The Near Death of the Porchboard

More storms. We’re standing under a sky that only Tolkien could have created in the darkest chapter of his life. There’s a 96% chance of rain, which I would have thought was close to 100%, but I stand corrected. The manager of the venue is insisting we should play in the open air… without a canopy. The sound engineer has set up his PA, but has all of his gear covered with tarpaulin individually, which shows a lot of courage given the forecast. Realistically the gig should have been cancelled this morning. At no point in the day did it look like this was possible.

After heated debate with this manager, whereby we politely try to explain that if he can’t afford a canopy, we certainly can’t afford to lose thousands of pounds worth of equipment as a consequence and undoubtedly kill the rest of our tour. Electricity, musical instruments and rain are not a good mix. It’s not rocket science. I feel like we’re going to have to fasten a key to a kite, and fly it using copper wire just to make our point. Our stand-off doesn’t last long. Within minutes, the stage, crowd, ponds, and trees are completely drenched to the wood, bone, current and sap.

Unfortunately in our rush to bundle all of our gear back into the car, we lean the porchboard bass that Mick plays, against the side of the car. (Or under the car, or somewhere…) We assume this because after we arrive in Berwyn, IL (south of Chicago) the following day, we realise we don’t have it. The Grotto play the show with an improvised microphone-in-a-suitcase version of Mick’s instrument – that works surprisingly well – so we have much respect for the sound tech at Fitzpatrick’s in Berwyn who created this device on the fly. When we return to Detroit to collect the porchboard bass and play a show on the waterfront in the shadows of the GM building, it is completely mangled. It still works though…

We manage to cobble together a repair job at a hardware store in Ann Arbor later that day. It’s eventually flattened out, although we have an argument about how to keep the structure flat. Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything has taken its toll on us. I think we’re all still a bit messed up after listening to the chapters about dimensions and planes. I must admit that I have huge admiration for American hardware stores. They have every tool imaginable, and more. It’s a joy to see jobs getting done well. An all-too-rare sight nowadays. The total repair cost is a few bucks. It’s saved us hundreds. When we realised the porchboard was gone, I sourced a new one in Lansing a few hours away, and if that failed, we’d go straight to the source in Wisconsin, a few long hours away. We’re extremely relieved not to add these miles to our journey, and celebrate the fact by going on the rampage in Ann Arbor.

The rampage is admittedly not so much a rampage as a series of errands… or messages, as we say back home. The Guggenheim’s booking agents are based in Ann Arbor, and the wonderful Karla provides us with all the addresses we need for laundry, car repairs, hair-diddles and our porchboard repairing antics. Having clean clothes on tour is a stupidly joyous feeling.

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