Play Some Skynyrd

I sat, head in hands, in the boys' locker room of the Austin Municipal Pool. Threatening skies loomed overhead, so I had the place to myself. Which was good, I needed the time.

"You say you got a... real solution? Contribution? Constitution?"

Stupid Lennon. Only he could find all 38 words that rhyme with "Revolution." I had a lot of memorizing to do, because the band was playing that night. In front of people. Real people, not just our friends. We had (somehow) booked a gig at Righty's Bar so we had to come up with a lot of new songs, and quickly. Let's just say that the Righty's crowd wouldn't much care for the Nirvana and Greenday portions of our catalogue.

I was nervous. We'd played gigs before, but little was expected of us. We played the Mower County fair in '95-- I think we drove a lot of people into the goat barn. We played at a family reunion that same summer-- but it was Neil's family. And it was Iowa. We videotaped those two debacles. I would show you but I'd have to kill you. We even rocked Saint Olaf College-- from Alex's backyard. Now, though... we were actually playing in a place where people expected good live music. We were getting paid, for heavens' sake.

A few hours after my attempts burn the lyrics to "Revolution" onto my brain, I walked into the bar. This was my first bar, not a big surprise since I was 19. Righty's didn't set the bar... bar very high, but it was nice enough for Austin. Dark. Cool. And there was an actual stage, if you want to call it that. Jason walked up to me, and I was glad to see I wasn't the only one freaking out.

"Remember the words to 'Magic Carpet Ride'?"

"Yeah. Remember the guitar solo to 'Color of Her Eyes', jerkface?"

That solo was one note. I love the Gear Daddies, but complex musicians they ain't.

He and I sat down to make a sign that would advertise our presence. Interesting tactic since a) we'd only been Best Intentions for a couple of months and b) none of the people who knew us by that name were of legal drinking age. The new name had been supplanted "Plack" when we decided we needed to be more user-friendly. I had compiled a list of band names from a website, and Best Intentions made the cut. Thanks to the magic of web.archive.org, you can see that we'd laid an official claim here. Anyway, we ran out of room and had to shrink the "n" and the "s." At least our name fit.

We began the night with CCR's "Born on the Bayou", which would be our opener for every gig we played. It went pretty well. That's about all that went well, though. Highlights? Let's see. The 65-year-old man who told our drummer to turn down before walking out? Being booed during "Betterman"? The sixteen-minute version of Clapton's "Cocaine" to kill time? Oh, and I still ended up messing up the words to "Revolution."

We took our lumps that night. And the next. For the most part it was painful. But every once in a while... it'd be the greatest feeling. Maybe just a minute, like the third verse of "Run Around" or "Surrender" where I could close my eyes and actually be the rock star I'd fanticized about when I was a kid. I'd grab the microphone stand, make a rock face as I strummed my guitar...

And then Kris would hit the wrong note on the bass. Or Neil would drop his drumstick. Or my voice would crack.

The amazing news? We got asked back for the next weekend. And the next. It wasn't great money, and there weren't a lot of people watching us-- but it was better than another Friday night in Neil's basement, driving his poor, patient family out of the house again. And the places we played were pretty dank, but we started to get more comfortable playing in front of people who weren't blood relatives.

The summer wore on. We ventured out of the confines of Austin to beautiful downtown Owatonna, as close to a musical mecca as you can get in southeast Minnesota. I returned to Northfield for my junior year, but that didn't stop anything. I spent more time in bars than most alcoholics. I neglected homework. I had to arrange rides home every weekend for gigs or practice. I lifted Oprah Winfrey's weigh in amps every Friday and Saturday. And it was fantastic, every minute of it. Just four guys, friends, making music. It sounds corny. But it was fantastic.

Our favorite place to play became Bubba's, in Owatonna. Unlike a lot of places we played, people actually came to Bubba's to hear the band. We actually developed a bit of a following among patrons and staff there... although the best part was the owner himself. Bubba. I think Bubba drank a lot. He spoke so strangely we thought he was Australian. I think he was just slurring.

Anyway, around midnight, Bubba would always come up to us, and ask us to play "Wipeout." The first time he asked, only Neil knew how to play it. (Granted, the drummer is the one who really needs to know what he's doing.) The rest of us had no idea, though.

"Sorry, Bubba. We don't know it."

"Da Bubba payya a hundred dolla to play the wipeout."

Well, if that's the way you want it. We decided to wing it. Luckily, at midnight, the entire bar is intoxicated enough that you're OK winging things. We learned to play "Wipeout" pretty well, though, because there was always a little something extra in it for us.

Bubba asked us to play New Years' Eve '96. The place was packed. We fed off of their dancing and their energy and sounded the best we'd ever sounded. People limboed, moonwalked, and even flashed us. :) We were about to hit our stride, and it seemed like we would never want to give this up... but things would soon change.

 


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