Su Lum: Slumming
August 25, 2010
It’s 6 p.m. and the music tent is hot, though only hot by Aspen standards. Some people are ineffectively fanning themselves with their ticket stubs – in the South, funeral homes used to pass out promotional fans.
The musicians come on stage, Bela Fleck with his five-string banjo, Edgar Meyer on bass fiddle and a new guy, Zakir Hussain, a tabla player.
By the second number, I feel that I am witness to three brilliant musical instruments having an extremely intellectual conversation with each other in a foreign language that I almost, but cannot quite, comprehend.
I have seen Bela Fleck and Edgar Myers three times in the past, loving their variety and sense of humor as well as their agility and talent. This is the only concert I have attended this summer. I used to go to most of the concerts and all of the Sunday rehearsals, but I gave it up over the years when the festival went uptown.
From the distance, Bela Fleck looks like my dentist, Dylan Gibson, and this is a compliment. He underplays his role and sends messages to his confreres with eyebrows and thumbs-up. Edgar Meyer makes sounds come out of the bass that I couldn’t imagine were possible: It is a violin, it is groan. He could pick it up and play it under his chin. Then what do I call him – not the drummer, the percussionist, is so good he’s almost too good. How can “too good” be a negative? He looks, from behind, like our city councilman, Steve Skadron. He could make his drums sound like a rippling river, like the gentle shuffling of a deck of cards and his hands are those of a master prestigitator but maybe, just sometimes, taking the spotlight away from the subtle nuances of Fleck and Myers.
No matter how great the music is, it takes you into another world; like listening to a book on tape when you’re on a road trip, you travel down unexpected mental highways – I am enwrapped with the music but I am also in the old tent listening for the storms that used to lift the canvas from its moorings and the screams when a rent in the canvas would send torrents of water onto our heads. I cannot stop the mental static. A friend’s cancer has spread. My friend Jack broke through a sling chair on my back porch and his knees were up to his chin.
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The three are playing the hell out of their instruments and in the corner of my eye I see that an emergency is taking place. A man has collapsed somewhere in the middle of the audience. The design of the new tent is ill-equipped to access such emergencies. Very quietly, very discreetly, 911 has been called, a wheelchair has been produced, and the man is loaded onto it, only to appear to have fallen off it and then is wheeled away. We could hear the sirens by the time the wheelchair reached the exit door.
At the end of the first set, Bela Fleck is handed a note and reads, “The gentleman who was in distress is feeling better.” There was applause, but the musicians were surprised – they hadn’t seen it happening.
I was glad it hadn’t been me carted off to the ambulance. There but for the grace of god, as they say. Once I fainted on a plane trip to Tampa, and just the day before I had gotten stuck in my garden. I had accessed my ripening fava beans by standing on a cement block and then working my way around the somewhat-sturdy fence, only to face a very big step down which for anyone normal would be a little step. I put one hand on my shed, one hand on the fence post and took the downward plunge, but I paid for it that night. Could have been worse – “Well, you know. She was doing OK but then she broke her hip.”
They did two sets, always a risky business because people start to leave, but most people stayed on right through the standing ovation and encore, though it was after 8 p.m. and getting cold and dark.
Winter is coming. The days are shorter, the nights sharper and you can feel it. You can smell it.
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