Dirty Country

Why you should never invite your mom to a drunken birthday party where you're the main act

Nothing says party like a birthday bash, unless it's a birthday gig for Truckstop Coffee's frontman, Pete Stein. The Bamboo Room in Lake Worth hosted the shindig, and it not only sounded like more fun than most (thanks to the band and a kickin' sound system) but probably looked like it too (thanks to alcohol-induced double vision).

What better reason to wreck a Thursday than to toss back a mess of shots on a Wednesday night in honor of the man who penned the song "Whiskey Shivers"? Evidently, much of Palm Beach County's indie-rocker scene agreed. Not only were fans, friends, and other musicians in attendance but Summer Blanket's Keith Michaud even canceled his regular Wednesday-night acoustic gig at the Cottage down the street. This way, the shows wouldn't have to split the crossover audience and everyone could celebrate together.

While the birthday boy drank with Palm Beach Post local music columnist Bill Meredith and his crew, I downed one with off-duty bartender Chelcey Michaud (Keith's wife), who always gives it to me straight — whether it's the whiskey or the truth I'm after. Tonight, however, my friend wasn't at her regular outpost, Brogues, just a couple of blocks away, and I had no secrets to confess.

Tony Gleeson

And Pete? Well, all the tall drink of water would give up is that he was "older than the band in dog years." Aided by genuine humility, the guy is a bit of a mystery. I had always suspected the Western shirts and cowboy lyrics were just stage shtick for his alt-country rock band. Sure, he's got a lyrical Southern flair and the manners of a country gentleman. But he lacks some authentic, rural flavor that I've never been able to quite put my finger on (though I haven't laid a hand on him!).

"Make mine a Jack," I told the bartender. "Jameson tastes like someone danced a jig in it."

"You just have to get used to it," Chelcey said with the assurance of both professional and personal experience.

"Fifty cents more for something that tastes like feet?" I said.

We did our shots and then let the whiskey do the talking.

Though the Lake Worth music hall is a traditional blues room, tonight everyone was in the pink, infused with the rosy glow of good times and booze shine. Night Rider likes to plunge into the middle of the action, so the party was in full swing when she arrived. Meredith, on the other hand, evidently liked to arrive early. And now that everyone was toasty, the band was taking the stage. So why was our friend the music reporter on his way out?

Off like a shot Meredith was; I followed like a beer chaser.

"Leaving? That's a bad review if I ever saw one," I said, intercepting him.

"My work is done," Meredith shrugged. "I got Pete drunk."

In the years that I'd known and worked with the dude, he'd always been wily and deft — something he picked up somewhere between the drama career that never quite took off and his drumming career that never quit. Even when the bouncer intercepted him trying to leave with half a beer, he played the good citizen; he bent down, picked up the empty pen that he'd seen me chuck down the stairs when it failed me, and stuck it in the open container.

"Just throwing this out," he assured, though litter patrol ain't his usual beat.

Smooth. His wife, Ginny: not so much. Normally, a talented violinist (who'd played on John Ralston's Needlebed tour) who just brightens a room, tonight she was completely lit, Exhibit A in the case for the group's departure.

"Off the record!" she said, pointing at the records decorating the bamboo-lined walls of the stairwell as I interviewed her husband.

Meredith shifted the focus off his drunken wife by introducing me to a similarly soused music producer. At the moment, however, Jeff Millar had just completed his own extemporaneous, booze-inspired performance: a rhythmic composition he created, for humorous effect, as he slid down the leopard-print stairs on his ass.

"Didn't you like the band?" I queried from above.

Millar got to his feet, dusted himself off, and called up his band review: "Best dirty country band around."

Personally, I'm not a fan of country. But dirty? I suppose that's why the band appeals to me.

"You look like Sheryl Crow," interjected Millar's sotted girlfriend, Suzanne, whom Bill had introduced as a singer/songwriter.

Was the compliment a distraction ploy? Nice try.

Night Rider: So what's your day job?

Suzanne: I can't tell you. I might have to go to jail. They have me in the post office in five states.

NR: Just five? You'll never reach the top without more aggressive P.R. goals.

S: Actually, I own a liquidation business.

NR: A bar then?

S: That's funny. No. I get rid of people's stuff when they die. Wait, don't say that... I... dispose of personal property.

"Don't say anything. She'll use it against you," advised Scott Schaefer, the former Lake Worth City Commission candidate who seemed to have done much of his campaigning in the downtown bars.

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