On 31 July, after a fair amount of planning, playlist making, and visits to the booze shop, the men of Balto descended on our small but fair town. It was a Sunday, signifying that nearly everyone in audience would be working in the following days early hours, but a crowd gathered regardless. They showed up, some as a favor to me, some because they are related to me and had no choice ’cause I’m pretty sure there’s a section in the law books stipulating a bylaw that one has to do such things for their kin, and some showed up because honestly, nothing like this has happened in our town. Ever. What transpired that evening was nothing short of beautiful.
It’s fair to assume that the 104 degree heat and the 99% humidity might have put a damper on everyone’s spirit but such was not the case. The boys showed up, a banjo player named Dave convinced me that the $4 bottle of Old Crow whiskey was Lyndon Johnson’s favorite and thus, I should drink it, and the tunes commenced. Children jumped on the trampoline, people laid back to relax and listen, and the dudes started in with ‘The Railyard’.
What I truly believe to be a crowd that was initially only here to do me a solid soon turned into a crowd that was absolutely smitten by the band. Perhaps they had made the assumption that this was a rag tag group of boys, showing up to clumsily pick an instrument while calling themselves a band, but if that were the case there were proven wrong in short order. Watching the look of astonishment spread over faces as the band took off was brilliant. By the second song of the set, everyone in that backyard, hippie and redneck alike, were fans. Life long fans. And that’s no fucking exaggeration. In the days since the concert, as I very slowly came down off my own personal high concerning the events of that night, I’ve gotten raving messages from those in attendance. I listened to my father, a truck driver with generally no interest in folk jams or the whiskey he drank Sunday night, complain that my mother had stolen his autographed CD. I’ve become convinced this is something that’s good for this town.
In the days and nights since the show, I’ll admit to re-reading every review of October’s Road. It seemed to me that perhaps I was glorifying an experience and I needed to step back from and be objective about but every review I’ve read, all of them more than positive and glowing, reinforces what happened last Sunday night. This fucking band has it together — their live sound is similar to the record but it’s on another level which means that these guys (and those involved but not present) can really take this somewhere.
I know it’s not easy getting the people out but one of the reasons I love this business of writing about music that I truly believe is worth our time: When you get them there, they’ll believe in it. I saw it happen, I watched a mesmerized crowd of people I never thought we could assemble, and even through my slightly drunken haze and over my too loud voice, I could see it and hear it in everyone who sat in a Coleman chair in my backyard in the middle of the sticks. The magic of a band that is truly good effects everyone, regardless of background or geography or taste. To say it was a transformative night for me would be the understatement of the year…
There is a multitude of thanks that need to be given. To my family and friends: Hell, you guys. You showed up simply because I asked, you brought enchiladas and salsa and pies and multitudes of delicious baked beans. You shared something that was so very special to me and truly, I can never thank you enough. To Jessica: The pictures. You preserved something that was beautiful and I’ll have it forever, reminders of a night that I’d like to never forget. To Brad: You cooked, you braved potential heat exhaustion, and you supported me in the best way possible, by letting me do my thing. I love you times a million. And to the people from Belle: You guys have given me serious hope for this state! You were kind, you were funny, you were a blast. Your presence made the night all that much better.
And to Dan and the boys: Wow. Just fucking wow. That was a life changer and to say as such is not an exaggeration. I cannot thank you enough. There’s always a stage for you, right off I44.
Balto :: Self Portrait [mp3]
All photos courtesy of Jessica Warren. View the full set here.