My friend, John Humphries is a cycling guide and a spirit. John and I have ridden our bikes across the top of the world and he’s helped me find strength I never knew I had. He also introduced me to the Norwegian adage, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just a poor choice of clothes.” Immersion has taken 20 years, and been challenged, but that philosophy has enhanced my existence in ways I expected, and others I did not.
Recently, I stumbled upon the inverse of No Bad Weather.
I may have mentioned I enjoy listening to music. There are no fewer than 50 shows on my list of the five best concerts I’ve ever seen.
I’ve seen REM, The Black Crowes, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers in a dive bar in college. I was at Farm Aid One in 1985, and saw Stevie Ray Vaughn play his last note five years later. Shows are added to the list with regularity, many featuring a Buddy Holly retro-looking guitar player named Joel Paterson.
Joel posts 90-second videos of him picking the greatest riffs in history on Facebook nearly every day. Now in his forties, the lines have blurred. His style is all his own. He also books all his own gigs, writes, records with every ace musician in the city, and runs his own record label.
Check out his compilation of instrumental Beatle covers Let it Be Guitar, at www.joelpaterson.com. While you’re there, click on his calendar.
Joel Paterson is — without doubt — the world’s most elusive guitar player. The man plays as many as three gigs a day, but the calendar on his website is empty. To hear him live, go to Chicago and check him out on Facebook. About 20 minutes before the show, he’ll post.
So, when I ran across a Facebook post that Joel was playing with Mark Haynes (the world’s greatest blues drummer), Jimmy Voegli (the world’s best blues piano playing dairy farmer), and three guys I’ve never heard of, at a joint in Beloit, Wisconsin, well…
I told Sheila on Tuesday afternoon we were going to Beloit on Sunday afternoon. Sheila does not share my enthusiasm for music. My wife is a ninja opportunist. She knows how to phrase statements as questions, to which there is only one safe answer, “Would it be on the way to catch the (sadly) going-out-of-business-sale at Roughing It In Style?”
Translated, “I’ll go to Beloit to listen to music, if you’ll go shopping for area rugs and end tables.”
I know when I’ve been beat.
The day arrived.
This summer I had vowed that once the fence was built (which became, after the deck was built, and third crop hay), if there was good entertainment, I was putting down the log-splitter, leaf rake, or Sawzall, and by God we were going.
Sunday, October 20, near half-past six. The sun rising through airborne ice crystals washed the eastern horizon with a golden-red glow. A towering spire shot into the cloudless sky over neighbor Doug’s chisel plowed bean field. Which was but the opening act. If this day were a Broadway show, it’d be Hamilton. The third of the leaves that had fallen did not move a centimeter. As if she showed only to treat us to a top-ten sunrise, the frost quickly retreated. The thermometer shot to the mid-50s by the time Ray threw the newspaper to the bottom of the drive. Uncle Erv always loved the woods to our south; I took him a half-dozen pictures on high-resolution. Pixels can’t do this day justice, it just had to be lived.
It was the most spectacular day in the history of weather. I was hoping to switch my mower over to leaf vac mode, dig three new fence posts, and install the cat flap into the pass door in the garage. Instead I had resolved to go furniture shopping, then to a bar in Beloit with 180 minutes of daylight left on the clock.
My resolve was put to the test.
There’s no straight shot from the furniture store to Beloit. Google maps charted a course through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, and I believe we dropped into Iowa for a few miles.
The Grand Avenue Pub was two doors off the swollen Rock River. Slightly muted, the music poured into the street. My phone pinged just as we found our parking spot. I tried to focus on Amy Hanson whose cat had vomited a Nerf dart. I tapped my toe on the concrete and listened with one ear. A chipmunk was swing-dancing with a grey squirrel by the bike rack.
The Grand Avenue Pub had tin-stamped ceilings, friendly bartenders, and the best walleye sandwich I’ve ever eaten on a Sunday in Wisconsin. The leader of the band was Gary McAdams. He wore workin’ man’s boots and a trucker hat and had a voice that could sing the red off an apple. They played Frank Sinatra to Fred Eaglesmith, and owned it all. The place felt like family. There were guys with ZZ Top beards, ponytails, and trucker wallets doing the old-guy-swing with their dates, elbow-to-elbow with the Khaki-and-plaid professors from the college, as Gary ripped through Mac the Knife.
Folks’ll be talking about Sunday, October 20, for a good long time around these parts.
Putting down the post-hole digger and going inside on a spectacular fall day was one of the hardest things I’ve done. The make-or-break was, “No such thing as bad weather.”
We’d built fence in the rain, cut wood in a blizzard, and ridden mountain bikes across the top of the world in a monsoon. I figured we had four hours in the bank.
Gary introduced “Silver Wings.” “This is a Merle Haggard song, but we’re gonna do it different, this ain’t paint-by-numbers folks, this is art.”
Oh, yes, it was.