Pagoda gig on an island in the woods

The San Francisco Marathon goes through Golden Gate Park, and the organizers hired musicians to make it festive. The Joy Drops got booked. The band was standup bass, trumpet/french horn, and guitar/mandolin/singing. Racers start early, so the gig went from 6:45 AM to 10.

The organizers put us in a Chinese-style pagoda on a small island on the far edge of a marsh beside the road, in woods a few hundred feet from the runners. It was such an odd location that as we were setting up we thought we might actually be lost.

We didn’t know we were in the right place until a couple runners escorted by police went by on the road, off in the distance. There was mist on the water and almost nobody in earshot during the first few songs.

It was like being paid to play by ourselves far away from any listeners.

Gradually the number of racers increased, the mist burned off, and the band heated up. Runners would look around to see where the noise was coming from , turn and gawk, and give us a big whole-arm wave.

On the island a few people happened by. Parents with strollers stopped off for their kids to watch us. An older Chinese couple came by and stayed a while, the woman clapping very loudly as if she was communicating something.

It was an epically easy gig since nobody heard us for longer than a few seconds. Like playing for amnesiacs, the people who heard us weren’t in a position to know whether we sucked most of the time or just at that moment. We skipped around the set list, repeating songs that needed practice, trying out new tunes that we had never rehearsed before, telling jokes and laughing a lot.

We swapped stories about bad gigs. Ryan the bass player won: he played a swingers party on Valentine’s Day. There were tarps on the floor for the couples. He kept his eyes on his sheet music as much as humanly possible and during the breaks kept his distance from the hors d’oeuvres.

It was cold in the early morning so I wore a silly coonskin cap.

At 10 AM we were done playing for the day and I had a coffee at the boathouse nearby. The last stragglers were still passing.

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