Thursday evening I was sitting on a wood-slatted iron bench in front of the Java Jive coffee-house down on Hannibal’s center of 19th-century quaintness, Main Street. With my fiddle strapped to my back and a concertina in its case dangling from one handlebar I had ridden my bike the four blocks from my current residence up on Center Street.
Thursday evenings the six members of the band Ralugerri have been practicing and jamming in “the first coffee-house west of the Mississippi”. I’m the fiddler of the group. I knew that few band-members would be showing up that evening due to other commitments.
The weather was about as good as it gets this time of year — low humidity, temperature in the low eighties, and a light breeze which might have been putting on airs, so to speak, and privately thinking “I’m a zephyr, by gosh!”.
Quite a few people were strolling up and down the sidewalk, many of them walking dogs. While I waited I exchanged greetings with people I knew. In Hannibal’s old riverfront section it’s always fun to “spot the tourists”. A dead giveaway is a child wearing a goofily-fringed straw hat; local kids would never think of wearing such headgear.
A pair of young guys approached me. They were probably 19 or 20 and one had large studs in his earlobes, the sort of studs which are progressively replaced by larger ones as the lobes stretch out — I’m always reminded of stories in old issues of National Geographic with photos of African tribespeople.
One of the boys looked quizzically at my fiddle case.
“Whatcha got in there, anyway?”
I was briefly tempted to pull the guy’s leg, saying that I had a machine gun or a tangle of live snakes in that case, but I wasn’t in a full-blown teasing mood.
“It’s a fiddle. I play in a band with several other folks.”
The other boy was regarding the small and cubical concertina case.
“What the hell’s in that case?”
“A concertina. You know, like a squeezebox.” I opened the case and took out the instrument. It has a cherry-wood frame and black leather bellows.
“Man, is that ever weird! So it’s kinda like a little accordion, huh?”
“Yeah, somethin’ like that.”
The first guy said “Y’know, it’s funny how almost nobody plays instruments anymore, like out on the porch or down at the park. Everybody wants to stay inside in the air-conditioning.”
I said “Well, there’s Guitar Hero, but that ain’t quite the same, is it?”
Rob, the band’s percussionist, showed up with his bodhran and bones and sat down beside me on the bench. We played several tunes together and as always I enjoyed hearing his sometimes-syncopated rhythmic backup as I gently teased new variations from old melodies. Sidewalk strollers would stop and listen for a while, then walk on. It was a pleasant evening interlude.