Gratitude, Garage Bands and Grandpa

This past Friday night I did something I haven’t done in a long while, and at the same time it was something I thought I’d never do. I went to one of those small bars that focus on having some some live local band playing. It’s the kind of place that serves strong drinks, has a wide selection of tap beers, no waitresses, a $5 cover and a tiny, cramped and loud garage-band kind of performance happening in the side room.

I love seeing live music, it’s just that it’s not something I do very often – and generally only do when the occasion arises, such as when I’m on vacation or it’s a special situation such as this was. It’s not something I typically seek out to assuage my entertainment needs on a Friday night.

This was unique because I was there with my entire in-law family, all of us gathered to hear our nephew’s band. And when say “entire” I mean this includes my septuagenarian mother- and father-in-law. Some folks went early to nab a few seats to make sure they would have a place to sit, while we chauffeured them door-to-door, taking advantage of their handicap parking permit. Outside on the cramped sidewalk was a small sandwich board, advertising the evening’s entertainment, while a couple of long-haired-youngsters stood around smoking. I helped my father in-law out of the back seat and up the curb, and we headed in to the club. The guy checking IDs and taking the cover money at the door didn’t bat an eye as we escorted them in, (but the m-i-l was disappointed that she didn’t get carded.)

As expected the show was starting late, waiting for the crowd to grow, I’m sure. Drinks were ordered, seating was acquired, and we all snuggled in to the dimly lit  and tightly furnished room. The enormous speakers hung a mere 15 feet from us, up on the ceiling, surrounded by what turned out to be two- or three- channel lighting system with about a dozen units, hanging over the small stage.

10423769_10205099305499898_2774630316855563520_nRobo Dojo was performing second, so we had a nice little warm-up to the evening with the first group—a pair of rocker brothers, screaming in to microphones with their electric guitar and drum set, while cracking remarks in between.The crowd was friendly and receptive. I was seated across from my m-i-l, and next to my f-i-l although technically behind him as the stage was beyond. This turned out to be ideal for me: I got to watch the entire evening’s activity while watching them. While the lyrics were sometimes hard to truly catch, words like “fucker” stood out, and I cringed each time as my discomfort spiked due to the presence of the parental figures. (The teenagers we were able to get in to the bar with us were of no concern over such language. They, however, looked bored.)

Robo Dojo’s music was a blast! I understood that there were some band member changes lately, and they’d reworked a number of their songs. I expected a work-in-progress, to some extent, but otherwise I’m not sure exactly what it was I expected. It was by far not a work-in-progress, but the fun remnants of the night included the first unique thing – an electric mandolin. As they were setting up I noticed the nephew pull out a small….guitar? No. Ukulele? (I’ve known him to play one.) No. I turned and asked, “Is that a mandolin??”) Yes. The high pitched, plucky sound, amplified and mixed with a lead- and bass-guitar gave the band a unique, folk sound I hadn’t heard before. The mandolin solo….was a highlight. Of course, I was proud and happy to watch him play it.

Which is really the essence of the other unique experience: Grandpa.

Because I was sitting next to my f-i-l, I could watch him watching the band, and I could watch my m-i-l watch her husband, too. There’s a special bond between this man and his second oldest grandson up there playing music. There always has been. I’m not sure why or how, although I’m certain it’s due in part to the kid’s nature, his easy going attitude, great sense of humor, big heart and respectful ways. They have a beautiful relationship that I’ve enjoyed witnessing. This night was no exception.

My f-i-l is in some respects a bit of an ex-hippy, although I don’t think he really ever was one. He’s open minded, supportive and loving of all his kids, grandkids and anyone else who befriends any of them. A friend of a friend is a friend to this man. I watched him throughout the evening….tapping his toes….bobbing his head to the rhythm….cheering…..shouting…..clapping…..wiping away tears when his pride runneth over.

What came to my mind was the beauty and simplicity of it all.

This was a dive (or perhaps, wanna-be-dive, because it was rather clean even though cheap) and this band is not making a living doing these kinds of gigs a few weekends a month. Do they have big ambitions? I don’t know. I suspect they have realistic ambitions. While the Omaha music scene might be big and busy, it’s not the place the to get famous or rich. They enjoy making music, experimenting with style and combination – seeing what works.

As the nephew explained taking risks the next day, “We even tried to write a rap song. It didn’t work. We can’t rap. But you never know until you try.”

Taking risks….being unafraid to fail. A sign of a true artist.

I love watching people having an experience: watching an audience watch a play, observing a stranger looking at art in a gallery. Seeing my nephew up on stage, doing some thing he enjoys, and watching my f-i-l raising his arms in a cheer at this indiie-garage-band playing in a crowded little bar…..well, it’s a moment that will stay with me for a long time, reminding me of a Thanksgiving weekend gathering that makes me thankful of such beautiful opportunities.

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