Thursday, January 22, 2009

Beatlick Travel #6: Open Mic in Bisbee

Beatlick Travel Report #6

It takes a lot of adjectives to describe the Old Historic Bisbee mining town in Southeastern Arizona. The labyrinth of roads, sidewalks and roundabout that create Bisbee were a total turnoff when we first tried to drive into town. But once we found our urban campsite in a parking lot in front of Saint John’s Episcopalian Church, we hit the streets and the charm of the district unfolded.

Bisbee cleaves to the Mule Mountains with terraced landscaping and stairways bustling up the sides of the hills like so many stays in a dance hall girl’s corset. The Copper Queen Lode put the town on the international financial map in the 1880s. The Stock Exchange Bar and Brewery still holds the only stock exchange board existing at the time between Chicago and San Francisco.

The old miner shacks troop down the mountain sides in a Byzantine hodgepodge. Each street follows the lay of the mountain edges as best it can. The slopes are steep, the churches are plentiful, so are the bars, with a great public library. Arresting vintage clothing, an unbelievable milliner’s shop, artists galore up and down every little byway and alley in every charmingly scruffy old building, are augmented with some genuine characters sitting on the benches and in the coffeehouses.

Open mic every Thursday was at the Stock Exchange Bar. I only got first names, but the event was hosted by drummer David. One guitarist was named Mike, from north of the Bay Area originally. We got there early and waited as folks came in carrying equipment and instruments. The sign up sheet was passed around.

The concept was the loosely formed band played a few songs then offered to back up anyone who wanted to come up, either another musician or spoken word folks such as ourselves. Well what grew to be about a six piece ensemble turned out to be a kick ass band. I just can’t find a better word for this group of guys who were so generous with their time and talent.

“Catdaddy” was on the sign up sheet, a most innocuous looking kind of guy, we had watched him earlier as he unceremoniously helped lug in the sound equipment. But when he got up to play he smoked the crowd with his “Mojo Working” and “Standing on Shaky Ground” I started to believe I was standing on shaky ground too. The Beatlicks had to follow “Catdaddy!”

But it was as I say a generous group of people. At the bar was a splash of what appeared to be second tier hairdressers and wardrobe staff clad “a la Euro trash” and sipping on beers and Cosmopolitans. Along the shuffle board table was the Paris Hilton lookalike (western-style) and her smaller entourage. At the table closest to the stage was our group, the folks who grew up with Bill Haley and the Comets.

The bartender was a phenomenal one. Dressed in vintage clothing with long hair she would flip around, our put up, or put in a hat, she danced on the dance floor, made small talk as she poured out the suds, and was absolutely charming even when the crowd swelled. Great lady with a lot of personality, I didn’t catch her name.

The old town is full of characters like the Buffalo Bill Cody clone, reeking of Pachouli and offering walking tours, and “Food Not Bombs” Bob who feeds the hungry at 4 p.m. every Sunday afternoon in Goar Park. He says the organization feeds people in over 200 cities around the world. We enjoyed his beans and rice, salad, and loaves of bread.

They were all great folks and when you see all the locals greet each other it’s with genuine affection, their eyes light up when they great each other. Their camaraderie gives the onlooker a sense of the bond that must have existed between townfolks back in the old hardscrabble days when the mine was first founded. We stayed a week.

Happy Trails!

Beatlick Pamela

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