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Groovin' to the oldies

Poet types and borderline hillbillies save Christmas

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- WOOHOO! :  Appreciative audience members Evelyn Cole, Lisha Perini, and John Turrill took their poetry with wine. Evelyn organizes the monthly reading and even baked a forbidden cake for the night's best reader. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • WOOHOO! : Appreciative audience members Evelyn Cole, Lisha Perini, and John Turrill took their poetry with wine. Evelyn organizes the monthly reading and even baked a forbidden cake for the night's best reader.

Despite the free sweaters and plentiful eggnog, the holidays can be stressful. There are presents to buy, cards to send, and boxes of tangled lights to sift through, set up, and tear down.

Then the in-laws visit, and you have to show them the town and buy lunch and listen to their banal stories about irritating co-workers and hopscotch or something while they subtly brag about how much money they make and how cute your writing “hobby” is, when you’d much rather be playing with shiny Christmas gadgets.

Most people need a few days to recover from all that, which leaves art bashers like me up a river without any parties to cover.

Thankfully, there’s a group of people who have built up a tolerance to the holiday season and can continue with business as usual: old folks. Or, older folks … uh, mature … youth impaired? Whichever way connotes age without sounding rude, that’s the way I mean it, because these retirees were amazing godsends of wisdom and joy.

I went to SLO Down Pub in Arroyo Grande because the poetry reading I’d seen in the New Times calendar was the only event scheduled for the day after Christmas. Period. What I found was rather surprising.

There were only about a dozen people chatting over glasses of wine, beer, and coffee in the quiet, bar-adjacent room reserved for SLO Down Poetry on the fourth Sunday of every month. They were instantly jovial and welcoming, advising me to grab a beer before sitting. Of course, my manners forced me to oblige.

“There’s usually around 20 people here,” said poet Kathy Bond. “It lets you put the contents of your mind on paper and organize them and invest them with humor.”

Word, Kathy. I expected the humor to be a tad conservative, but a few lines into the first poem, I heard Lisha Perini wonder whether a Christmas gift would “drop your jaws or drop your panties.” Then David whose-last-name-I-can’t-recall ran through a self-deprecating scene at the bank wherein he played the fool without succumbing to the role. It was witty as hell, and I totally LOLed.

Not all of the poems were funny. One compared the emotions of losing a pet to losing a parent. Another explored the lasting effects of teenage drug use, and someone dropped this gem: “Life is no longer a poem, but a textbook.” That’s deep, yo.

Lisha took home the cake, literally. It was a home-baked chocolate-cappuccino cake that organizer Evelyn Cole doles out to the best reader each month.

“We have to keep this a secret,” Evelyn said, even though there was a reporter in the crowd. “We’re technically not supposed to give out cake since they sell desserts here.”

“Am I going to get arrested?” Kathy asked.

- BLUEGRASS JAM :  Bassist Elita Chaffin and guitar man “Lev” were joined by roughly 20 more bluegrass fans for a big, old, toe-tapping hoedown at the SLO Down Pub in Arroyo Grande. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • BLUEGRASS JAM : Bassist Elita Chaffin and guitar man “Lev” were joined by roughly 20 more bluegrass fans for a big, old, toe-tapping hoedown at the SLO Down Pub in Arroyo Grande.

It was downright adorable to see people actually concerned about such a petty rule, but several people suggested earnest solutions to the problem, like throwing an outdoor, cake-filled tailgate party and even purchasing to-go boxes so the slices could be taken home (we eventually just ate the stuff, but don’t tell anyone).

The poets were warm and wonderful, but their event ended quickly, and I wasn’t sure I had enough to fill a column. Luckily, there was another group of mostly senior citizens engaged in a bluegrass jam session in the main area of the bar.

“Please Daddy, don’t get drunk on Christmas,” someone sang as I opened the door. “I don’t wanna see Momma cry.”

There were roughly 20 people arranged in a circle strumming an assortment of guitars, banjos, mandolins, and fiddles. One guy shouted chord changes, and somehow everyone was able to keep up and generate some toe-tapping tunes.

   A guy at the bar looked local, so I asked him what the word was. He said the SLO Down Pub was a musical sleeper cell that had live sounds seven nights a week.

“In the last two months, I’ve seen more good music here than I can believe, and all with zero cover charge,” said Don Frades. “It’s got all the musical fun with none of the vomiting and puerility of San Luis.”

I thanked the man and made my way, pretending all along to know what “puerility” meant (turns out it’s educated talk for “childish”).

The jam session lasted a solid two hours, but I was able to pull one guitarist aside. He called himself Lev, and explained that the SLO Down Jam happens on the third and fourth Sundays of every month and that everyone’s invited. Musicians are expected to bring a song of their own and “tell everyone what they need to know to make it sound good.” They also play bluegrass classics like “Oh, Susanna.”

Banjo player Wendy Stockton is the president of the Bluegrass Music Society of the Central Coast. She said bluegrass is deceptively simple to play, but that there’s room for some of the world’s finest musicians.

“This is roots music that was invented in America,” she explained. “It takes some of the most depressing subjects and treats them light-heartedly.”

The bar closed at 8 p.m., but these bluegrass animals pushed the jam into the midnight hours of 8:15, proving older folks can out party the rest of us at least once a year.

I downed my last jug of moonshine and made my way home, because it’s high time this art basher relinquished the column to its rightful owner: Glen “The Pen” Starkey. Coming next week: jokes that are actually funny. Enjoy!

Contributing writer Nick Powell misses his column already. Send your condolences to Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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