Last autumn I attended a Furthur (aka the Jerry-less rest of The Grateful Dead) show at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. That kind of hippie jam show always draws an interesting crowd, to say the least. Most everyone has either been doing some kinds of festive substances for years, was conceived while their parents were under the influence of such substances, or is just discovering the delights of said substances. Naturally, I wanted to fit in with these weirdos, so I showed up wearing silver slip on shoes and tie-dye pants that flowed around me when I danced as gracefully as the Columbia River.
The crowd, I amongst them, swayed to the music with languid synchronicity, like a tangle of kelp slowly waving in the ocean. As we all crested to the right, fingertips outstretched, brushing at the last molecules of air in our reach before we pulled back and rode our wave all the way to the other side, an old man with a white clot of beard and an animated, electric intensity that greeted me a few seconds before he arrived, came up to me to express his enthusiastic endorsement of my pants. After I thanked him, he proceeded to regale me with a detailed summation of his experiences through the entire decade of the sixties as well as dispense to me tips on how to get the most out of estate sales, and then impress on me the fact that I absolutely did not need no man. He gave me a couple of free cd’s and we exchanged business cards.
We still talk from time to time, usually in the form of hour-long telephone conversations in which he expounds upon various subjects with such thoroughness that it ought to earn me at least a couple college credits for sitting there listening to it. During one of these calls, he told me about an old friend named Baby Gramps, a man he described as having always been very old, even in his youth. He recommended that I try and catch one of his shows if ever he came to town. Last Thursday Baby Gramps graced the diminutive stage in the corner of Ballard’s Conor Byrne Pub. Baby Gramps has the persona of a sort of mad hillbilly, looks about ready to hop on a rickety railcar the moment the show ends, and has the salty growl of a sea pirate who’s been smoking plants for many a year. While he played his vintage 1930’s guitar he stomped frenetically at the ground and his pianist nodded at his toy piano like Schroeder after a mad romp through the sixties and beyond.
In between songs, he would tell stories to the audience, strumming dramatically between sentences. He talked of tub bands and medicine shows and the “sickadelic” era, and I began to see the kinship that he and the old man from the Furthur show likely shared. His voice see-sawed between yokel-ish yodeling and a deep low vocalization that sounded like a didgeridoo. He played a short fast set, stomping through his ditties until about 9:20. Capping off his set was a rollicking sing-a-long about scrotums. Yes. Scrotums.
For a brief moment in the wild, silly frenzy, I thought that maybe this was a bit like what the sixties were all about. Uninhibited, unembarrassed, illogical, and free. Well, not quite free. The ticket cost me ten dollars after all.
Baby Gramps will be playing again in Seattle on March 22nd at The Moisture Festival and March 26th at The Nectar Lounge.