Dear blog readers:
This is a true story that I wrote up back when it happened. I just found it in a folder called “really old non-poker stories.” Enjoy!
Battle of the Bands
This was late 1980’s. I was playing in a very good band that was regionally famous. We’d been together for a long time. All five of us were full-time musicians, making enough to buy houses and raise families and such. We were what one might call: for real.
We played about half the time locally, in major bars that booked us 5 nights per week, and the rest of the time we went on the road, playing the same type of week-long engagements. We had a truck, a van, and CB radios. One day we were traveling from one gig to another, out in the middle of nowhere, and we passed a huge dance hall that had a giant marquee that said, “Battle of the Bands — Today at 1:00 PM — Entry fee: $25.”
It was 11:30 a.m., and it was a full day off for us. We did not have to set up and play that night. The other band members wanted to turn around, go back to the dance hall, and enter the competition. I reminded them that we had taken a solemn vow years ago to never again enter a Battle of the Bands. But the setting was apparently too sweet to resist. We mulled it over, and like an alcoholic falling off the wagon, we turned around and pulled into the dance hall parking lot.
We went inside and met Delbert, the owner. He told us that the dance hall is only open on Saturday nights, except for one Sunday per year, today. He said that the local talent prepares all year for this day.
There were nine entrants. Each act was to do three songs. We were scheduled last. First prize was $500. Second prize was $200. Third prize was an antique accordion.
(I secretly imagined that I could throw the competition so precisely as to land us third prize, since I was the only one in the band who knew his way around a piano keyboard, and I’d often thought about getting an accordion just to have one.)
We enjoyed the show from backstage. My favorite performer was Ginger, a delightful, confident nine-year-old girl who sang Patsy Cline songs. She was good, by any standard. The most amusing performer was Rodney. Rodney was a giant man who played a miniature harmonica. Everyone loved him. Another crowd favorite was a band called “The Boys up the Creek.” They had not been boys for 50 years.
As it became clear what the situation was, I had an attack of conscience. I called for a band huddle, just before we went on stage. I asked the band if anyone else was feeling funky about swooping down like hawks and snatching these people’s $500 and then flying away. They mumbled and nodded and shifted their feet. But we all knew it was too late to back out.
We hit the stage as usual, full throttle. The music, the lights, the crowd, it always infused us with a cohesive energy that was 10 times bigger than the sum of our parts, all in the time it takes to count to four.
By our third song, the dance floor was hopping, for the first time all day. At the end of the song, we were supposed to be done with our set. Delbert got on the house PA and yelled, “You can’t stop now boys!” (Translation: “People are buying drinks now.”) So we played for another half hour.
Backstage again, a wrinkled, gray man approached us. “You guys are the best band that’s played here in 40 years.” He was one of the judges. We were a lock for first prize.
Delbert took the stage. He announced third place. My accordion fantasy was shattered. Then he announced second place. It was Ginger. She radiated pure bliss as she accepted the $200. Then Delbert put on his biggest voice while we anticipated the inevitable, “And first place goes to…”
Huh? We were dismayed, yet relieved. Shocked, yet comforted. After we packed up our instruments and loaded them into the truck, we went out into the hall and we found Delbert mingling at the judge’s table. “Great job, boys. Let’s talk some business. I want to hire you guys and work you into my rotation for Saturday nights.”
The person in our band who is our front man, and energy source, and who usually does all the speaking in these situations, is my cousin, A.J. Angelo. A.J. said, “Thanks Delbert. Yeah, we’ll talk. But about today’s contest, I mean, not that we expected to win or anything, but still, we couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t even get third place.” He was stammering, somewhat embarrassed, but gnawingly curious, as we all were, as to just what the heck happened here.
One of the judges looked up quickly, with concern, and said to us, “Are you saying that you guys were in the competition? Delbert came up to us half way through your first song and told me and the other judges that he had hired you guys to finish off the show with a bang. Delbert? What’s going on here?”
“S’okay,” Delbert said. “These are good boys. They didn’t want to run off with Rodney’s money anyways, did ya boys?”
Delbert had read us perfectly. How did he know? It didn’t matter now. All was right in the world, except for one thing. “Hey Delbert,” A.J. said with a grin. “Do you think we could get our twenty five bucks back?”