My band opened for problematic but still legendary country musician David Allan Coe this past weekend.
We drove out of Nashville Friday afternoon heading for Chattanooga, barely beating the traffic that is becoming as much the city’s signature as the cranes that tower over downtown or the cheaply-constructed, overpriced tall-and-skinnies that are taking over the neighborhoods like kudzu.
I haven’t spent a lot of time in Chattanooga but the neighborhood we were in, right on the state line, had clearly seen better days. Lots of vacant buildings, lots of old vacant buildings, the kind with nice bones and thoughtful architecture, interspersed with bland mini-plazas offering check cashing, dollar groceries, and drive-through donuts. As we pulled into the back of the venue, we could see a prostitute pretty obviously finishing up a blowjob, and as we walked past the loading dock to the door there was a group of guys huddled in a group smoking something that wasn’t weed. I think it was crack or something similarly bad for you. On the second or third pass, as we loaded in equipment, the prostitute and her friend had joined the huddle.
Inside, the crowd was a 70/30 mix of falling down drunks—our keyboard player wondered aloud how many of the patrons were simply homeless and hopeless addicts—and people just there to play pool.
The show actually went pretty well, all things considered. We made decent money that covered the hotel, and the crowd was more than appreciative. We sold a bunch of cds and tee shirts. The barmaids were sweet, pretty and attentive, and the food was a lot better than you’d expect from a beer-soaked pool hall on seedy side of town. One of the very drunk people in the audience insisted he could blow a good harp, and when we gave him one tuned to G, he hit that note and stayed on it. By which I mean he just kept blowing that one note: GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. He also kicked over my beer. Later that evening, he complained to our singer that the even more hammered fellow, the one wearing a hat identifying himself as a Vietnam veteran, had stolen his bucket of beer.
“I gave him a Bud Light, and then gave him another,” he said. “And then… then he walked off with my bucket!”
“Wait—you don’t know him?” my singer said. We had seen them out back during an earlier set break sharing a joint. “I thought he was your buddy?”
“No, I don’t even know that guy,” he replied. “Y’all know any Skynrd?”
The bartender came out. “Hey, whose beer is that? You can’t have that out here!” My singer copped to it, and began to apologize as some pot smoke wafted our way. “Oh, who’s got the weed,” she said. “Pass that shit over here!” A few feet away, the crack smoking continued unabated. The bartender had a toke or two of the joint (not the crack) and headed back inside after scolding our guitar player again for breaking the open container laws.
I may have the chronology wrong, but that’s about the time one of the barbacks stepped out and said something that pissed off the prostitute, who promptly blew her stack. “I ain’t no ‘take home girl’, bitch!” she yelled. “Don’t you fucking talk to me like that. I’m from Missouri, BITCH, fuck you.” She turned to me and said, “I am SO sorry for my language, but I cannot take that. Not from him. No sir. There are people smoking CRACK out here, and he says shit to me? I am from goddamn Missouri BITCH, and he can go FUCK himself, and again, I am so sorry for the language.”
“No problem,” I said, backing away. The barback went to retrieve the bartender, who came back and settled the situation down. I hurried back inside for the last set of a four hour gig.
Their vices and problems and addictions aside, everyone was perfectly lovely to us and we had a fine show. Even the people doing bad drugs out back were friendly and cordial—hell, the prostitute apologized for swearing. As the night wore on, the crowd became a little more mixed as the last call crowd began to trickle in. A few pretty girls and their boyfriends showed up, along with a small contingent of dude-bros. Everyone was having a good time. We did some requests, badly. People cheered, sort of, anyway. The drunk guy who played harp stuck his head so close to the PA speaker that hearing damage was inevitable. Later we drove to the motel, where the southeast Asian owners checked us in and Latino maids cleaned our room after we checked out. It was Saturday, so Waffle House was packed. We wound up grabbing Dunkin’ Donuts—best road coffee, hands down, and no this isn’t a sponsored spot—and hit the road to Florida.
It was an interesting slice of America, and I haven’t even gotten to the David Allen Coe part yet.