After New Orleans and the Stars
I was feeling buzzed after our set. Feeling good. Lost in the delicate web of New Orleans; that kind of floating, detaching me from everything.
It was my first show in this new group, and I made it through the first performance sober, though I wasn’t completely loose yet.
No disasters on my end. That was cause enough for a couple drinks to celebrate.
So I packed my bass up, cleared out my part of the stage for Jesse, and went to our green room.
Around the drums, past the house crew, the storage of mic stands and cables, through a narrow slit of doorway, and an empty refrigerator to the room.
Not really a room…more of a long, narrow hallway with a makeup counter/mirror that had those giant yellow bulbs circling around it, and a cheap couch piled upon by backpacks, laptops and trash. In the corner, most importantly, was a little 24-pack ice chest. Only heavy craft beers, IPA’s and Mexican imports.
You should know by now I’m an unapologetic light beer drinker. Without a Lone Star, my next fall back is whiskey, which was also missing from our room. It’s nice to be in charge of your own rider.
A cramped hallway right behind a loud rock band is not really a great place to chill. Even though I love Heartless, I also love my hearing. And after all the buildup, the thinking, the traveling, the practicing – now that the first show was done – I just wanted to breathe a bit. Celebrate it for myself.
So I left down a long service hallway of broken tables and spare chairs towards the front bar. The club had a front bar that was something like a Victorian Hotel, decorated by Aerosmith with its velvety purple wallpaper, purposefully-musty antique mirrors, tasseled light fixtures, and dark oak everything.
Only a few people were hanging around the front bar. Most were in the main room watching the show. I found a bar stool away from a small group and pretended to check my phone while I waited for a bartender to show up.
From out the front window I saw a few of my band mates were having a smoke and chatting with people.
I looked across the bar again… still no bartender but the couple at the end were looking at me and whispering.
I put my head back in my phone and gave it a second before I looked up again…
They’re still looking at me. And they’re smiling.
She’s short. Blonde. A young twenties. Dressed in tight jeans, boots and an oversize boyfriend hoodie. He looked older. Freshly shaven. Thinning hair with a slick leather jacket.
Where is that bartender? Maybe this place was a bad idea.
I could go with the guys… Just need to order then go…
Then a beer slides up next to me.
“On us?” she said taking a stool next to me, “We bought too many.”
The older guy she was with was picking up his stuff to move closer.
“Can’t even get one drink,” I joked.
“Never mind,” I smiled and took the beer, “Thanks.”
“We’re having such a fun time tonight,” She flipped her hair to the side with that smile again, as he brought over their drinks and stood behind her, “really liked the music. The way you guys played together.”
“You guys were great,” he lifted his glass.
We all drank.
Matt and Holly gave me proper introductions and told me some story of how they met at another bar down the street. The first band was great and the second was slow, and the third was a bore so they went out looking for another place with a “really great funk band” (I think), and then ended up here watching our set.
“How long have you been doing this?” Matt asked. He had a strong, unblinking stare punctuated by his thick eyebrows.
“Yeah. With this band.”
I thought for a second about how much I felt like telling my story, “Been touring for a while but honestly this is my first show with these guys.”
“I can’t believe that,” Holly leaned in close to my arm, “We thought… no. You all seemed so intuitive.”
I took the last drink and the empty can clinked on the bar.
She reached over and shook my can, “Could you?” she asked Matt.
“No you don’t have to,” I jumped in.
Matt looked at me for a second, “Don’t worry,” he laughed and took all of our drinks, “I’ll be right back.”
“The bar inside is better,” she laughed as Matt went off to the bar in the next room.
“Is this one even open,” I joked, wondering how long I wanted to stay here with Matt and Holly… wondering where the bartender was. She was telling me about her favorite show she had seen. And how she was just in love with everything about it.
How she loves to talk with musicians afterwards.
“You guys are too nice,” I started.
“Oh Matt?” she started then turned to look for him, “He’s happy to do it. He’s been buying for me all night. And we really like you.”
“Your band… And you.”
“Didn’t you say you just met him? Matt?”
That sounded weird to me… Or did it? Is it a normal thing to just meet someone and go out together? I can be really bad at reading people. My wife is so intuitive with emotions, but my instincts are usually all over the map. I usually come off as cold, or aloof, when I’m busy thinking of a new story or lyrics in my head. It’s not that I’m not interested, my head is just somewhere else.
Something about Holly and her story was putting my instincts off.
She was sweet. The whole time just talking about themselves and music. They were fans. And for Matt’s age and size he seemed pretty harmless. But the more I thought about it, the weirder it seemed. Why are they hanging out with each other? With me? Why are they here?
Holly looked down at the bar, “He’s celebrating something I think.”
“I’m just going with the night. See where it goes. Not everyone has a plan Rene…”
“What are you going to do? The mysterious musician…traveling.”
“Getting ready for the next town I guess.” Out of the window I see my band walk back into the bar.
Holly dipped her shoulder into mine, “You’re on a bus then?”
“Yeah. And I think I’ve got to…”
“That’s so exciting. I can’t imagine what that must be like. Don’t pretend like it isn’t great.”
“It’s pretty great. I wouldn’t complain.”
Matt came back from the second bar with another beer for me, and two drinks and three shots saying, “We’ve got to!”
And I’m smiling but all I’m thinking is: shots are gonna hurt me tomorrow… ugh… Just the one.
He stands right in between where Holly and I are sitting.
We all drink.
It is strong, syrupy, and cheap. The kind that puts a chill down my back.
Holly whispers something to Matt. He puts his hand on the back of my chair as he leans into hear. And Holly gives me a gentle kick with her foot. Then it swings away and comes back.
That little hold. This is weird.
“Guys it’s been really nice,” I pointed to the band that was heading back stage, “I’ve got to get back.” They looked at each other as I took the beer.
Matt threw out a “Maybe we will see you later?” and handed me the napkin that was under the beer.
And before that could go on any more, I went back down the hallway to catch up with the guys.
They were already gone.
It took me a second before I thought, what just happened? Everything about it… why did he hand me that napkin? And the look he had…and how she kicked me, that could’ve been an accident but it lingered.
That’s when I saw what Matt had written on the bottom of the napkin.
Before you leave
– Matt and Holly
That kinda stunned me. I opened the beer and threw away the napkin. Then took a second in that service hallway collecting myself.
I could hear the band playing, and the guys laughing in the green room ahead. I saw the lights from the front bar coming into the hallway behind me. I thought of the dark street we were on, and the city around us, and the miles of highway that connect here to the next city and all the way back home. And all the people that were around and all the different things they were doing.
And the night that covered it all. And the stars.