Charlottesville Pavilion

“Shit,”—64 year-old former lead guitarist Ed Queen muttered under his breath, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

Ed had always promised himself if he lived to be as old as he was he would never–never–”do this self-piteous memory lane crap,” he thought as he looked around the large pavilion.

Dropping his beat-up back pack on the concrete expanse fronting the main stage, a steel skeleton rose 70 feet above him holding up the pavilion fabric and a tangle of theatrical lights. Three of the four sides of the enormous shelter were open to the weather. A chilly breeze blew across the huge concert space as he glanced at his watch.  He had a good hour to kill before he had to be back at the Amtrak Station a few blocks away.

A young woman walking her dog entered the sheltered  space through the front entrance and ambled at a casual pace toward the east opening. Dog and owner suddenly stopped, the dog quickly defecated and the two continued on their path. Not 5 minutes later another dog and owner repeated the event.

“Was a pretty good couple of sets that night—Ed recalled. “Mark and Gary were really strokin. Decent crowd too,” he thought, remembering the last time, in 2005, “Atomic Banana,” played to a large audience.

“Hey—just a temporary dry-spell guys,” their manager Phil told them over the phone shortly after the show. “I got some favors I can pull in–don’t sweat it.” But everybody in the band and the few roadies they could afford knew this was the last decent place they’d ever play.  ”I guess a bunch of dinosaurs like us were lucky as hell to get those shows.”

They hung on for another 4 or 5 months. Phil hooked them up with a pathetic oldies road show appearing in high school gymnasiums and American Legion Halls. Pretty soon that ran out of gigs somewhere in the sticks. Ed hated it. The audience of fat old farts, too fat to get off their fat butts to applaud—stopping off to catch a has-been-freak-show for one last cheap thrill on their way to the cemetery.

“Look who’s talking,” he thought, looking down at his own paunch.  He looked sadly at the parchment-wrinkled skin covering the backs of his hands—hands that had played lead guitar 4 or 5 nights—sometimes 7 nights a week—in coliseums and football stadiums to 50 thousand screaming kids.

He remembered like it was yesterday—jamming with Eric after hours at the “Whisky A Go-Go,” opening for the Stones at Shea Stadium in ’71 on the “Sticky Fingers” tour. Mick only spoke with him briefly—saying something about liking a riff Ed used on “Shadows Talking,” the last song Banana charted in late ’70. Less than a year after Shea Stadium the band broke up—Greg and Lee said they had offers from other bands, Mark decided to go back to college—Ed couldn’t remember what happened with Randy. It was pretty much downhill from there.

Sometime in the early ‘90s he gave up on ever performing again. He had sold all of his guitars except for the Strato-caster given him by Joni Mitchell in 69. He kept it under his bed—where he could just glimpse the edge of the case as he got in and out of bed each day. Some times in the night he would wake from a dream about those days on the road. He would let his arm hang down off the bed and touch the case—and still it would seem like a dream. The older he got the more it didn’t even seem like his dream—more like somebody else he knew in a previous life.

Then Ed got the email from Gary just after Christmas in ’04—saying he and Mark were getting the group back together again to do a BBC documentary about ‘60s psychedelic bands. Interviews, old concert footage, play a few songs from the old days—“Shadows,” “Forever Girl,” “Love Gate.” The BBC would pay for rooms, meals, transportation.

The documentary was fun—God it was good to see the guys again. In addition to Gary and Mark, Greg showed up—Lee was gone. His ex-wife found him dead on the front porch of his home in Wilmington a few years before. The documentary was picked up by PBS and nominated for an Emmy for Christ’s sake. Phil, their manager from the old days, saw the doc and called them—he tells them there’s a lot of interest in 60s music–not just old farts who saw them as kids but middle-age and younger.

Phil books 4 dates, says he can get more and suddenly they’re back on the road. For about a month Ed felt like he was living in a sort of dream-re-run. The first date—Baltimore—was a good crowd—ages ranging from college kids to old-timers. Greg’s back gave out on him but he had a nephew that played bass. And the kid was pretty good (better than Greg actually).

Philly and Boston were even better. The gang was actually starting to get back in the old groove—kinda. There were moments when it was almost like they’d never spilt up. Charlottesville was the last and best gig—the crowd loved the music and let them know it—5 encores. For a little while it was good—very good. But it wasn’t really like the old days—no string of cute girls hanging out at the back of the auditoriums. Not a lot of autograph seekers—no limos—just shuttle vans. Drinking amounted to a beer or two or a glass of wine after the show in the hotel bar—everybody in bed by midnight. The subject of drugs never even came up.

Then it was like somebody pulled the plug on the jukebox and the dream vanished. Suddenly they were playing The Elks Lodge in Utica, New York.  Phil stopped answering their calls. Soon even the hick town dates faded.  Less than a year after the documentary Ed was back home—the Stratocaster under his bed again. That was nearly 6 years ago.

“I’m an old man. “ Ed said to himself with a resolute sadness as he let his eyes follow other pedestrians seeking a moment of shelter from the light rain on their route from wherever to whatever.

“I’m an old man who was lucky enough to get to play kid rock-star one more time.  I’m an old man with a Stratocaster under his bed, a pot belly and a bunch of old-man memories.” But, snickering a bit he added with pride, “Some damn good memories at that,” he said almost out loud.

“And a train to catch,” as he picked up his back-pack and headed for the east entrance.

“I just need to watch out for the dog shit.”

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