Last night we played in a small town in Nebraska called Fremont. We had just spent 3 nights hanging out in a college town, with all the comforts and familiarity of home. Driving into Fremont was a very different vibe. Driving north into this town of 25,000 people you cross over a train bridge surrounded by a metropolis of grain silos. Everyone’s behind the wheel of a pick-up truck. There’s a slight haze in the air from the residual grain. Entering Fremont from this vantage feels raw, natural, and weathered. This is America.
The old downtown section has a number of cute little stores. A few stores that sell hiking gear and mountain bikes. A few corner bars. It’s a quaint small town where everyone knows your name. We stopped for lunch at Mel’s Diner. They didn’t have grits on the menu, and despite the efforts of a funny 300 pound, overall-wearing, lumberjack bearded man, none of the waitresses would cop to the name Flo. Our resident Tico didn’t get the constant “kiss my grits” references. But I got a kick out of it. The place smelled like fried chicken and they had more pies than a country fair. Despite a few long stares when “folks who ain’t from round here” walked through the doors, everyone was very nice. The overall-wearing dude became my buddy. He needs to pursue a life as a stand-up comedian. People are funny wherever you go.
The club is the aptly named Corner Bar in the old downtown section of Fremont. A few years ago they bought the spot next door to their corner and opened up a courtyard for music. The stage is essentially a concrete box. The enemy of clean sound. Our sound guy was wonderful, and he did the best he could considering we were playing inside a boomy square of concrete. But it was loud. When the volume is that loud, you can’t actually hear anything. All of the parts get squashed together and become a wall of sound. This might be fun for some of the young folks, but it’s a killer for a musician who’s trying to craft a sound. The tables were in a more open area, and the weather was amazing. The seating area is surrounded by 12 foot high concrete walls, but the sound is allowed to escape straight up to the open blue sky.
Someone painted and spray painted amazing artwork on all of the concrete. Take a look at a few of the photos in another post. Visually it’s stunning. One of the sections was a large, beautiful butterfly adorned with a halo. Our sound guy Blaine told us the butterfly represents the daughter of Tammy, the owner of the club. Apparently she was killed in a car accident a little over a year ago. She was pregnant at the time of the tragic accident. Next to the butterfly is a caricature of a man who we learned was Tammy’s husband. He built this bar and he also died in a car accident a decade ago. He died the week before they opened this courtyard. His image is also adorned with a halo. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Tammy, but she is clearly a strong, passionate woman. She’s created an amazing oasis of music in a gritty world.
The highlight of the evening though had to be Puddin’. Before we played our first note, Puddin’ came into our space yelling “happy birthday!” Puddin’s an older gentleman. He’s missing many of his front teeth. He looks like he’d be comfortable working in the mill, hunting possum, or at a Dead show. You don’t meet characters like this in suburban DC. He said “happy birthday” and “somabitch” repeatedly, with the passion and contextual nuance of Timmy on South Park. He could have carried on an entire conversation using only those two phrases, and you wouldn’t miss a beat. He was awesome. Towards the end of the evening one of the locals wanted to make sure I heard Puddin’s story. Over a decade ago, he was in a motorcycle accident and nearly died. He was in a coma for a long time. When he came back to us, he started saying “happy birthday.” Every day is Puddin’s birthday. It’s inspirational. Rarely do you meet someone who can strip it all down to the core. Every day we wake up is our birthday. Every day is Puddin’s birthday. We’re better for having met him. That somabitch will be with us for the rest of our journey.