Summer of Sixty-Nine (Part 5 of a 6 part series)

Everybody was in a panic and said we had to get Cheryl to come back up here from North Carolina—it was life or death. By this time we had a good set down and I was pretty sure we could play the gig OK. But this was in front of the entire school—one of the biggest schools in the state and the biggest dance of the year.  If that wasn’t enough–we were standing in for a professional band with a national reputation.

I talked to Cheryl who had heard about the plane crash. She listened and said this was what all the ass-busting and bird-flipping was for—this gig. Obviously it was tragic how we got the job—the odds against something like this happening were astronomical. An entire band dies less than 24 hours before a date and we’re handed the job. There was more going on here than just our little band falling into a great opportunity—this was meant to be.

She agreed this was definitely was a big deal and said something no one had ever said to me before—she said we were “beyond” her now, meaning we had arrived at a moment in time that belonged to us alone. And she said something she had said before—about moments of great challenge. “When the moment is right and you want it bad enough, you will transcend your best—you will do what you thought could not be done.” It was like out of all the performers in the world we were standing on this vast, empty stage alone with the entire universe stretching away in all directions—it was our time. She said her love would be with us—and the last thing she said—in a voice I had heard before was—“Stand up Bryan—this is your moment.” And she hung up.

I just stood there listening to the dial tone feeling like every minute of my life had led up to this moment. I felt light-headed—almost like I was floating. The fear faded and was replaced by an incredibly clear sense of focus, purpose and direction.

And I felt as though I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The next night, shortly before the dance was to start, the principal told me the other band’s equipment—a light and sound system that in today’s money would be worth a hundred thousand dollars—had arrived and we could use it. The roadies who had survived had agreed to set it up and manage the sound board. Again I felt so light-headed I thought I might pass out.

We plugged into the dead band’s equipment and ran through a few sound checks. I looked at the roadie on the sound board—the expression on his face was somewhere between disbelief and desperation as he watched this bunch of teen-agers set up. I kept glancing at the other guys.  If we had found ourselves standing on the surface of the moon we couldn’t have been more astonished.

The big gymnasium quickly filled with a huge crowd of kids and an unusual number of adults. The mood was sober and uncertain as a mirrored ball scattered sparkling bits of color across the mass of tuxedos and evening gowns.

No one looked at us and smiled—every face regarded us with an awe and respect that bordered on reverence. Every person in that room knew as well as we did we were up there utterly, totally alone and exposed—we were standing in for the dead. I suspect everyone in that room was having the same thought—“I can’t believe these guys have the balls to do this.” A whole lot of people  showed up in that hall that night looking for a miracle. As I stood there in the wings looking out across that huge crowd I was suddenly back standing in the rain & thunder and darkness and I thought–”Shit–I’m gonna give it to them.”

End part 5

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