Last Saturday the Southside Aces provided our inestimable talents on a job for which I had truly built up great anticipation. The 11th Annual Autumn Brew Review. Over eighty brewers provided samples of their craft under tents in the back yard of the Grain Belt Brewery building off of 13th and Marshall, in good ol’ Nordeast Minneapolis.
Last year we played a set or two from a stage on the grounds situated about forty feet from the nearest tap. This pretty much only attracted a few people who needed to sit down in a chair, chairs being a rare commodity. They might listen for a couple of songs, and then the siren call of the suds would draw them back into the fray. There was no reason to expect anything else. In fact, I might be suspicious of the priorities of persons who would choose to comport themselves as concertgoers at a beer festival. Sure, find out if that’s really a sousaphone you thought you heard as you quaffed your third different Oktoberfest. Sure, avail yourself to the Port-o-potties lined up next to the stage. But don’t let me catch you listening to more than three songs in a row! Not when there’s an “imperial stout aged to perfection in bourbon barrels” within throwing distance. I’d have to frown and shake my head at you.
Wiser for their experience, the organizers hired us this year to harass the imbibers at close range, walking amongst them between the rows of tents. We played for the last half of the 10-2 morning session and all of the 3-7 afternoon session. Jazz musicians roaming free for seven hours at a Jamboree of Brewmasters. Like a pack of dogs set loose in a fire hydrant factory. This may be an unfortunate analogy, but at least you get the sense of our excitement.
Dave Michael, card-carrying Ace, couldn’t make the Heyday of Hops so I hired Chuck DeVore to bang his drum some. I hired him because he’s a good drummer, but also because I know he likes and—this is important—can hold his beer. It seemed like a prerequisite for the day. He was talking about arriving early to be sure he found parking and was ready to play on time, “You know, like a professional,” he said. “Well,” I replied, “we’ll at least start the day as professionals.” I was predicting an exciting 6:00 set given the band’s daylong propinquity to all that free beer. Chuck reminded me, “We’ll still be professionals; we’ll just be drunk!” I had briefly forgotten that professionalism in Jazz is not necessarily predicated on sobriety.
To be accurate, the festival attracts connoisseurs as well as inebriates. If connoisseur was a one and inebriate a ten, I’d probably be a three. If you’re asking me, there were too many quality, interesting brews there to simply go on a spree. I do like my beer. But I also like being able to play my clarinet in tune and at a faster rate than four notes per minute. Too much beer can throw up roadblocks between my brain and my fingers, so I tend to be judicious about alcohol when I’m playing. For instance, at one point our trumpeter, Andy, and I sampled the creations of Glewwes Castle Brewery, who was providing root beer, raspberry ginger ale, cream soda and orange soda. Very tasty indeed, and for me a nice break. Andy enjoyed his sample as well, but concluded; “Bringing root beer to this festival is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”
Judiciousness didn’t enter into the strategies of many folk that day, a benefit to us since it was proven in both sessions that the more people consumed, the more likely they were to buy a CD. Erik capitalized on this by pulling out his supreme hawking skills. Congenially barking at the crowd, making sure they knew just who we were, where we played, and just how much they couldn’t do without our record. To be fair to us, I thought we were sounding pretty good. Crowd-pleasers included when we worked up a pretty great version of “Iko, Iko” on the spot, and when we played “Do Whatcha Wanna,” and dropped the theme to the television show, Treme, in the middle. So you couldn’t call it a con, exactly. But I can’t say we weren’t helped by the people being in their cups.
We took on the part of the Nordeast Pied Pipers at the end of the morning session, second-lining the happy partakers off of the Grain Belt grounds up to Marshall Avenue. The last half of the afternoon session was even wilder. We’d be hemmed in on all sides, people dancing and shouting. One young gentleman kept slithering around and obscenely ringing a small cowbell. You don’t have to use your imagination too hard to know what I mean. People were drawn to Erik’s sousaphone like jalopies to the magnet on a junkyard crane. Three young men and their new companion, a life-size cardboard cutout of Samuel Adams, had their pictures taken with the band as Erik started up “Mardi Gras In New Orleans.” During “Jambalaya On The Bayou,” I leaned in to Robert—playing his banjo that day—and said, “Take the next solo!” Thus set in motion a conspiracy to get myself another sample of Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Black, a delicious black lager. A first for me, procuring beer during a song, but I am blameless, as Spoetzl’s tent was right behind the band!
At seven bells, an attempt was made to second-line the crowd out of the afternoon session, but the band found itself on 13th Avenue with not one person following! But soon enough, the realization that the taps had been turned off was all that was needed to ease the beery throng back into the real world. I ended up the day with a mellow glow of happiness that jazz, beer and sunshine can give a man. I also had the glow of a slight case of sunburn and dehydration, but this isn't a medical blog, so we'll skip it. I walked up to Marshall Avenue to await my ride. I sat on the Southside Aces CD suitcase, finally resting my feet. People walked by yelling, “Clarinet dude!” and giving me high fives. People yelled the same out of car windows. But before my head could become too enlarged by my stardom, a woman leaned out the passenger window of a car waiting at the red light. “Are you the tuba player?” she shouted. I tried to imagine how she thought I was hiding a tuba on my person, smiled and informed her, “No, I’m the clarinetist!” She whooped and screamed, “We love the tuba!” I busted out laughing. Her friend, the driver, must have said something about her obliviousness to the etiquette of that moment, because I saw her head turn toward the drivers side for a second, then back to me, “We love the clarinet, too!” She didn’t seem quite as convinced, but it was a spirited, if late, offering.
The Southside Aces already have dreams of next year's Barley Pop Gala. What do you think about a couple of women in beer wench costumes selling our CDs and handing out schedules? Do you think my tax man will let me write off two beer wench costumes?