My first morning in Crestone, I parked my bus on a gravel patch across the street from Shambala, got a coffee and a blueberry muffin, and sat down at the picnic table. Soon, I was surrounded by people and found myself chatting easily, telling the story of my trip, my former life in NYC, and meeting some of the town characters I mentioned in the post below (read that first!), Steve, Rev, Will Omega, another Will with a dark penetrating stare who mostly kept quite, and Loni. Loni, in his early forties, had been in Crestone for 12 years, I think I recall, and through his general industriousness had eventually opened a little gift shop on the corner opposite Shambala, in a house he had built from an existing little house plus a trailer home, plus other additions, and the whole, though rambling, still has a coherence. Loni also rents videos at his shop and will pick up odd jobs when the opportunity arises, which I soon learned is pretty much the way of life for many of the residents of Crestone.
Loni sat down on a fiberglass chair near the picnic table, holding a small drum, and after mentioning he had been drumming now for nearly a year, he began to shyly tap out some regular rhythms with his finger tips. Soon his head began to twist in a back and forth exaggerated "no" motion, flaying his red hair, and helping him keep time and get lost in his musical world. I joined in a bit, drumming on the hollow plastic picnic table top, which had a completely adequate resonance. Soon we stopped and smiled at each other. Rev had joined us and I overheard him ask Loni if he was going to the drumming circle. "Drumming circle! Whats that about?" I said. "It's for the full moon, tomorrow night. You should come" offered Rev. "Absolutely," I said and got particulars.
Loni also performs in a band on guitar and has a rather public ongoing "thing" with a woman in the band named Deb, who soon joined us outside Shambala. I knew immediately she was from New York. "Upper west side. Sold my apartment and came here 10 years ago." I may not be recalling the numbers correctly, but people in Crestone often mention their tenure. Banter continued, and people came and went easily. After a while, I met a woman who had been sitting there listening quietly like a Cheshire Cat. But eventually, she joined in, and it turned out she was quite a character herself. Hearing the story of my travels, she unhesitatingly offered "You can park at my place," and I accepted, of course, and gave her half of my blueberry muffin, mentioning that I have to avoid sugar anyway, to be sure that she would accept it.
The next day, I drove us back to town in my bus, we shared another muffin and coffee, gabbed with the Shambala crowd, took an extended tour of the Baca Grande region, which she narrated generously, and returned to the house so I could get ready for the drumming circle. I borrowed a drum and off I went.
I took the road through Crestone up a long hill into the beginning of the forest on the mountain and took the first turn off after the cattle guard, as Rev had described, and parked my bus in a clearing. I followed the sandy trail to a flat nestled between sand dunes and found now as the sun was just setting, a circle of twenty five or so stumps for stools arranged around an already raging fire, with eight or so drummers gathered. Loni was there, and so were Rev and Julie, and some others I had met in town, and some new faces. I picked a stump and settled in. Loni introduced me to the group and quipped that I had no rhythm whatsoever, having played with me a bit at Shambala the day before. The group seemed to know this was a joke, I think, but I felt I had been challenged, in a good natured way, so I joined right in. Now, I play vibraphone, which is fundamentally a percussion instrument, and I play jazz which emphasizes syncopation, so although I had not played any drums with others in years, I felt I quite comfortable. Very soon, I found I could gently help the group establish a good steady pace to a repetitive rhythm perhaps two bars long, and having tons of experience playing jazz solos, I could then slowly depart from the pack and add syncopated accents and tell an even longer rhythmic story on my drum over the pulse of the group. I was a hit. It was exhilarating. And so it went, through sunset and on into the evening, the circle eventually filling with players. Of course, there was lots of pot passed around and I tried a hit, to remember what that was like, but soon found it was distracting and I remained content with the three beers I brought with me. The fire leaped, and a few young girls jumped up and writhed abstract improvised dances, and the drumming went on in half or three quarter hour sessions. Someone would start a pattern, others would join in, and soon the circle would be locked in a spontaneous communal contract, with each drummer contributing, aiding, lifting. I thought of how you can push a swing with gentle touches which, if well timed to the period, accumulate momentum and achieve a great arc of movement, and how much good musicianship can be like this, and in this sense, the musicianship of this group was great.
Soon an Asian/Indian conga player joined us with two congas. He had "chops". Nice long odd numbered rolls that landed smoothly in time to the pulse, interesting departures and phrases, he was great. And though I could do less pyrotechnics, he soon realized I could play too, and we enjoyed a musical conversation through our drumming, taking turns, supporting, punctuating... it was a wonderful dialogue. Ultimately, I feel he was somewhat bound to his knowledge of traditional drum phrases which limited his inventiveness. But he was great to play with and I greatly appreciated his willingness to cede space to me to develop my longer compositional forms. During a break, I introduced myself, complimented his playing, and learned that he was Tony, from New York, and that he had just moved here permanently.
Eventually, the crowd thinned and straggled away, and I found a moment to say goodbye to those remaining. One girl said "Thank you!" enthusiastically to me, which felt complimentary, but also made me feel a bit old and outside, but I thanked them all as well and left.
That night, I stayed in the bus in my sandy spot, and the next day, I explored the town a bit. I met Scott Wheeler, a Brit who was building a restaurant, and I introduced myself as an Architect, and also as a vibraphonist, because I had heard that Scott organized the town Saturday Market. Scott arranged for me to play for the market, which I did the following Saturday, and also thoroughly enjoyed. I ran into some of the drum circle players there, and was greeted warmly and I could see that some took note of the vibes and made the connection to my playing at the circle. I was glad to have filled in my impression in their minds.
After the drum circle night, I spent another few camped at the woman's house, and we talked and ate and drank wine, she gave me a science fiction book, I did laundry and so forth, and we became good friends.
Eventually, though, I prepared to go visit Jodi Tucker, the woman whom I'd met a week earlier in a parking lot in Taos by saying "I like your hat", after which we remained in full goofy eye locked gaze as we chatted awkwardly, exchanging numbers, and arranging to meet again in Crestone in a week. I was looking forward to seeing Jodi again.
I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.