JUST PLAYING SONGS ON A GREAT DAY.
It was evening on the Fourth of July, and rain had been falling on and off for an hour or so. It was just a light rain and, as hot as the day was, it kind of felt good. Well, it felt good to anyone who wasn’t involved with putting on the fireworks show. To us, the rain was a definite thorn in the rump. That’s putting it mildly.
As you might easily guess, I was playing songs for the crowd. I had also been trying to webcast the event as well. The first few raindrops ended my webcast on the spot. I had to hurry to cover the computer with my emergency drizzle towel. The rain got just a bit stronger so, I had to reach under the towel and work the buttons and dials into a shutoff. Luckily, the computer stayed dry and I was able to get it into its carrying case. The computer, now safe in its bag went under the passenger side dashboard on the dry side of the closed passenger window.
Now, I had to deal with the dee jay equipment. That stuff can’t get wet either. It’s never happened to me but, I think you can get your hair curled nicely if you grab a microphone the wrong way with wet hands. Rainwater gushing into my mixing board while it’s on could only end in tears. Add to that, the fact that my records and cd’s were getting a nice shower too. The only solution was to stuff it all.
Oh, I don’t mean to imply that it was time to “stuff it all” and quit. I was definitely not about to quit. Heck, the firework guys said that the rockets and bombs were all in their launching tubes. Once the pyrotechnics are in “the hole” it’s a very bad idea to try to take them out by hand unless you like the nickname Crusty. You might get some of them out but, sooner or later something’s going to go horribly wrong. Sure, it might be a spectacular blast but, not if you’re in the middle of it. In other words, the show had to go on and that’s that. The soundman, Bill and I thought that, raining or not, it would really draw a crowd if the fireworks guys just let it be known that they were going to push the master button and let it all go at once. Rain or not, that would really draw a crowd. I would think half the state would come out for that one. Luckily, we were overruled. Cooler heads prevailed and a nuclear disaster was diverted.
No, by “stuff it all,” I simply meant that the sound man and I would have to get busy and stuff everything into our respective vehicles while continuing to play the songs uninterrupted. It ain’t an easy thing to do. We went to work. The turntable, mixing board and cd players were already in the back of my van with the hatch open. I just pushed them back farther away from the roof drips and, put a light towel over the mixing board and microphone. I had the hatch ready to close if the rain got any harder. In that event, I could just start playing an album side for the crowd and put the hatch down.
Earlier that week, I decided that I only needed maybe just a case of albums and maybe a small box or two of cd’s for the entire show. By show day, that theory was totally out the window. I kept deciding how I wanted to play this song or that. One thing led to another.
By the time I left the driveway on the fourth, I think I had five milk crates full of LP’s, nine boxes of cd’s, and four shoeboxes of 45’s. All in all, that would mean that I was bringing something like forty days worth of music to play at best, for a four hour gig. I hate when I do that kind of thing but, I’ll never learn. So, now, records and cd’s totally took up the driver and passenger section of my van with another layer piled up behind the front seats. Each and every one safe and sound behind closed doors and sealed windows. This left no room for my safe haven. About all I could do was make plans to slip under the van if a downpour came. I know that would have been a bad idea. But, by then I wasn’t thinking straight.
The soundman, needed help with his control panel, amps and speakers. We started lugging them into the back of his truck. It took a while but in due time, his speakers were playing and the amps and generators were chugging along safe and dry. During this whole time, the tunes never stopped. The music played on and, not one piece of equipment shorted out. We were both soaked of course and getting wetter. But all was well.
In a way, we both felt kind of proud of our selves. I remember we both slapped five and smiled. About a hundred yards off, the fireworks guys launched a big one. We could hear it hiss as it ascended. We were getting near sundown so a flash of light burst upon us followed by a huge blast. It was one of those blasts that you can feel in your belly. The crowd went nuts and started cheering.
The rain slowed down a bit. This allowed me to open the hatch and front doors to my van. I found a copy of a very early recording of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. There’s a drum solo in the song that puts artillery barrages to shame. I’m not sure who the drummer was but, oh boy. Bill the sound guy, cranked the volume on my suggestion. We stood back and took it in. When the drum solo came, people stopped what they were doing and listened. Some folks cheered. Satchmo would have been proud and smiling that smile of his. It was like machine guns and bombs going off but a whole lot friendlier.
I saw one of the fireworks committee members heading our way. This fellow is a great guy. I think he’s retired from a carrier in the Marines. I think he had some rank there too. He was walking straight for us and smiling.
The way he walked made me think that he had a message from HQ. I could tell he had our orders. Bill and I stood as straight as waterlogged sound people can. We forgot to salute. But, we did smile. The Marine told us that we had fifteen more minutes to play. Then, at exactly, 21 hundred hours, the field lights would go out. That would be our signal for me to play the National Anthem. He paused a minute and looked at me. He asked what version of the Anthem I was planning to play. He looked pretty serious as I told him that I had Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl Performance ready to go. He smiled and said how that was a good one. I told him how the announcer is also on the recording introducing Whitney and saying how after she sings a flyover of F-14 fighter jets will buzz the field. Bless his heart but he really smiled at that news. In fact he laughed out loud grinning from ear to ear. He hollered, “That’s perfect! Good going you two.” I think he was going to put us in for a commendation back at HQ! He said he just couldn’t wait for the show to start. We synchronized our watches and, he went back to headquarters.
There was a bit of time left yet and, I looked out over the fields at all the folks who came to see the fireworks. I saw people young and old, this or that color, rich and poor. All of them sharing their proud heritage of being Americans. They were eating hot dogs and fat pretzels. Some dads were playing catch with their kids. Some young couples were sitting on soaked beach blankets smooching. A few Boy Scouts brought us each a free pretzel and a bottle of water just to say thanks. For that moment as I looked over the crowd I thought how honored I was and lucky to be even just a little part of this wonderful nation and way of life. I felt like I was the luckiest guy on earth and I felt very proud too. I almost started bawling. Now, that I’m older, I do that a lot
Then, suddenly, it hit me that I didn’t have Whitney Houston’s song cued up and ready to go. A wave of panic hit me at the thought of what if I can’t find it in all that mess in the van. I ran to the van and threw up the hatch. Oh God. Where’s that song?
Luckily, it was right where it should be in my special song carrying case. With great care and, before the lights went out, I set the song into my best cd player and double checked all the buttons and dials. It was all ready to go. In a minute or two the lights in the field went out and I was on. Bingo, just like that.
There in the dark, I grabbed the microphone and told everyone that the show was starting. I asked that they all rise for the National Anthem! I didn’t have to ask twice. You could hear people standing in the dark. I hit the button and Whitney’s song rang through the field.
When she got to the part where she sings about the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air, the fireworks guys let go with a massive salvo of firepower. The bursts fairly well matched the cadence of the song. The crowd went nuts. Lucky for me it was quite dark now because I finally was crying like a baby. Actually, I think most everyone was but, it was good tears. God Bless America! God Bless us all. It was a great show.