We gaze on the mountain. We gather, the four of us, typical band in typical formation, quickly testing the sounds. Check, one, two. Thumbs up. It works, I can hear you. Now play.
In summer, it is all outdoors. Cross the field to the main stage, past the playground to the office trailer. Supper is in the tent, we eat and drink like happy vikings in some Disney cartoon. We confirm the perils of one another’s travel stories. Lost luggage, delays, cancellations. Someone’s banjo has been following them across the prairies for days and still hasn’t caught up. I’ve heard there are vehicles that have gone over that cliff road, and were never retrieved. They rust on the rocks like barnacles, trees in the wheel wells.
They mean the hill. That’s what the locals call it. The hill into Bella Coola, British Columbia. Highway 20, which runs 21 kilometres of turns and switchbacks, 9 kilometres of which is reportedly at an 18% grade of narrow dirt road. Off we go then.
We drove the mountain in presumptive silence. We leaned into the turns like cyclists and out of them like confused bees in a breeze. We hovered, a tense meditation, a telepathic support from passengers to driver, you can do this, you’re great, you’re doing great. We pressed our feet firm into the car floor until it tingled, some kind of polite camaraderie with physics. We made soft jokes. Little lambs ears of comedy. We dared not to say, how breathtaking.
There are things we are lucky to have experienced. Music is a passport. But it isn’t the job. The job is in the getting there, the moving about. The road and all the time it takes.
With little exception, my first thought to myself upon waking, is “give it a moment”. It has been years since I knew exactly where I was. I am aligned with ghosts of where the bedroom window should be, but rarely is.
Two days later we take the plane out of Bella Coola Valley. Four bands, sixteen bandmates not mentioning the Big Bopper. We bury our faces into the windows and for a while there is the drone of the propellers and a few inhaling “wow”’s, and we all sink into our private minds again. Our telepathic support has ended and we are going home.
I saw water and ice that looked like spilled paint. A scale and age of things I cannot comprehend. The worn cartilage of earth.
Back at the airport, we trudge, carrying our lives, pared down to thirty seven pounds of gear and a change of clothes. We are scolded by the flight crew, who do not wish to see us approaching. Musicians are so demanding. They travel in packs, clinging to their figure eights of luggage, and they smell like smoke and lavender and the nineteen eighties.
Music isn’t the job. Do you see. It is the reward.
You could put that stage anywhere at all and we’ll get to it. And we pull ourselves onto the rigging and squint into the mist. And up over your heads and past the peaks of the carnival tents. And above the baseball field lights and the sharp fingertips of spruce and fir, above the evening whispers of cloud and the thin veils of snow that never lift. And all because sometimes, the mountain looks back at us.