Our Winter’s Tale continues, dear reader.
We had reclaimed our van from the villainous Barley Brothers (as well as my woolen peacoat, Ben’s hat, Alex’s mustache, our dignity, our lives, and our razor-keen survival instincts).
There we were driving, again, the long, mountainous roads of the Northwest. For the first time in 10 days, our road was pointed West. West! We clapped each other on the back. We carried on like soldiers called home from the front lines. West towards sea level; towards gentle climates and refined civilization; west towards home!
And what was this sweet pitter patter we did hear upon our van’s roof as we hurtled down the interstate? Was that… rain? Oh sweet un-frozen, soft, warm(er) rain! We pulled the van over, rushing out to let the rain fall in our faces, to gather it in our hands. We soaked ourselves in rain and hope.
It was a very foolish thing to do.
The roadsides were still frozen – snow lay thick all around us. Our clothes were sopping. We began to shake and shiver on that bleak roadside, coming back to our wits too late to save our clothes, but just in time to save our skins. We crowded back into the van and raided the band merchandise, layering ourselves in our own shirts, wearing baseball-ts as our only option for pants. We huddled around the heater vents and felt our hearts sink as the rain turned to hail and snow.
The curse of the Frostbite Tour had followed us West.
The roads of Spokane looked like a frozen, industrial ghost town. Groups could be seen beneath overpasses, huddled around glowing barrels. The streets were all but deserted. We did not have high hopes for our show that night.
The show was sold out… though not for the reasons a touring band would hope.
The people fought and clawed their way to get in. They threw themselves at our feet, begging for help of the (now) legendary killers of the Barley Brothers. We could not get through a song, but we were interrupted by supplications, indecent proposals, and wringing hands, begging us to intercede on their behalf.
We looked at each other. We put our instruments down and held council from the stage. The situation was dire, from what we could understand. A tyrannical rule of bandits, highwaymen and other unsavories held the town in their filthy, amoral grip. The people asked us for help.
What could we do?
The next day, the 8 of us (Pat had stayed back in Missoula, where he bought a farm and tractor) laid waste to the hordes of surprised, complacent ruffians of Spokane. They had taken up residence in the town hall, and the more luxurious hotels of the downtown area. It was all a blur of berserker, blood-lust fury, and I remember only frozen images and moments: The look of cool, calm, precision as Alex smote about him with his banjo; tour manager Joe defeating their chief in single hand-to-hand combat; Ryan screaming into my gore-speckled face “What’s happened to us?!”
In the frenzied, celebratory aftermath, we allowed the people of Spokane to throw us a parade. It was joyous, filled with everything a good party and parade ought to have… it was only marred by the snow that fell. Steadily. Coldly. Mockingly, even.
We headed for Prosser, Washington the next day. (Photographer Mike stayed in Spokane, vowing to protect the people he had come to love for the rest of his days. We were now only 7.) The road bent west, but the dark clouds and chill air froze our hopes and westward joys.
Hearing of our savagery, of how a once righteous and peaceful string band had become a vengeful tribe of killers on the Western Plains… the people of Prosser kept their distance. They did not want trouble in their peaceful town, and it seemed that trouble was riding our van like a white, hell-bent stallion.
We were payed to not play. They asked us (politely, from behind their collected rifles and shotguns) to continue on our way after securing promises that we would not get out of the van, or stop moving until we had crossed the county line.
Without a place to lay our heads, to re-group and re-stock our supplies, we quickly took a turn for the worse. As our van climbed out of the high desert of Eastern Washington into the yet-higher frigid crags of the Cascades, Ben came down with scarlet fever. Phil: dysentary. Joe and Alex were burning tour posters in the back seat, buried under sleeping bags and blankets, trying to shake the cold from their bones. Ryan and I were tearing up the faux-leather seat upholstery, mistakenly thinking it had nutritional value. Only Rich seemed unaffected, and he piloted our van through the blizzards, sleet, and ice-slick roads towards Bellingham.
The band nearly died on the summit. Rich, bless his heart, had been driving all night. His strength was gone, and the roads were blocked. The rest of us were moaning, groaning shadows… half crossed over to That Good Night.
Were it not for The Rainbow Girls and their van, Snoqualmie Pass would have been our collective grave.
Instead, the bold and intrepid heroines harnessed us to their touring chariot, commandeered a massive snow plow, and in a caravan of steel and will and determination…
We crossed the mountains.
While many of us may have needed serious and immediate medical attention, there was a show to play. Thus we arrived at The Green Frog in Bellingham. We may not have been strong enough to “play our instruments” or “sing coherent words and phrases,” but we gave it all that we had.
The night was spent convalescing in a lake-side retreat thanks to the kind mercies of some wonderful Bellinghamians. I was in a fever-ridden fog, but I do recall falling asleep to the gentle sound of rain… sweet, liquid rain, and thinking.. we made it West… west……
Still weak, still feverish, still on the brink of madness and collapse, we hurtled towards Seattle through the pounding (but not frozen) rain.
There was only one place that held the restorative powers that could make us whole again. Only one place that could pull us from the depths of calamity and despair, and make us right again.
Like a crazed and starved prow of a bulldozer, we barged our way to that magical place. We feasted on sandwiches the likes of which the outside world does not know. It cured us. It put love into our hearts. It opened our eyes, the scales fell away, and we saw the beauty around us, and the miracle that is each moment of life. We wiped grilled onions and aioli from each others mouths, giggling and frolicking like new-born spirits of goodness and light.
We were back.
We held court that night at the Tractor Tavern. We wept and laughed at the music of The Rainbow Girls. We thrashed and wailed to the crushings of Hillstomp. Our bodies, minds and souls were in equilibrium. We had acquired the musical Triforce. We were playing our songs for Seattle, and all was right in heaven and on earth.
Completely drained from the day, from the previous days, from the entirety of our Frostbitten misadventures, we dragged ourselves to our hotel beds. There were no more worries. We had only two shows to play on the mild and temperate west coast – our two homes away from home: Seattle (again) and Portland.
Nothing could go wrong. No more evil (we thought) could thwart us. No villain would dare to assault our triumvirate of Rock.
The Frostbite Tour would bite us no more…. so we thought….