if you’re smart (or maybe just experienced) day two is about preparedness. when you arrive on St. Barths it is easy to convince oneself that all is paradise: the sun is shinning, the weather is sweet, there is a fresh breeze to mitigate the blazing heat, the island — caught between two oceans — is not a place where one contemplates susceptibility to “exposure” or the threat of cataclysm. for most everyone here (tourists and residents alike) i can only assume the most constant threat is that of what-to-do-today.
so. we have arrived on-island before and whiled away the days smiling in our unctuous hedonism. the beer is free at the bar, food is prepared for us daily, and there is no soundcheck or load-in or breakdown to worry about.
and we have been caught utterly unawares by the day-off.
saving the very highest parts of the season (namely, Christmas and New Years’) a band playing at the Baz Bar is expect to play (and well!) for six nights of the week. Sunday is, as you might imagine, the day-off. but — not only does the band get the day off, the chef, and the servers, and the bartender and dishwashers get the day off. the restaurant is closed. indeed, our first year here, we woke from Saturday night’s stupor to discover: damn near everything is closed. so, sleepy, hungry, and hung-over, one is hard-pressed to find a free beer and a hot meal just for standing around thinking critical thoughts about mixolydian scales.
it was a tough lesson, to say the least. i don’t recall what kind of emergency rationing we put in place nor how we managed to buy anything from the few places that were actually open (considering we hadn’t bothered to get any Euros.
this is, i believe, our fifth time down here. so, as i said, day two is about preparedness. as the resident uber-nerdist, i woke early and took stock of those resources which we had in stock. water, toilet paper, working stove, towels, alcohol [various].
glaring absences? milk (Brian wanted to make white russians), ice (that could get hard), laundry detergent (this become crucial in a place where even as i write this at ten in the morning i am already sweating profusely through my fresh clothes), and — perhaps most importantly: coffee.
the bandhouse is atop of a large and somewhat steep hill. it is hard to walk-up, easy to walk down. the supermarket (or “libre service”) is actually a short distance from the band house if you disregard relative elevations and you can walk across water.
supposing one were impervious to injury, one could take a running leap off of the balcony of the bandhouse, carom down the hillside through pebbly dirt and hearty desert-island trees, and out into the harbor. then either build up enough speed that you can skip across the water or: swim — probably about fifty or sixty yards (what is that in metres? i haven’t a clue). hop out of the water, walk about 20 more paces in the same direction and then about 25 paces to the left. you’d be at le libre service in, maybe, four minutes. five minutes, tops.
as we are plain-jane mortals, we have to exit the house, choose one of the downhill roads, then walk along the outside of the harbor (passing the the Baz Bar en route). follow that around the turn and then around again. and then walk back to just past where the bandhouse would be on the opposite side: supermarket.
don’t forget that once you are loaded for bear (i bought a good amount of coffee) you will have to retrace your steps and get back up the hill. a wise sojourner will pit-stop at the bar for a water or coffee on the way back.
i wouldn’t call a walk to the store an adventure by any stretch of the imagination but, not knowing the language, and not knowing the exchange rate is, and not always know from looking at a thing what you are looking at (and not being able to use the labels to shed much light on things) — well, it’s often a learning experience.
in the end, Brian and I made this initial store run and came back with all that was most necessary. and i got to practice my bonjours and mercis along the way.
there was some significant drinking done with the meat of the day in day two. with the introduction of milk to our humble abode, much hay was made in the shape of very alcoholic white russians. i felt a bit like a writer or poet of old. drinking wantonly through the sunlight hours. writing snippets here and there. staring off into nothing. having the first of what will be dozens of political, social, and/or musical/artistic argument/dialogue/speech-contests with the band.
the bartender from the bar (what stupid sentence that was but i don’t feel like making it more precise — i’m a lushy artist presently, remember?) came by to hang for a spell. tell us how things have been going for the bar and for him of late. he also brought a bag of recently harvested “noni” fruit. i wish i had remembered to iphone-snap-a-picture of this stuff. they were swollen, spotted, whitish fruit. oddly bulgy and ovular. kind of twisted and rounded at the edges. they looked like giant, ugly caterpillar cocoons.
