Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Low End Gets High

Each member of the band stepped off of the forklift and onto the platform. From there, we could see over the 20 ft. fence and look down at the artificial waterfall, the saltwater swimming pool, and the Ellsworth-county crowd below. We turned on our amps and PA and waited to play the first of what we thought would be two sets that night.

When Ryan (talldrums), John (bassbeard), and I arrived earlier to unload our gear, our host, an inventor who had designed and developed the premier cattle-run gate on the market (so I was told by at least five concert-goers), led us to the twin scissor-lifts that would hold us during the three sets we would play later that night. I gawked. Ryan grinned. John giggled slightly.

The sun-burned inventor walked us around the platform, which at this point only stood about eight feet off the ground. He explained the design. His crew had strategically tack-welded the platform to be taken down immediately after the set and turned into cattle-gates. We were not as assured by this as he expected, but he continued.

"So, when we get this thing started," the inventor told us, "you'll crouch down as the platform is slowly raised flush with the fence. Then, you'll start playing." We exchanged glances while he reached into his pocket, removing a koozie. I looked at the foam beer-can cover. Five stick figures hovered above the image of a fence. Two played guitars; one held a trumpet. The stick figure playing drums looked suspiciously like Ryan. While the doodle at the microphone had no mustache, I could only assume it was supposed to be me. The caption read, "On the wrong side of the fence." Beneath the fence was our band's name in a blazing race-car font.

Mark (guitarpumas), Kristin (trumpetechture), and our friend Meagan pulled up. I watched their faces (mild terror mixed with amusement) as they realized what the platform was for.

We unloaded our gear onto a forklift, then climbed a ladder and set up our PA, drums, and amps. The top was stable enough to support the hundreds of pounds of gear, but the sheet metal worked like a weak trampoline: a few steps in the middle sent the mics and speakers shivering at the corners. We set up regardless, realizing that if our amps were to break due to a technical difficulty, this was the place to do it.

After the gear was fixed (almost) firmly in place, the inventor gave us a tour while his family and various employees set up large cases of beer and bowls of snacks for the party. Last year, our host's family donated funds for our tour on our Kickstarter fund, where we promised a house show for donations of over $100. This concert would be a gesture in gratitude for his help. He had invited over 50 of his friends to listen to a dangerously-elevated band and hang out at the pool.

As we followed our host, I overheard a song presumably titled, "John Wayne, Johnny Cash, John Deere," projected through a set of acoustically optimal speakers positioned around the pool. Given our stylistic differences from the music being played, I was a little nervous about how we would go over.

A television screen played through a television screen-sized window into the garage. A counter sat lined with Crown Royal Reserve and Whoopee pies. We passed a table covered in large sandwiches and a 40 x 60 poster of our band taken from a facebook photo from last year's tour.

While we waited for the party to start, I grabbed a beer from a burly, tattooed man in a gazebo. He finished a push-up before asking for my ID and granting me one of his secured Bud Lights. If I had less self-respect, I would have pointed to the stick figure on the koozie.

I sipped my beer, talked to my girlfriend Amy, and met some of the early arrivals. Ryan, John, and Mark (guitar/pumas) were all conceived, born, and raised in Ellsworth County; many of their family friends came to the show. One kindly man told me that there would be at least ten millionaires there, and that they probably wouldn't look like millionaires. I nodded and thanked him for the information. I later learned that he was a millionaire.

We prepared to play and were introduced to our tech assistants. Blaze, the inventor's congenial son, Billy Ray (a large man from Detroit obviously named after the timeless country/pop icon), and Gustavo (a Brazilian cowboy) were to manage our rise and fall. We discussed hand signals, set length, use of the fog machine, and the management of the forty-foot light structure positioned on the other side of the house. After a few minutes of conversation, we were told to play. The band gathered on the forklift and gave Billy Ray the signal.


Our plan was to vamp a chord as the platform was raised and then start our first song once we were level with the fence. Ryan clicked us in, and we vamped. After inching a few feet skyward, the platform halted halfway through its ascent, leaving us only halfway above the fence. We played the first song anyway and without issue, given the altitude and bounce of the stage.

After the first song, we were told to step off. Our combined weight, with that of all our gear and the platform itself, was too much for the scissor-lifts. We walked onto the forklift and waited. They planned to lower the platform and re-raise it. Gustavo and Blaze each pulled a lever.

The reverb tanks in the guitar amps and the Bronze Age mixer made an otherworldly noise as the entirety of our gear ended a sudden three-foot drop. The band gave a collective sigh. Gustavo, Blaze, and Billy Ray tried again and smoothly raised the platform to its desired height.

We played the rest of our set without incident (and with significantly less movement on stage than usual). We had practiced for a few long sessions earlier in the week which helped us cope with the altitude lateral movement of our performance space. The crowd below, however, was sedate, not knowing what to make of the band playing 20 feet above them.

In the second set we reached our groove, and, at our host's request, later played a third set of less-practiced material for our increasingly intoxicated crowd. Being an increasingly intoxicated band aided this. During our second song of this last set, Amy bravely leapt into the pool. Blaze shortly followed (though I thought he was operating the lift), and subsequently ushered in hours of pool-partying. During this song, a dozen more partygoers cannonballed and corkscrewed into the water.

At this point, the crowd was loose and began partying in earnest. The pool filled as we closed our set. John's dad leapt into the pool with all of his clothes on. A young couple slow danced near the back of the deck. Some old-timers swayed on the slower numbers. A very drunk man with a handlebar mustache and a mandolin strummed along on the deck below.

We came down from the forklift and joined in the pool party. The Ellsworth faction of the band seemed happy with the performance. As I paddled around the pool, I was given high-fives from some of the younger folk who complimented the music as well as my mustache. I felt I was either in high school or a Jimmy Buffet music video as friends and strangers dunked each other around me. We left our gear waiting on the platform above as we swam and floated across the pool.

-Dan/the low end

We give our gratitude to the Mollhagen family for their support. Also, many thanks to the Manes family for hosting us during our stay in Ellsworth County (Clay, I'm sorry I didn't take you up on the leg-wrestling). Pics courtesy of Amy Cain.

Also, our tour shall be launched this Friday, beginning with a show at Auntie Mae's with Paleo. The new EP and shirts will be available. We want some of your love.

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