Thursday, June 10, 2004

Brother Ray

In 1996, boyfriend was still playing with a band he'd been with for years. They were booked to open an outdoor Ray Charles concert at a winery in Dundee, Oregon. Dundee's a tiny place and its big claim to the fame at the time was the rumor that Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were building a house there. I can't recall the name of the winery, but I can vividly recall the gig. It was the gig from hell, but it was worth all of the annoyances because, well, it was Ray.

We took boyfriend's son who was five at the time. We figured: how many chances will he have to see Ray play live? We had to arrive hours (HOURS!) early. Thankfully, I'd thought to throw the little one's "Go Fish" cards and some of his coloring books and crayons into my bag. We had a lot of downtime and they came in handy.

The weather was really crappy. It wasn't raining when we arrived, but it had rained earlier...and the rain soon returned. There were sheets of it streaming down the edges of the canopy we were all sitting under. There were two trailers set up backstage--one to serve as the dressing room for Ray and his band, the other to serve as a staging area for the crew. There was no dressing room provided for the opening act; the guys got to change into their stage clothes in a trailer that had mud all over the floor (left there by the completely-soaked crew guys).

The entire backstage area was on gravel; the audience was seated on a sloped, grassy lawn. The bathroom facilities consisted of a couple of porta-potties which were, naturally, not under the canopy. One had to make a mad dash through the monsoon, trying to avoid the large puddles that had grown right in front of the potties.

Because it was considered a prestige gig, the guest list was tight. Band members were allowed to bring one guest. Boyfriend cheated and brought his little guy--after all, he didn't take up much space. (And as the senior member of the band who was in a relationship with one of the bandleader's oldest friends, we sometimes got a little extra leniency.) But when it came time to line up at the dinner buffet, we quickly learned that although you could invite a guest, they couldn't eat. The caterers had supplied just enough food for the band members and crew guys. That didn't go over well with the boyfriend. He didn't make a fuss, he just quietly filled a plate with food, grabbed a second plate and brought it to the table where he divided it between his son and me. I tried to insist that it was more important that he eat. After all, he was the one "going to work." But he's nothing if not chivalrous, so I didn't argue too vehemently because I knew there'd be no changing his mind.

It rained for hours, yet the lawn in front of the stage remained packed. Audience members were huddled under tarps and umbrellas in their rain slickers, but they all seemed happy. Who wouldn't be? They were about to see Ray!

The stage was already set up with all of Ray's band's gear. Boyfriend's band set up in front of their gear. When it came time for the band to open the show, one of the crew guys put a couple of chairs in the wings (such as they were) at stage right, nearest boyfriend's drums. That's where the little guy and I watched the opening set. I'd bought him a disposable camera and let him click away at will. When he was little, he'd get quite excited to see his Dad play onstage. At one point, he called out "Dad!" Boyfriend looked over and gave him a big smile and put his finger to his lips to let him know he saw him, but we needed to be quiet. He shouted it between songs. :)

When it came time for Ray's set, all of us (band members, guests) crowded into the back corner of stage left. From that vantage point, Ray was facing us. Ray and his show were everything I imagined they'd be--glorious! The rain was still coming down in buckets, but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of anyone watching, and listening to, the show. Boyfriend held his son in his arms and we stood huddled there, damp all over and beaming from ear to ear was Ray!

His death today makes me deeply sad.


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