Loic (the aforementioned bartender from the bar) told us that the fruit are used to prepare a kind of uber-healthy draught. apparently you take the fruit, put them in a jar, put that jar in the sun, and let them sort of putrefy and ferment for two months. then you open it, strain it, and drink it at your leisure.
if this sound exquisitely disgusting, it likely is. Loic guaranteed us that the final concentrate, to which he adds water for a short shot he takes every morning, smells at lot like sweet, old cheese. he didn’t say it wasn’t gross. only that it was an acquired taste.
but so there you have it reader: my first in-blog recipe. for “Noni” juice concentrate. or whatever.
so then, we played the gig. things ran a bit more smoothly. i didn’t forget more than i remembered — that is progress. the second night is for separating the wheat from the chaff. in essence, we take all of the songs we know and we just throw them all out at the unsuspecting audience. some tunes just don’t work in a chill, laid-back, warm and breezy, island venue. some other tunes, which never would make the set, are winners here.
you’ve got three one-hour sets to fill. that’s about 25 – 30 songs, give or take. there are probably three ways to take that hill. come prepared. have your three sets of material. have your setlists. and just: do them. alter very little from night to night. you got set A, set B, set C. maybe, once in a while, you flip them around. but maybe you don’t.
second option is — fly by the seat of your pants. we’ve done this a couple times. you just sit down for the first set… and start playing. and hope you can come up with an awesome tune for any given circumstance. and try to remember what you played and when and who knows what and call new songs and take requests if you can. and just generally go bonkers for four hours or so.
the third way, to which i ascribe, is a kind of admixture of the first two. each night, i look at a master song list. i add a few suggestions that may have come up during the day. sometimes its something we practiced and arranged, sometimes it something we aren’t sure about but want to try if there is a crowd receptive to us trying out new stuff. and i start to draft up three sets. based on how i am feeling, i kind of know how i want to open and close each set. i try to spread out the new tunes so that we don’t spend one twenty minute block possibly crashing and burning serially while people cry sympathetic tears of frustration.
and then, we start and i sort of use the night’s set lists as a guide for where i wanted things to go. i keep an eye on the time. i try to call things in a way that keeps it interesting for the crowd and for the band. sometimes, i try to create a spontaneous medley of a few tunes if they connective tissue is ripe for such improvisation. and at the same time, i am keeping the master song list in the back of my head in case i just want to sub out something different. too, we will play these songs and give them enough lead to go to other places. sometimes this leads to a weird cover or an extended outro.
and sometimes: we write a new song that way.
this is all to say, the second night is more for trying out what we know we know and getting comfortable with the temporal layout of the sets. and we discard the material that isn’t working and we internally invest in stuff that seems to be hitting the spot.
and, while it always feels goofy to say this as a performer: its exhausting. i know i’m basically sitting and typing the entire time — but by the last downbeat, i’m pretty much ready to fall over.
Tuesday night, we had a few people still in the bar when all was said and done. some interested in chatting up the band. so we tend to stick around, as the staff begins a frenzied clean up and break down of the bar. the outdoor tables and chairs come in. there is wiping of counters. the packing of liquors. the renewal of stores. the shutting of gates and lights and candles. and then everything is zipper’d up for the night.
once again, we get a chance to practice our bon-nuits and our a-demains — and we trudge back up the hill to the house. some of the staff came by for a night cap.
so we started nightcapping. more white russians were concocted. cigars were clipped and lit. and there was furious discussion, card tricks, and the watching of perplexing internet videos out on the balcony/terrace.
in the end, it dwindled down to the band. and the discussion turned to science, being, faith, and truth. there was some side-long glancing at poor old Albert Einstein. and the title of today’s episode is brought to you by one thoroughly inebriated guitar playing exhorting his band mates that the music they play is what is actually making the Universe dance.
there were three. then two. then, as always, i was alone in my room. a few books to choose from. some journaling to do. and even imagining what this entry might become down the line.
and at some point, and i don’t remember when (for the keyboardist was a fairly inebriated his own self) lights went out and lights went out.
i woke to bright morning birdsongs and slowly saturating sunshine. though, sometimes, it rains in the morning. still, i knew the day two had come.
and had gone again.