Okay, the world is going to hell in a handcart, and only by some extraordinarily hard work, perseverance, and a healthy dose of luck is anything going to change. For Beaucoup Chapeaux, as musicians, we not only believe but also have personally experienced how music can be a transformative and motivating force, capable of opening up our minds to positive change, recharging our spiritual and mental batteries, and allowing us to imagine that we can indeed do something about the big problems of the 21st century. It can also make you feel like jumping off a bridge at times, but that is for another story.
Now, anyone who knows the Beaucoup band knows that we do tend to enjoy what we do for the most part. Yet, to put it mildly, it’s hard work to do what we need to do in order to do what we want to do. We’re independent musicians, so we’re our own manager, booking agent, accountant, record company, and roadies. But, as Utah Phillips liked to say “To do the art of music, it’s necessary to do the business of music”.
Our tour had not the most auspicious of beginnings, with a so-so gig at a club in Sebastopol on Thursday night. It was a late slot we were playing, 9-10:30pm, which was coming on the wheels of long drive from Grass Valley that afternoon. So what was wrong with the Sebastopol gig? Well, I need to clarify that Beaucoup Chapeaux is, perhaps, somewhat spoiled after three years of playing our fairly regular gig at the Nevada City Classic Café. The Classic is one of those places that is a veritable cornucopia of community, a sort of Café Cheers, where everyone is friendly and everyone knows each other, or soon does, and we all feel like a well functioning family. At the Sebastopol gig, the audience, though lovely, was smallish, and few of them knew each other. The management/owner was not in residence, so there wasn’t any host. There was very little sense of community, and I’m being generous to imply there was any at all. One bright spot was the resident stellar sound man, Max. His good humor, knowledge, patience, and excellent ears went a long way to mitigate whatever else the venue lacked. We sounded great. The waitress was kind, and the woman who sat at the door taking in the cover was as well. It’s not like it was horrible. Far from it. Like I said, we’re a little spoiled. It just wasn’t the situation we hoped to find in Sebastopol.
The next day, Friday, began with a far different tune than the previous. No crazy push to get organized in order to leave home to head out on the road. A nearby rooster woke us up, and we found ourselves in the beautiful guest house of our host. Having arrived after dark the night before, we had little idea where we were, which turned out to be a redwood tree paradise of blue skies, sparkling sun, and the faint but enticing scent of sea in the air was uplifting. Smelling the ocean’s call, we turned down our host’s kind offer of breakfast, desiring at that point only to find a café for a brief coffee stop before heading to Tomales Bay. Packing up the silver van, we headed west on the Bodega Highway with the assurance that there was a good café in the little town of Tomales about 20 minutes away.
Now, this is a crucial part in the daily life of a touring band, getting that first cup of coffee. Twenty minutes is long, but doable. A little bit of build up to that first cup is acceptable, even desirable, but wait too long and things can get rather ugly very fast. However, any threat of coffee withdrawal was quickly averted when just a few miles down the road, in the kind of area most city dwellers would call the middle of nowhere, an actual organic French Bakery appeared on the side of the road. Right there at the intersection of the Bodega and Bohemian Highways, of all intriguingly named roads, the Bakery seemed by its remoteness mythical, certainly fairytale in nature, surrounded as it was by fertile green farmland where grazed very fat and sleek horses, cows, sheep, and goats. We could not deny the feeling that it was a special day as we piled out of the van and walked through the front door of this unlikely outpost of a bakery.
Inside, the bakery was appropriately rustic, with a big, wonderfully worn wooden table just inside the door on the left, with benches to sit on. Then there was the ordering counter to the right, and behind that a long counter down the middle of the room, with great beasts of clay and brick ovens near the very back. As we stood there a few moments, taking it all in, looking no doubt somewhat groggy and bewildered, I noticed a man standing at the back, obviously a baker, noticing us. Wiping his hands on his apron, he made his way across the room towards us, offered up warm greetings, and introduced himself as the owner, the head baker, and obviously French, ah oui! What could he get for us? Dazzled by the variety of breads and other offerings listed on the menu board hanging from the ceiling above the array of fresh loaves, it was the descriptions of the scones of the day that seduced us. We ordered four of those, with accompanying lattes.
After receiving our lattes and what would turn out to be some of the best if not the best fruit and savory scones any of us had ever had in our lives, the Baker invited us, s’il vous plait, to enjoy our petit breakfast while sitting in his garden. Charmed we were, so of course, out the door and through the garden gate we went, to discover lovingly tended beds of rich black soil, full of various winter greens, herbs, flowers, an orchard off to the side, all looking as exquisite as his scones tasted. Sitting on a couple of benches warmed by the morning sun, with every bite of each scone causing near swoons, we were overcome by the garden’s beauty, devas, and scones–and decided we would live there. And we almost did. But suddenly, like someone touching your arm to get your attention, the most gentle of breezes, a most tantalizingly tangy smelling salt and seaweed sirocco ruffled our hair and tickled our noses. In it, we heard the undeniable voices of fabled beings. It was the siren call of the Oysters, and the spell of the Baker was broken.
