Jesus, it was hot. When I left my home in Georgia I naively thought I’d escape the muggy heat of our summers, but it gets as humid and hot here in Brooklyn. Add to that an apartment with windows strategically placed to let in blasting sunlight, like, all damn day! Add to that baking garbage, and to that subway stations like kilns. But, also, ladies in dresses. My favorite vision when I can catch it, is an attractive lady in a summer dress, skin flushed, and sweating. She’ll be sitting in the shade with the dress pulled up as far as common decency will allow, because she hates being hot, too. I don’t dislike summer in Brooklyn. It can remind me of home.
I had been running my A/C, and decided it and my ‘lectric bill needed a break. When I turned it off I had about an hour to get an evening game plan before my room became as hot as the Dickens again. My friend Amanda was texting me to come see her show at Bar 4. They were the opening act, and I was pushing it as far as being able to walk there in time. All the other people I was desperately trying to get in touch with for something else to do were declining. So, fuck it, I went to see Barefoot & Bankside at their first show.
I expected little. I figured it would be a band of friends who sounded ok together. I knew Amanda had a nice voice from hearing her sing along to songs at the restaurant we both worked at a few years ago. So, I thought she would sound nice, and pretty enough. I imagined the audience would be a few people from the church where Amanda had met her bandmates. When I left my home in Georgia I never wanted to sit in a church crowd again.
It was my first time at Bar 4 which had been a Park Slope institution for fifteen years. Park Slope now is young, hip couples with strollers. Back then it was hookers and drug dealers. I really liked the bar. You know how a movie despite bringing nothing new to the medium can be excellent solely because of how well it works within established conventions? Bar 4 was like that. It was a bar done right. No frills added, no corners cut.
The joint was packed for B&B. It was filled with good, clean looking white kids. By how few had drinks in their hands, and how utterly congenial was their collective attitude, I assumed correctly these were Amanda’s fellow church folk. Up front and singing with Amanda was a man named Jamey. Slicked back, jet black hair, full beard, ear gauges and lots of tattoos, but nonetheless a good Christian man (and I do not say that disparagingly), Jamey was the owner of Roots Café, a place I often go to write.
Jamey, being B&B’s primary songwriter, is plenty steeped in old roots country music, and with a tinge of darker southern gothic atmospherics. Jamey can sing, by god. And Jamey’ll stomp his boot to keep time. He’ll play his guitar and holler his songs like every time is the first time, best time he’s ever done it. And Amanda, forget about it! Beyond nice and pretty was her voice. She was back-up for the first couple of songs. Though in front with Jamey she seemed to hang back, sway and bob with the music, harmonize here and there. Then came the first song she was able to let loose on. Her eyes closed, her hands did these weird witchy gestures and her mouth opened, and for me the whole Barefoot & Bankside operation came to life. I was reminded of Loretta Lynn in her hay day. I was impressed. I was proud. I wasn’t just appreciating the show, I was feeling it. So was the crowd.
After her first belt, the band could not be heard over the cheers in the room. Later, I would bring other mutual friends to see Amanda. I’d watch them react the same when they saw her let that voice loose for the first time in the set. Those friends would come back on their own, and they would bring their own friends. After the set, the crowd left to the disappointment of the following acts. Everyone was there to see their friends in Barefoot & Bankside. This reminded me of the very real and working community aspect of church. How lucky would some indie rocker in Billsburg be if he/she had the same network? Or I? Most of us who come to NYC seeking our fame and fortune come here alone. Very alone, afraid and in over our head in a city that truly doesn’t care for any previous hard work or effort. Damned if none of us didn’t wish for a hug, friendly cooked meal, and friends, and friends of friends, giving us support for just because. For just because why not be decent and have a little fun.
Feeling lighter and directly inspired by my friend Amanda’s performance, within the next couple weeks I went to my first open-mic stand-up and made a few cynical fellow-comic wannabes laugh. If I’m going to use the word “baptize,” if I’m going to be shaken into giving a shit, it’s going to be by music. That night a little of my anti-southern cynicism, and that New Yorker thick skin was sloughed off.