Saturday, December 24, 2011

Project Mercury: An Essay On A Bar Band Experience

1961-1962. Yuri Gagarin was the first man into space. He was a Soviet. Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn soon follow. They were Americans, members of Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States.

. The Mercury Café in Regina opens its doors. Outside on the roof there is a silver rocket. Inside there is décor of the 60’s, complete with paintings of rockets and astronauts mounted on the walls. The café colors are mainly red and silver, similar to many of the diners in the 1960’s.

The Mercury menu is deliciously 1961 -- Big fat juicy beef burgers with dill pickles cut in half, sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, plates of big fat fries with the right amount of crunch, and big thick chocolate milkshakes with thick straws in silver mugs.

It is Christmas Eve and I am woolgathering our gig debut at the Mercury Café. Each Friday night at 9:30 the Mercury Café converts into a bar. We played there from 9:30 ‘til 11:30 a couple of Fridays ago. As of late it has been bitterly cold in my marshmallow buskingdom of the Canadian Winter Wonderland, and so I booked an indoor gig at the Mercury Café.

Whenever I play indoors with just one or two other musicians, I do so under the nickname, Friday Harbor. (Friday Harbor is named after an American sea station where my daughter, Natika, had studied). This particular Friday Harbor was a boy-band scrabble: Hoe Down Eric with his fiddle, Surfer Nick with his acoustic, Bongo Baron with his cajon, and my thrumming self with the twelve-string. Nick and I prepared the song list from 60’s folk and rock charts, Johnny Cash to Bobby Dylan to Ian Tyson, and a dozen or so folk originals. We were hoping to appeal to the Mercury barflies, erroneously thinking they would be of the 60's zeitgeist ilk.

Performing at the Mercury Café was the tramontane of busking. As a practicing Buskologist I can state with authority: Milquetoast musicians do not busk; and only buskers who sea change into meshuggeners prosper on the bar stage. We galumphed into the Mercury Cafe at 9:30 in the evening, with zeroth being the number of times we had played in a bar. In daytime, the Mercury Café is a Cathedral area conversazione, filled with the chatter of university students, philosophers, and neo-beatniks. Come nighttime on Fridays, the Mercury Café transforms into a parley romance of guzzling, guffawing, and flirting.

The patrons in the parlour that night were noisy, yet gracious (they clapped after each of our forty some songs), and the Mercury staff was awesome (a special thank-you to Mikayla and Mike for their continuous all eve encouragement). Our Friday Harbor gig proved to be a worthwhile emprise, all of us hoping to replicate the performance sometime in the New Year.

Back to busking. In spite of the bitter weather, my frequent buskmate, Trent Leggott of Trent’s Guitar Studio, and I have decided to duo-banjitar busk for some social cause during this Christmastime. I am thinking, of course, for maybe the Canadian Mental Health Association, or the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, or SEARCH, or Phoenix Residential Society, or the Carmichael Outreach Center.

And to all buskers and consumers in every buskingdom on the planet …


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