Not all who wander are lost


Last week my dad invited me to see his friend’s rock band.

I had no idea what to expect (other than, I kidded to myself, some middle-aged people acting like high schoolers). I certainly didn’t expect what found.





It’s a hot sticky night, humid and blazing even at 6pm.

We follow the directions dutifully and find a bar that’s hardly fitting of the name. It’s in a dilapidated strip mall on a five-lane thoroughfare. Blink and you’d miss it between the tire store and corner shop.

You can’t miss the crowd, though. The parking lot is brimming with huge dudes and even huger trucks and hogs. The music blares through the glass. Crowds spill onto the pavement and into the lot, smoking and laughing, bringing the whole gig al fresco.

Inside it’s standing room only; for just one night the band’s back together.

Tanned and wizened women with stiff platinum hair and tighter-than-tight jeans dance wholeheartedly on the linoleum. Clusters of men in well-loved biker jackets and vests linger on the fringes.

By comparison the women seem tiny. I can’t see a guy under 200 pounds. More than half sport shaved heads or full-sleeves or both, but they all have the softness of broken-in leather and long faces. This is no jockeying parade of store-bought testosterone, just some weathered dudes nursing beers in their usual weekend wear.

In the back, the pool tables have been covered with crockpots and tinfoil trays. A $5 donation for all the lasagna, potato chips and chili dogs you can eat.

Once upon a time, the band used to play the dive bar circuit in these parts pretty regularly. But the guys are out of retirement for this one night only.

Six months ago they lost the guitarist to cancer. This reunion is to raise funds for his family. Every t-shirt and CD sold, every potluck brownie and every raffle prize funds one purpose and one cause. And no one is shy of pitching in, not about this.

Big Mike was the sort of guy everyone can tell stories about. A grizzly bear of a man with a giant beard and giant heart. I never met him, but no one is timid about sharing memories tonight. Total strangers strike up conversations and everyone feels part of something big, including me.

Mike’s son takes to the stage and leads a rousing chorus of raised glasses and big cheers. Between sets family and friends take the mic, hosting raffles, prize draws and auctions. The goods have been donated by the regulars; a Harley-Davidson bowie-knife, a bear-tracking excursion with a local huntsman and one of Mike’s guitars all garner cheers and generous cash. Small but telling signs of the community knit around this loss.

The band plays all the old 70’s standards my dad loves. By the time we arrive, they’ve been at it for almost four hours. The windows are steamy and the crowd is damp and smiling, if slightly subdued by the sombre occasion.

The night ends with a passionate, Joplin-style rendition of Piece of My Heart. Acid rock rarely leaves me emotional, but the heartbreaking pathos of the lead singer (and her killer pipes) is captivating, and everyone is swaying and hugging with tears in their eyes.

At the last, the quiet falls heavy on our ears like television static.

Mike’s guitar has been donated to the venue and now, signed by the surviving band members, it is proudly hung above the bar. It looks so small suspended from the rafters.

Slowly the crowd filters out and home.

I sit in the corner, moved to tears watching this dispersion of this love.

Sunday night calm eventually resumes. Everyone leaves heavy-footed, but lit from within.




One Response to “Not all who wander are lost”
  1. Beautifully written! And, like the crowd that night, “lit from within.”


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