Autumn Phillips: Where were you?
That was all I could think as I looked around the room at Levelz on Tuesday night. On stage were The Wood Brothers — Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin and Wood, and his lesser-known but no-less-talented brother, Oliver Wood.
It was a rare, seated show, and I counted nine people in the seats, including myself, plus a pile of drunk heckling girls standing at the edge of the room yelling, “There are too many chairs in the way. I want to dance.”
There were more people smoking cigarettes outside Lupo’s than there were in the audience that night.
You idiots, I thought. Where are you?
The tickets said “Doors at 8 p.m. Show at 8:30 p.m.” Because it was a seated show, we wanted to get there early so we wouldn’t be stuck in the back.
We rushed through the pre-show dinner party — shoveling homemade Indian food into our stomachs and grabbing a chocolate chip cookie for the road.
One person even left the party early to save seats for the rest of us.
We showed up at 8:30 p.m. Showtime.
We got our hands stamped, wandered up the stairs and stopped, shocked, as we entered the bar. The room was completely empty except for the bartenders and the soundman.
We took a seat at a table close to the window. Outside in Ski Time Square, men in cowboy hats were milling around on their way to wherever everyone else was that night.
8:30 passed. 9 p.m. passed.
Like us, I think the band was waiting for the crowd to appear. I saw Chris Wood and his brother emerge from the Green Room and do a casual walk past all those empty chairs. They gave each other a shrug and took the stage.
We sat in the third row. The first row is just too intimate when you’re the only one in the audience.
We were still close enough that I could see the stripes of Chris Wood’s dress shirt. We were so close I could see the place on his upright bass where his fingers have worn the varnish down to bare wood. We were so close that I could see they were drinking Newcastle out of the bottle and so close that I had to look away whenever I accidentally made eye contact with one of them.
Even though there were fewer than 10 people in the room, The Wood Brothers still gave us our $12 worth.
They played these soul-wrenching songs inspired by the gospel, blues and roots music of the South. In one song, Chris hugged his bass close to his body and played that thing so hard I thought he was going to tear off the strings. In the next song, Oliver played the slowest and saddest love-lost slide guitar you ever heard. It was dynamics roller coaster, and the emotional pendulum swung back and forth from “Time will stand still now that you’re gone” to “Get out of here, woman. I don’t love you anymore.”
I kept turning around to see whether the seats had filled while I was in a musical trance, but they hadn’t.
Steamboat audiences are so unpredictable. The entire population older than 21 will show up to a Tone Loc show, or — though probably never again — a Vince Neil show. But get two incredible musicians on stage playing original music in an intimate setting, and the crickets chirp.
I’ve seen this happen once before. Same venue. Johnny Hickman and David Lowery played a special acoustic set after the free concert on Headwall ski run this summer. A few of us stood on the dance floor and listened to what amounted to a private show. We shared the room with the musicians’ families and close friends. The only other person on the dance floor was Johnny Hickman’s tiny son.
At first I thought maybe Steamboat doesn’t like duos, but then I remembered how many people always show up for American Relay shows. Maybe, I concluded, Steamboat won’t turn out for a group that doesn’t have a drummer.
Between songs, The Wood Brothers made jokes such as, “Don’t you guys have any friends? I guess we don’t either.” Or “Thank you. Thank you both.”
I left the show at about 11:30 p.m., leaving the audience count at eight people. As I drove home on empty streets, snow was falling. The voice on the radio began to announce The Wood Brothers show. Get your tickets in advance, he said. Doors open at 8.
Before I remembered the reality of that night, my mind pictured a line of people with tickets in hand waiting for the doors to open. The radio ad ended with a clip of The Wood Brothers, music, and it all came back to me.
You idiots, I thought. Where were you?
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