We have this thing about oysters. The raw kind. Well, to be truthful, Murray, Luke and I were the oyster devotees, and Randy just thought we were crazy to eat them. We’re happy to report that with love, patience, and a certain amount of heckling over the last couple of tours, Randy has been converted and is fully on board with our premise that raw oysters are essential to good life and band bonding.
To follow that chords of that sweet song, we knew we had to leave the magical garden and bakery–but not before giving the French Baker a copy of our CD, buying a loaf of his excellent bread, and calling a fond “Adieu!” Off in the van again, heading west on the Bodega Highway.
Before too long, we found ourselves on the edge of Tomales Bay pulling into the parking lot of the Hog Island Oyster Co. We arrived at “Happy Hour”—which we were enchanted to learn at Hog Island on a Friday means 11:30am. It was there, Happy Hour at Hog Island, that the sails of the day really began to unfurl.
Sitting at a picnic bench overlooking the bay, ordering four dozen of the très délectable bivalves, as well as white wine for me, beers for the guys, we were delighted to be the first customers of the day. An hour later the place was packed with people who brought baskets, bags, and boxes filled with salads, bottles of wine, beer, and their own oyster shucking knives. Some ate the oysters raw, and some, having brought briquettes, lit them up in the barbecues conveniently situated by each table and grilled the oysters in the half shell. I can safely say everyone was having the most merry of times.
Our appetites supremely satiated and our moods infinitely lifted with that effervescence little known to non-oyster eaters, we continued on to our next destination, the wonderful town of Point Reyes Station.
After a bit of business at the KWMR community radio station there–a very sweet little sister to Nevada City’s own community radio station KVMR ( KWMR manager’s own words)– and a visit to a thrift store to look for treasures, the day being such a gorgeous one, and with the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, we inquired about the best beach around, and subsequently hightailed in the van out to the southerly edge of Drakes Bay and Limontaur Beach. With barely a breath of wind blowing on this unusually balmy and sunny day, Murray and I, being big swimming enthusiasts no matter the temperature, took to the waves, while Randy and Luke did their thing of watching us swim, trying to stifle their horror at the very idea of it, as well as keeping a look out for the remarkable and distinctive dorsal fin of the Great White Shark, who apparently gather in great numbers in those exact waters. Fortunately, there were no shark sightings that afternoon, or meetings. The water temperature was, of course, the typical Northern California coast freeze your ass off as well as other body parts cold. We didn’t swim all that long, only a few minutes, but the air temp was so mild when we got out that we weren’t the least bit chilled, and we quickly warmed up.
At this point, Randy followed his muse on a walk along the beach to contemplate the life of the legendary jazz musician Lemuel Crook, whose music Randy would be performing at a concert the same afternoon we returned home, which is a WHOLE other story. Meanwhile, the rest of us availed ourselves in the shelter of the inviting white sands of the Limontaur Dunes and stretching out, quickly drifted off to dreamland. When Randy finally returned, we all felt so invigorated; we decided we would live there.
But then we recalled we had a gig that night. And we were once again very hungry. As such, we pulled ourselves away from Limontaur’s embrace, and headed back to civilization as one finds it in way West Marin. At the Point Reyes Station Café, we dined on some great fish and chips. Properly fueled up, we then headed off to Inverness to check into our host’s home, which we were quite pleased to find was clean, roomy and exceedingly comfortable. A hot shower, change of clothes, and then on to our show at the Blackbird.
The Blackbird, located right in the heart of tiny downtown Inverness, right across from the market, is only one year old. Owned and run by Carol and Jude, Jude related to us that she decided to open the café because she wanted to be able to get a good cup of coffee in Inverness, and there wasn’t any such a place, so she opened one. Before long, she had music happening as well. So now there is good music and good coffee in Inverness. Turns out, it’s a magical place too.
Blackbird was empty of customers when we got there, but by 7pm when we started to play, it was filling up, and soon was overflowing with the most exceptionally wonderful array of Invernessians, all completely riveted on LISTENING to us, and experiencing what we do. And we played our hearts out for them, these great ocean listeners, these hearty salt air applauders, these in the nooks and crannies tidal dancers, which resulted in many new friends made, and CD’s sold, while that mystical air which musicians and a wonderful audience can create together enfolded and swirled and whirled about us like some invisible and benevolent wave, and finding the door, it surged forth to merge with the blessed sea air and starry sky, and we truly felt, yes, that moment at the Blackbird Café, the oneness of the universe.
Midnight found us sitting comfortably with our exceptionally lovely host, nestled into cozy couches and chairs, warmed by the flames of the open fireplace, telling our stories, feasting on the French Baker’s crusty bread, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and sipping on locally brewed single malt.
We all agreed we would live there. Forever.