the middle of our sentences.  He wasn’t aware that we were the other band, told us about 5 times that he was involved in the Grammys, and made his mother collect our email for his mailing list, all while being openly rude.

Tomorrow… Pimm’s Valley, California, and a Little Old Lady from somewhere.

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