Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
As usual, we were running late, but we’d been doing that for so long it seemed normal. We threw a public address system, several amplifiers, microphones, speakers, guitars, a drum set and an electric piano in the back of my four-door Dodge pickup and headed to Meeker for a wedding reception at the old Sleepy Cat Ranch. It seemed like a big deal and it was, but if we didn’t pull a miracle out of our hats to get there on time, they were gonna be throwin’ rocks at us instead of smiles.
As with all good ideas that come just in the nick of time, we decided to take the Buford Road out of New Castle, believing it to be a shortcut. We didn’t realize it usually takes about an hour longer to get to Meeker using the Buford route compared to Highway 13 out of Rifle, so we intently flew along, making the fastest time we could. Buck Deane navigated, I drove, and the English drummer, Chris Winter, sat in the back seat, wondering if anyone would ever find the wreckage.
If you’ve never driven the Buford Road, it is a dirt byway, full of switchbacks, potholes and gnarly turns, and it parallels the Flattops Wilderness Area. In spite of this, we made it to the Sleepy Cat in just under an hour, still late, but not terribly so. The lead guitar player was waiting for us, more than a little nervous, but that’s what he gets for riding with his girlfriend.
The gig went remarkably well, the bride being a good friend of Buck’s, and we kept the crowd going until the bitter end. Almost the bitter end. Buck, in his inimitable way, got me to telling a couple of jokes, and then the guy down the bar told one, and before long, I was scribbling them down on a pad of paper, they were so good. Around 4:30 a.m., the bartender said he couldn’t take anymore and about 25 of us wandered out into a cold fall morning.
Johnny Zurfluh had gotten us accommodations at a cabin down the road, and by the time we arrived, the gray of early dawn was but a breath away. It was colder than a witch’s nose in a north wind and there was some trouble getting the propane furnace to light. Having had a water heater blow up in my face once, I took on the role of expert and before long, was unencumbered of my bushy eyebrows and some of the hair on my head. But the cabin warmed up rapidly after that.
We slept for three or four hours and headed to Buford, looking for breakfast on the recommendation of a friend. It had been a long night, silence ruled in the truck and as we sped along, I looked out the passenger window to see a one-humped camel wandering along a forsaken ridge in the distance. I don’t know, but it just didn’t seem right to bring it up at the time. Maybe I saw it and maybe I didn’t, but by the time I’d thought about it, the camel was gone from sight. A guy doesn’t need something like that hanging over his head, at least not the morning after one of those nights.
With impeccable timing, we were back at the Sleepy Cat around lunchtime, jammin’ in the lounge and slammin’ back a little bit of the hair of the dog. I was gonna take some guy outside for saying I didn’t look like much until I started playing the piano. That’s what you call turning a compliment into an accident, but like I said, it had been a rough night.
In the end, we stuck around for two or three more boisterous nights, playing the music like crazy, chasing some local gals around, and buying drinks for those that looked at us sideways.
Safely out of town, we wondered what it’d take for a return trip. A couple of weeks later, the Meeker Cattlemen’s Ball beckoned, deja vu if there ever was any.
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Sean Beckwith is taking advantage of his column space this week to inform the public of the Best in Jest.