Back to the beginning, where it all started last January at our MPAC (Montana Performing Arts Conference) auditions, in Fort Benton, MT. The drive was clear and beautiful.
Our three-and-a-half-hour journey dropped us right into the middle of town at our lodging for the evening, “Emily’s Vacation Cottage”. A little, two bedroom, one bath, kitchen, laundry and living room, this little cottage, preserved in all its late 80’s / early 90’s glory, was centralized to all three gigs we were going to play in Fort Benton, as well as the “Clubhouse”, where we ate, and “Moon Eyes Coffee Roaster” where we had the absolute BEST (I kid you not) oat milk, brown sugar latte we’ve EVER HAD.
Our rest that night was quick and deep, as our morning started before the sunrise and consisted of loading our gear into the elementary school auditorium, where it would serve purpose for both the school show in the afternoon, as well as the community concert at night. We were excited to return to this beautiful theater space, built in the 1930’s, and maintained and preserved as a point of pride in the community.
For our first order of business for the day, we grabbed our instruments once we were through setting up, and joined our host, Connie Jenkins, over at the hospital, where we had the honor of being the first musical guests to perform since Covid.
It is an important and sobering thing to spend time with humans who are nearing the ends of their lives, and are ailing. It tends to be a section of our communities, especially in American culture, that can be overlooked, pushed aside, and/or ignored entirely. As a young girl, I would frequent convalescent homes and retirement homes to sing for the residents there. It was always a gut punch, even at a young age, to feel the neglect, to hear the cries, to see the longing. It’s always stuck with me and, quite honestly, has been something I’ve struggled with anytime I’m in a hospital or home for the elderly. My heart breaks and I can’t help or do anything about it. But it does no good to be blubbering around people who are in such a way, and that is where I’m trying to grow.
Just like the young lady from the last town that was overwhelmed when I just asked how her name was spelled, these people just want to take up some space in someone else’s mind or heart. They still want to be seen and heard. They need to be acknowledged as more than the ailments on their charts and the afflictions that are accompanying them to their end. These humans had lives and loves, children and jobs. They laughed and cursed, they fought and danced. They thought they might live forever, and they never once pictured themselves here. Here at a hospital in Fort Benton, MT, being wheeled around from the bed to the bathroom, meals and events in the rec area, and pulled up to windows to be left with their thoughts.
I sat, absolutely still and quiet in the car ride to the hospital. With three whole minutes to ruminate on the situation before me, I steeled myself against my tears of pity and helpless, sad glances. I chose to give joy and light through our music and “see” these humans just as I do every other fan at every other show. I held Jared’s hand, not daring to let my mind wander to the future versions of “us”, and what space we may end up in, but rather chose to focus on the absolute here and now and whatever service we could provide.
It was a challenge. But, my god, was it worth it. Maybe fifteen residents were brought in that morning to share space with us. We were told it was a special day all around, as they were all to get their nails cut and hair done for “picture day”. What a perfect connection to “Dressed Up”! As we made our way through a friendly and uplifting set of CS tunes and stories, our new friends and their orderlies clapped and smiled and even moved a little in their chairs.
One precious soul who we had the pleasure of meeting prior to the gig was named Billie Treat. She had wide eyes and a small ponytail pulled up at the top of her head. Her petit body was animated as she spoke in a Southern drawl about her name and how she loved it! She chewed her nails frequently, as a calming nervous tick (there were barely any left), and refused to sit still during the songs! She used to be a dancer and a singer and probably would still have gotten up, had she possessed both of her legs. Her right one was gone, just below the knee, so it still had a little bend to the end. She capped it off to keep it warm with a small white “hat”, complete with a crocheted knot on the top, almost like a little beanie for her knee, a “kneenie” I thought to myself…
While we played and sang, her arms flew in the air and she clapped wildly out of rhythm. But that partial leg was my favorite part of the whole day. Never missing a chance to Can-Can, that right leg took to the air in a series of seated high kicks to beat the band. She twirled it around and tapped out beats with it, all the while smiling, whooping out a “Yee-haw”, and chewing on her fingernails.
Now, I’m not saying this was anything “normal” to be privy too. But I will say that it was very much one of the most pure and beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. And music did that. If you don’t think music is absolute magic, you need you come sit in a room with Billie Treat while the band plays, and have your absolute soul convinced otherwise.
The darling residents and their care providers sent us this lovely card the next day. We had a lot to process after that morning with them, but our take away was positive and hopeful, and full of joy. I believe theirs was as well.
After spending an emotional morning with the elderly, we traveled back in a life’s timeline and got to play for the five-to-twelve-year-olds. What an absolute trip it was to move that quickly from one end of the life spectrum to the other. And what fun our “Benjamin Button” day was!!!
Along with the kiddos from Fort Benton Elementary School, the kids from Big Sandy Elementary came to join the show from forty-five miles away! How cool is it that the teachers made it happen for sixty-five kids and staff to bus over to see a cool show?! The energy in the auditorium was high, and we rode it. We had such a fun time singing, talking, and then letting the kids have their moments too. I remember the thrill of entertainers coming to my schools when I was young. I always left so hyped up and thought it would be so cool to get to do something like that when I grew up. Well, I don’t suppose I ever “grew up”, but I certainly DO get to have the coolest job in the world as a fake adult.
That night was a challenge to get people out, due to horrible and worsening weather conditions. But the crowd we did have could be described as “small but mighty”! Here is a picture of some lovely little ones who attended our school show that day and begged for their momma to bring them back to the night show. She told me she wore the pink dress for me!
All in all, the shows are really going well, and we are finding our rhythm and getting better and better each time with the kids. Our merchandise is selling well, and we are getting really good at setting up and tearing down…even when we have to do it in the snow. We’ll actually have those stories to tell our grandkids someday about carrying our stuff, up hill (both ways), in the snow, barefoot, being chased by a bear, starved for days…wait, not that last part. These hosts everywhere we’ve been have treated us like kings! We have been pampered and welcomed, housed and thanked over and over again. It’s been incredibly rewarding.
The absolute BEST part of each day though, is when we get to come home to this beautiful face waiting up to talk to us when we get back from all the stuff. Honestly, we’ve been away from Rudy many times before, and somethings for way longer stints, but for some odd reason, we’ve felt the absence of one another a lot more this tour. He said he was just saying the same thing to Bonnie. On our end, I think it’s because we’ve been around all these kids for all of these shows, and they all remind us of our kid…but none of them are OUR Rudy. So, we excitedly gather around our phones and spend the evenings, when we can, sharing about our days, events, thoughts, jokes, and, of COURSE, puppy shots! Featured in this image with Rudes is our “Chunkenstein”, “Chonkers”, Miss Clementine Fandango the Great! And the day closes with a bit of melancholy, but ultimately happy hearts.