December 7, 2016

From the Vaults: Big Bay

   How do you get to play a gig in Big Bay, MI?  Easy:  just volunteer.  I often repeat one of my dad’s favorite sayings:  “the best jobs you get to do in life are not always the ones you get paid for.”  This was probably in the back of my mind when I asked my Sledgehammer bandmates if they would be interested in playing this gig and to my surprise, everyone said, “Sure, let’s do it.”

    During the winter semester of 1975, I was gigging regularly in the Marquette area with my band Sledgehammer.  I was also student teaching at Bothwell Middle School.  I was already a good two months into my stint there when I realized that Barry had booked us to play a dance at the school in March.  The principal of the building was my old JH principal Bill Brady (I am sorry . . . Mr. Brady) and for some reason, I got the notion that perhaps he wouldn’t like the idea.  I stopped in the office the next day and asked to see him.   Yes, that was only the second time I had ever been in his office (the first time being the day I started student teaching – NOT when I was a JH troublemaker, thank you).  I wasn’t sure how he was going to react but got a pleasant surprise when the only thing he said was ‘Oh, that will be great!”  It should not have been such a big surprise;  it was Mr. B, after all, who put a rock band on stage for an assembly when I was in eighth grade at good old Graverate JH.  So, the gig was on and I had Mr. B’s blessings to do it.

    It never dawned on me to mention this to any of my students.  I was student teaching in eighth grade social studies and spending some time with a seventh grade science class.  We showed up for the gig, we did the first set and all of a sudden I was besieged by my student teaching charges who greeted me with many versions of, “You never told us you played in a band!”  Chalk that one up to experience:  When working with students, mentioning that you play drums and sing in a band is a great ice breaker.  Then again, surprising your students now and then isn’t a bad thing either.

    I wrapped up my student teaching assignment and graduated in early May.  I had two weeks to kill before I hopped a plane on my post graduation trip to visit my buddies Mitch and Jack in Oregon.  At that time, the staff and kids raised funds to take all of the Bothwell seventh graders to Bay Cliff Health Camp for a week of outdoor education.  When the camp coordinator Bob Pinder asked if I wanted to help out, it seemed like a good way to bulk up my resume and spend a little more time with the Bothwell crew.  I had been helping Fred Rydholm with the JH track team and when I told him I was going to be at Bay Cliff with them, he assured me I would have a good time.

    Bob Pinder suggested I sit in on some of the planning meetings and it was an eye opening experience.  My initial thought was, “this is a lot of work.”  They began cobbling together a list of classes and activities to be offered and when they got to me on the list, I offered to do something with soils and trees.  Having spent three of the previous four  summers rambling around Big Bay and the Huron Mountain Club, I knew my way around the back roads.  I didn’t have an activity in mind so they set me up to take some kids fishing.   The next item on the agenda made me perk up my ears:  “What should we do for the end of week party?”  “How about a dance?” was my contribution.  “Nah – we do a dance every year and the kids get bored with it pretty quickly.”  “What if there was a band?” I countered.  “We can’t afford a band,” was Bob’s reply.  “Well,”  I said, “I just happened to have a band who might do it for free!”  

    Without a job scheduled for that Thursday in May, I approached Sledgehammer with the idea of doing a little community service.  Everyone checked their schedules and in short order, I told the planning committee we were in.  At their suggestion, we decided to keep it a secret.

    Camp was a ball.  The cabin of kids I was chaperoning decided that it would be great to humiliate me by earning the ‘broom’ at mid-week.  The messiest cabin has to tote a broom around all day (which I made sure they did with no ifs, ands, or buts).  They paid me back by saddling me with The Monkey. At the end of each meal, anyone who got stuck with The Monkey had to get up in front of the whole dining room and sing.  My broom toters paid me back by putting The Monkey under my bench during dinner.  Fred’s kids had done the same thing to him at lunch so he got up and taught everyone a Finnish folk song.    I couldn’t top that, so I did a perfectly awful Al Jolson-like version of You are my Sunshine that pretty well cleared the room.  All and all, my classes got to dig a lot of holes to look at soils and cut up some ‘tree cookies’ with my dad’s chainsaw (with me holding on to the saw and them running the throttle).  Fishing didn’t go nearly as well but the one nice fish caught by my group raised my so-so fishing guide reputation to legendary levels (well, at least that is the way I remember it).  It sure made the kid who caught it happy and popular.

    The day of the camp dance, the band snuck into camp and quietly unloaded all our stuff while everyone was busy in the dining room.  We kept it quiet and until the moment the first wave of kids came in the door thinking it was going to be another record hop.  I can’t say that I have seen a more excited group of kids at a dance so we turned up the volume and put on a show for them.  Bob Pinder was so happy with the end result, he offered to buy us a pizza and a couple of cold ones at the Lumberjack Tavern when the band was all packed up.   We knew we had another gig Friday night and I had to spend the last day at camp getting things shovelled out and help get everyone back on the bus so we said, “Hey thanks, but we were happy to do it.”  Bob felt bad about us doing the job for free until Barry said, “We got a little pay from the union for doing this as a charity gig, so no problem.”  Being card carrying members of Musicians Local 213, Barry remembered the local had a fund to pay bands the basic one night fee for doing charity gigs.  He had applied for a grant from the fund and the day of the gig, he had gotten a small check in the mail that at least covered our gas and some road food.  In this case, the volunteers got a little something for their time, but we had so much fun that was just the icing on the cake.

    I did indeed use this stint volunteering at the Bothwell Outdoor Education Camp on my resume.  When I interviewed in Ontonagon, the sixth grade camp program was just being organized and Principal Jim Ollila was really happy to see I had experience with the concept.  Ironically, the number of staff and community volunteers who were available to help with the Ontonagon Outdoor Camp program (which has been held in several locations throughout the years) kept me back on campus leaving my week in Big Bay as my only school outdoor camp experience.   In the end, a gig is a gig, but somehow this one was a lot more fun than most and not just because we thought we were doing it for free.

Top Piece Video – We weren’t a Band on the Run in Big Bay, but we had just as much fun as McCartney and the boys!