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An Unexpected Nostalgia for Smoke

Every time I am heading out to the lovely city of Annapolis, I get a sharp reminder that a)I live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and b)I was raised in the Seattle area where one crosses water on securely settled floating bridges, or by ferry where you can play a game of cards and have a cup of coffee. OK, there was that Columbus Day Storm that time that made a boat load of us think that it was our last day, and there was that high wind that broke up the bridge over the Hood Canal, but for day to day travel, it is mostly civil…

What brings all of this to mind is the 4.3 miles of terror known as the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge, or no, THE BRIDGE. A lovely feat of engineering, called on the website (www.mtda.maryland.gov) “one of the world’s longest and most scenic over water structures,” the original span opened in 1952 with the expansion span opening in 1973. In the nineteen years between the two, I have no idea who decided that as a driver you needed a more open view of the Chesapeake, but replacing the Jersey barriers of the old span with open railings on the new is not a good thing…I mean it. I’m sure there is some kind of merit to the heart stopping adrenalin rush, but this is why there are still amusement parks and roller coasters in the land. A roadway commute should not actually qualify as either. Ok, but that is an aside.

The point, really, once I actually get myself over the bridge, is that as much as I love the Eastern Shore, an awful lot of life happens to the west…on the other side. One of those things last night was the opportunity to see Robert Earl Keen (www.robertearlkeen.com) play at the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis (www.ramsheadtavern.com). This is where the nostalgia part starts to kick in, for those of you wondering.

I’ve been listening to Keen’s music for a long time – that Texas bad boy rockabilly sense of humor makes me want to laugh and sing along…and when he breaks melancholy, I’ll order another beer and try not to get too wrapped up in my own squandered opportunities. This is what the concert experience is meant to be – at least in honky tonks and honky tonk wanna be venues. You aren’t really supposed to see things too clearly, and there is a possibility that your memory should be likewise shrouded about the whole experience. This is where the smoke thing comes into play…

The last time I saw Robert Earl play was in a perfect venue called Cat’s Cradle (www.catscradle.com) in Carrboro, NC. There was a couple of tiers of wooden benches along the wall, a whole bunch of folding chairs, and a concrete floor. The bar was in the back and as the room filled with folks the place transformed from warehouse to festival. The air filled with smoke and Robert Earl took the stage and the music started and the beer flowed and the crowd knew all the lyrics and the concrete absorbed 90% of the stomping on the floor. It was magical. Everyone was in a good mood (the fights in the parking lot later, notwithstanding) and, well, to quote Robert Earl, “the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” Granted, leaving the place afterward, though I would have rather stripped naked in the lobby of a one hour dry cleaners than to have worn my clothes home, there was something about a smoke filled venue that rounded out the experience. Robert Earl looked dashing and edgy, and the air of living dangerously – of contracting cancer or love at first sight gave the night and the music a very special – oh, what the French would call “je ne sais quoi” and my grandmother would have probably called “stupidity on a stick.”

Last night, in a smoke free environment, it was a very different experience.  REK looked prosperous and well fed – and judging from the bus palace parked out front, he is doing well.  He wore not only clean jeans, but a blazer last night – very much in keeping with the Annapolis location, I guess.  The music was every bit as good, although in the intervening 6 or 7 years his voice is a little more reflective of the smokier venues; a little more Willie Nelson.  The beer poured freely enough, but it was micro brewed which should have told me something, but there is a chance that I just didn’t drink enough of it.  Of course, the contrast to the North Carolina concert doesn’t really end there.  I remember negotiating my way through t-shirts and jeans in NC, but even if it had been winter, I doubt I would have seen so many beautifully tailored cashmere top coats.  But the point is that I could see everything so clearly.  There was no smoke to bring a tear to my eye – which was always a handy excuse if something in the music got to me, and there was no chance whatsoever of being intrigued by a mysterious stranger…nor was there a chance that people would let themselves go too far into having a good time – there was no veil of anonymity to make allowances for any sort of indiscretion.  OK, there was that one guy, but he was clearly not a local…but it looked like he was having a heck of a good time…

Anyway, good health and long life notwithstanding, I kind of miss the smoke.  I suppose that leaves an opportunity for some enterprising person to come up with some kind of green, safe, life enhancing atmospheric additive for the bar scene, but for now, I’m just kind of nostalgic…there is no way I should have this clear a view of the band at the end of the evening from arguably the worst seats in the house…



2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Nostalgia for Smoke

  1. Such a fun night. Thanks for inviting me to share it.

    Posted by Betta | January 19, 2012, 1:33 pm
  2. Very excellent information can be found on site.

    Posted by Denise Fitsgerald | February 14, 2012, 4:32 pm

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