We made the annual pilgrimage to Chincoteague over the weekend.
A little wisp of an island tentacled to the Virginia mainland (barely), Chincoteague is famous for sunsets, wild ponies and the few thousand people who live there, with roots dating back to the late 1600’s. They tolerate a creeping tourist industry and work the water for fish.
Naturally, none of this is why we choose to go.
We went for the grub. Specifically, the Chincoteague Oyster Fest.
Talk about exclusivity. They sell tickets 6 months in advance for this thing and woe is you if you don’t get there early to buy them. They’ll only sell 2,500. Which insures a more civil crowd of oyster sucking, bead wearing revelers, I suppose. They set up their tents, heat up the clam chowder and fry up the hush puppies. And at noon, a fire horn sounds and the oysters begin passing from bushel to steamer grates or shucker’s hands and the orgy is on.
Stu and I took the wives, since while neither of them has much enthusiasm for eating oysters, they will gamely stand in line with a cocktail and a plastic tray to procure them for the more enlightened.
Since the weather turned out to be more than fine, I was comfortable in shorts and a shirt and sandals. My more sensible wife had on full blown rough weather gear: bib overalls, boots and a long sleeved shirt. I looked very beach-worthy, in what might have been the last weekend of the year for such attire.
I was settling in for an afternoon feed, the grille was sizzling away at my elbow, sautéing a handful of oysters in a butter and garlic sauce (never let it be said that haute cuisine cannot be found at an oyster roast) and half listening to the live band on site. A band set up some hundred yards away.
You know that feeling when you hear something musically oriented that you haven’t heard in a while, something rare or wonderful that captures your ear? Maybe it comes from someone else’s car radio when you’re sitting in a traffic jam, or from an upstairs window as you pass by. And all you want to do is yell “Turn it up!” or something equally eloquent. I was sitting in my oyster haze and heard the opening bars of a Steely Dan song, and like radar in a high wind, I began to slowly turn.
I think I actually poked Ally. “Hey, I hear Steely Dan music!” My wife is used to this, and the only thing preventing me from seeing her eyes roll up were the sunglasses she had on at the time. “Uh . . watch the oysters, will you? I gotta go.”
Sprinting through a crowd of 2,500 people with a full beer while wearing sandals is no small task.
About half way there, I zoomed past Stu coming the opposite way. “They’re playing Steely Dan!”, he said. “I was just coming to get you!” Like my wife, he knows my quirks, although he not only tolerates them but seems to take great delight in encouraging them as well. It is a source of entertainment for the big guy.
I doubt that I disappointed him. I screeched to a halt right in front of the bands’ 8 foot high speaker and got my groove on. Which, when you’re 40+ years old, consists of planting two heels firmly into the earth and rotating posterior and head in some sort of rhythmic agreement. They were playing “Pretzel Logic”, a difficult cover song for any band, but they were doing it well. Oh yeah. They did the long version, with many added riffs and solos.
I was in my own little world, the Dan fan who happened to find treasure in an unlikely place. And I must have looked a little out of touch, there were maybe a hundred people sitting around with glazed, oyster induced expressions, wondering for all the world why the guy with the beer gut was having so much fun. It was, after all, pretty early in the day. Which is probably why they picked Pretzel Logic, it is a song for the purist as opposed to the masses. Not something you play for the Lambada crowd.
I happened to catch the keyboardist’s eye, he had the band under his throttle and was into the song just as keenly as I was. Seeing as how I was the ONLY member of the audience who was totally immersed in what was being played, he gave me a grin and threw in an extra run on the keys, a musical tip of the hat, smiling at the shared vibe that we both felt. The band was smokin’, the sax player did a solo that just added to the tight layers of music coming from a complex song rife with twists and turns. And I sang along, even on the added parts (“Hey, they’re doing the Plush version from the obscure DVD! Right on!”).
They finished with a classic flourish, the keyboardist standing, the lead guitar wailing, and the crowd went wild, the crowd being me. “Whoooo! Whoo Hoo! Yeah!” There might have been three other people with enough appreciation to clap a little bit, but it was awfully scattered. One of those “My pants are down and I have to run out to water the shrubs” moments.
Ah well. We all have our fun, don’t we?
Later on in the day, when the crowd was full of oysters and no small amount of intoxicants, I was just one of a thousand people expressing love for the band and music in general as they hooted their way through the best of songs, the best of times. Ally and I danced and shimmied and jived in the midst of a mass crowd, and it was great and all, but it wasn’t quite the same.
I mean, it’s different when you’re an audience of one.
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