Much of the world is totally frigging insane, yet mysteriously remarkable and quite possibly magical things can still occur. Last Friday we experienced a night which makes one believe in these more mystical higher powers. Such things happen more often than not at the Nevada City Classic Café, where my band Beaucoup Chapeaux frequently plays. But this one Friday night was particularly enchanting.
The Café was overflowing with people that evening, beautiful young couples with their gorgeous children, handsome older folks including three octogenarians who sat right up front, some wild dancers, of course, and this most interesting Balkan music playing couple from Berkeley who showed up with our great friends Kent and Cindy. Mari had a dumbek with her, and Paul a cute little stringed thing called a tambouritza. Our bandmates Murray and Randy were away that night, so we had lots of room on the “stage”, so to speak. So we invited Mari and Paul to play with us, which they did. We had a great time playing two or three tunes with them before their dinners came, at which point they returned to their table to eat. Soon after that our friend Sally came through the front door, and I asked “Sing a song with me?”–well, it was more a command, but Sally is game for most singing adventures, and I had the words to this great tune called “Grey Funnel Line”, a mournfully lovely sailor’s song which Sally had taught me years ago. We managed to make our way acapella through that–big coincidence alert: I had found the lyrics right before we headed into town that night, and somewhat off-handedly thrown the sheet music into my accordion case, with no idea Sally would appear. Then came a request from one of the 80-something year olds, a lively Dublin born woman who did indeed possess extremely sparkling eyes, for something Irish, so we launched into “Blackbirds and Thrushes”. At the conclusion of that song, Sally went to sit and have a bite to eat. Luke and I continued playing.
A couple of tunes later, two biker looking men came through the door. One of them was HUGE, and the other just sort of normal. They were wearing elaborately decorated black leather vests, proudly proclaiming on the back: E Clampus Vitus–meaning, as it turns out, they were Clampers, which I had heard of, but never encountered first hand. I later learned that Clampers like to party and are into gold mining history, doing good works, and are generally harmless. To me that night, however, they simply looked like very serious Biker dudes, the type one should avoid crossing if at all possible.
At any rate, the HUGE huge guy, 6’5″ and 370 pounds give or take a pound or inch or two, walks in, filled the entire doorway, paused, gazed around, a stranger in a strange land. Then he turned his gaze at me, and with nary a second thought, I asked him, “Do you have a song?”. He looked surprised, I repeated my question. He paused briefly, then he got kind of a gleam in his eye and said in a rich, deep, and resonant voice, “I believe I do.” So he moved right in next to me, sort of–there wasn’t any way he could squeeze himself into the bench seat with me, so he just sort of crouched down next to me like some giant bear might–and he launched into a sort of moshed up version of the traditional Irish song “Johnny I Hardly Knew You”, and the U.S. Civil War version of it, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”. Luke and I began to play light accompaniment on tenor guitar and accordion along with him. As it happened, the huge guy possessed a voice to match his frame, knew LOTS of verses, and believe me, everyone sang on the choruses. It was absolutely brilliant. We were all thrilled, and quite relieved that the guy who looked like he could potentially crush each of us between his little fingers was a sweetheart in disguise. After the resounding applause at the end of the tune, the huge guy and his pal, now café celebrities, went over to sit at the counter to order some dinner. We told the waitress to put their drinks on our tab. Café owner Genevieve, who is French, told me later that the guys were hoping to order something like burgers, or club sandwiches. Which the Classic doesn’t serve on Friday nights, being a wine and tapas and crepe kind of place. But, in her lovely accent which few can resist, she convinced them that they should try the prime rib crepes, which apparently they enjoyed immensely, eating three each.
As they ate, Luke and I played another tune, then the Balkan folks came to join us again. We played a couple more tunes, then the huge guy approached again, pointed his very impressive finger at me, and quite sweetly demanded, “You sing a song”. So. After a brief moment of thought, I came up with a good sing-a-long, the popular song “Stand By Me”. It sounded great with the Greek instruments, and in no time at all the whole café was singing their heads off and the narrow aisle was full of dancers, including the huge guy. By the end, the huge guy and his pal had looks on their faces like they had been transported to a beautiful place they had never been to before no less imagined.
As the two of them were finally leaving the Café, I put the accordion down, got up to thank them and bid them adieu. The huge guy surprised me by taking me up in his massive arms and gave me what could only be described, of course, as a huge huge bear hug. He asked me, “Does this always happen here?” I smiled, hugged him back as best I could, and said, “Maybe so. Come again and see.”
Off they went into the night.
Sadly, we’ve never have seen the huge huge man again. But we’ll never forget him.