The Endless Highway: My Life as a Roadie

Perhaps we all have an avocation as well as a vocation. My father, for example, was a steelworker but also a carpenter. My mother was a bartender, then a homemaker, but always a crocheter. I’m a writer. But I’m also a roadie, and have been for more than twenty years. That’s because my husband, Phil Passen, is a musician. In order to be with him and help him out, I am his roadie.

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Roadie

I drive our car to Phil’s gigs. I help load the car as much as he’ll allow: he tends to think that only he knows the right way to load both the sound equipment and the hammered dulcimer, but he grudgingly allows me to push the equipment-laden cart to the performance area, and to push it back to the car when his gig is done.

He relies on me to provide a sound check. Because I hear the dulcimer all day long, I’m attuned to what it sounds like, and it’s my job to listen carefully after the dulcimer is connected to an amplifier, to make certain that the sustain isn’t too great, the bass notes aren’t muddy, the treble notes aren’t tinny. And so on.

Further, it’s my job to listen to the vocal mike to make sure it’s at the proper level for Phil’s speaking and for his singing, and to make certain the vocals and the dulcimer are in a good balance. Sometimes early comers to the performance get in on the act by suggesting more or less volume, but they never offer opinions on balance, treble, or bass. Which is just as well.

As a roadie I also work the CD table. I set it up, display the CDs, answer questions about them, sell them, collect the money, record the sale, and so on. Plus, I answer questions that people ask me. (Some of them approach Phil after the gig and ask him; others come directly to the CD table and ask me.) Questions such as: How long has he been playing? Who built his dulcimer? Did he take lessons? Which CD should they buy?

I love my life as a roadie not only because I love Phil, but also because I know that when I drive he can relax and rehearse before the performance, and decompress after the performance. Plus, it’s a great deal of fun to see and hear Phil in concert and to see how people react to him and his music.

But my life as a roadie has had . . . Dark. Moments.

One of these consisted of a 153-mile drive to Madison, Wisconsin, during which time Phil took along an autoharp to see whether he liked playing it and whether he liked singing while playing it. The song he chose to learn on was “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”

Now, one thing you have to understand about Phil is that he is determined. Some would say compulsive. But no, he denies compulsive and prefers determined. And he likes to get things right. So, in order to learn the autoharp and the song, he kept playing and singing the first two lines.

Over and over. And over. And over.

Go tell Aunt Rhody / Go tell Aunt Rhody / Go tell Aunt Rhody / The old gray goose is dead.

I’m a person who admires simplicity. But there is such a thing as Too. Simple. As in Go tell Aunt Rhody three times over. (And over and over: you get it.) 

PP, Springfield

Musician

After maybe 90 miles, Phil felt confident enough to advance to the second verse. It’s a good thing, too, because I was ready to kill the old gray goose and anybody who insisted on singing about her — in a closed vehicle from which there was no escape.

Still, the drive-to-Madison experience was nothing compared to the drive-to-Memphis experience. We’re talking 533 miles. We’re talking Phil learning to sing the John McCutcheon song, “Christmas in the Trenches.” We’re talking the first line over and over.

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Around mile 75 I had heard this first line enough. More than enough!

But Musician hadn’t. Apparently the first line was his way into the song: the notes, the tempo, the story, the attitude. Everything. And he wasn’t going to advance until he had mastered this line.

Roadie, Mile 150: This is sounding good. What about the next line?
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Roadie, Mile 225: Time to stop and walk about a bit. [Pulls into an oasis.]
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

Roadie, Mile 340: Seriously, Phil, can you stop singing that line over and over?
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
Roadie: [Huge sigh of relief.]

Roadie, Mile 400: Considers asking Musician to drive the car, which he would willingly do. But realizes Musician would not only drive, he would sing while driving. Roadie decides that is worse than current situation. In current situation, she could always open the passenger door and push Musician out. She could not do that if he were driving.

Roadie, Mile 435: [Gnashes teeth. Pounds steering wheel. Considers driving car into the Mississippi River.]
Musician: My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.

Musician, Mile 473: [Stops playing. Stops singing. Packs autoharp into its case.] Well, that’s enough for now.
Roadie: [To herself. “That’s enough for one lifetime.”]

Despite these Very. Dark. Moments., Roadie and Musician have survived. Musician now sings a wonderful version of the entire “Christmas in the Trenches.” Roadie feels tension drain away as soon as musician continues to the third line. And beyond.  Which, so far, has been at every performance. 

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Barbara Gregorich includes humor in her folk-music-based mystery novel, Sound Proof — in which not a single character sings a line over and over.

4 thoughts on “The Endless Highway: My Life as a Roadie

  1. Perry Barber says:

    Gives “”hammered” dulcimer new meaning – – like, you’d need to get hammered to endure the repetition. But if you got hammered, you wouldn’t be driving, Musician would, and that would present a whole new set of problems… why oh why were you blessed with this musical/literary talent?

    Like

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