Weekendz with Bernie

part three

It was in August over the final weekend of the annual five week July/August meet, the headiest time of year for Saratoga's wealthy thoroughbred horse racing community.

Some young DC professionals who were part of Saratoga's horsey set were fans and had the kind of budget necessary to get the group off Saratoga Springs is about
 400 miles from Washington DC its butt and into the van. Bernie even had an angle to minimize expenses: we would drive most of the way the day before and stop a couple hours shy of Saratoga, at his parents' home. We could crash there, get up the next day, have a tolerably-short drive, play the gig, another short drive back to Mom and Dad's and one long drive home the next morning. What's not to like?

On the appointed day I drove to Bernie's, loaded my gear into his van and we headed up the highway to George's. In addition to being a fine musician, George is an easygoing, funny person—two qualities commonplace among successful musicians. He is also a commanding presence, weighing-in at a muscular 235 pounds. Music is such a social occupation social skills go beyond mere hanging out with respect to their importance. Players like playing with people they like, and when respect and communication flow between individuals, the possibilities for musical magic dramatically increase.

I'm not sure what peculiar turn in the road had George sharing the stage with someone as difficult as Bernie, but he was making the best of it. The van was a serious rattletrap...He deflected Bernie's whining, downplayed his incessant negativity and insisted on little things, like, a bed to sleep in when spending the weekend in New York City. Best of all, George could—and would—freely give Bernie shit when he crossed the line. Aside from playing bass, keeping Bernie as honest as possible was his role in the band. I admired the way George kept his cool, and even seemed to genuinely appreciate Bernie's good qualities.

The drive to Bernie's parents' home was no problem. That is, the fifteen year-old van made it without breaking down or other calamity. The van was a serious rattletrap. It looked good on the outside (Bernie was close to some guys who did auto bodywork), but it was a rickety fate-tempter. The steering was so worn, it required all your concentration just to keep it moving up the road in a straight line. Your hands on the wheel would be swerving left and right, back and forth, all the time, and only after you got good at this would the van stay in the lane. It was exhausting.

Meeting Bernie's parents was interesting. Knowing Bernie, I was afraid we were heading for the kind of household one might find in a 'Seinfeld' episode, but I was wrong. A nice, aging Jewish couple, Bernie's folks were of course happy to see their son and treated us with kind hospitality. It was however, obvious how they catered to Bernie and it was easy to make the connection that the spoiled adult grew from the spoiled child. But they were sweet, and it was comforting to land in a place that, having grown up a nice Jewish boy myself, I could identify with.

After a pleasant dinner and good night's sleep, we were off to Saratoga, land of the rich, home of the gig. Even though it was August, it was chilly and rainy. We knew the party would be outside, under a tent, and were a little nervous about the wet conditions. (First law of being in a band: water and electricity don't mix, ever.)

We arrived and hooked-up with our hosts. It was a swank affair, lavishly catered. Sure enough, accommodations had to be changed to put the band in a dry spot. While saving Bernie and George from electrocution, this also prevented us from having decent interaction with the party guests, which in turn prevented us from establishing a rapport, musical or otherwise.

As the evening wore on they
grew louder and more obvious...Due to the odd set-up placement (in a separate room off to the side), we never clicked with the guests. Or maybe it was just the odd placement, period, of the earthy, loud, retro-electric Blues Savages, in the midst of a bunch of Saratoga racing sophisticates: a cliquish, highly dressed group ranging in ages from 20-70. They were cordial, but only as a matter of obligation. They were smiling, but not friendly.

Say what you will about music being the universal language, it wasn't working that night. I couldn't shake the feeling that we Savages just weren't on the same cosmic plane as they, the supposed sophisticates.

On the other hand, maybe it was just me. Bernie and George were having a good old time. Drinking freely from the open bars, leering at and chatting up the young women, as the evening wore on they grew louder and more obvious. But all in good fun; they weren't hurting anyone. I was even a little envious, sitting there stone cold sober, feeling out of place, while they were across the kitchen, boozing, schmoozing, cruising. The drunker and louder they got, the more the party guests labored to ignore them, the less they would be denied.

To complicate feeling out of place among the cold party guests, I was a little embarrassed to be attached at the hip to the lunatic musicians. But only to a point. I mean, it was embarrassing when George told an off color joke in mixed company while Bernie was busy noticing the cleavage of his conversation partner. But I still had enough sense not to give a damn about the party guests, whom I'd surely never see again, and who were making me feel as if I'd driven 400 miles to perform a dancing chimp routine. All told I felt closer in spirit to Bernie and George than the snooty guests.

Next: The party ended... I was the only one sober enough to drive...