October 18th, 2003.

The Muse at the Gray Goose is like going to Cheers. Set atop a hill in the middle of a bunch of antique shops, the place looks like Christmas has come early to Londonderry, New Hampshire. That sort of kitschy country comfort like my Grandma Lloyd’s house. You don’t ever imagine it NOT being winter there.

Lucky for us, the cold temperature kept it appropriate-looking. It was so cold by the end of the night that when we sat outside, telling dirty jokes and jamming for the hell of it till midnight, the guitars were slipping comically out of tune. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was a small turnout for them, they say. Normally the place is packed, but game seven in the New England World Series battle between the Red Sox and the Yankees is keeping a lot of people glued to their tv sets. New Hampshire sides with the Sox.

In a couple hours, I learned more about the people at this open mic than I know about people I’ve known for years, and they all were the most incredible people:

First there was Kim, 44, with blonde hair and creased blue eyes. A tall woman with a sweet, dusky folk voice. She’s a critical care nurse, making good money but thinking about giving it all up to pursue music full-time.

Then, Sue, in her early forties, who rob found breathtakingly attractive and who resembled what he imagined Daisy Duke would look like when she grew up. A few years ago, she went through a major life change and decided to become a massage therapist. She also had never sung on stage because a guy overheard her singing once at a party during college and told her she’d better not ever quit her day job. She was so mortified that she never performed in public, but then made a vow to get onstage by her 40th birthday. She sings and plays wonderfully. She immediately offered to put us up in her house if we warn her ahead of time (so she’ll know whether she has her kids – her daughter was with her at the open mic trying to drag her away and go home. đŸ™‚ )Kim stays with her often to avoid the 45-minute drive back to where she lives. Dave is Sue’s boyfriend. He sang a song about a woman who goes to a soup kitchen with her children on Thanksgiving Day.

Then Chris has her 1-month-old baby girl, Sasha, strapped to her chest in one of those baby holster devices. The regulars at the Gray Goose feel like they own the child in a way because of Chris and her husband, Neil’s, involvement playing at the open mics and guesting with all the performers. Chris even makes her triumphant post-partem return to the stage of the Goose with Sasha sleeping on her chest, no doubt extra-lulled by the vibrations of her mother’s sweet voice. The child never cries once throughout the evening.

Neil, Chris’s husband, is the solo lead guitarist extraordinaire, and nearly every performer asks him to play for them. He plays cleanly, subtly, never overwhelming the performer he’s with. He might leave the stage twice during the night.

Meredith owns the place the cute shops attached and recognizes me from our press kit when I walk up to say hello. She says how she’s surprised to see us, thinking it was a long way for us to travel for just an open mic. I told her I’d heard and read good things and it had been special on my list. They do just music in the space now. They used to rent it out for other uses, but a fire in the eighties made them rethink that.

My favorite of the night, though is Greg. Greg makes me think it is possible to be COMPLETELY satisfied and content with one’s simple and gratifying life.

Greg is quiet, also – I think – in his thirties or early forties like most of the rest of the crew, and sings back up as the third part harmony for a lot of the beautiful folk pieces whipped out over the course of the night. He has a face like a marionette. Happy and surprisingly smooth. He has thin eyebrows that look painted on by Gippetto or something and they raise a lot as he talks as much with his bright eyes as his mouth. He is personable and easy. When he finally gets up to play lead, he charges into a beautiful version of “Wicked Game,” backed on guitar by Neil and on vocals by Chris (Sasha still strapped in for the ride). His voice is incredible. Clear as a bell. His range, heavenly. He then does a version of “Summertime” that brings the house down.

When he gets off stage we get to talking. He’s a grade-school art teacher who makes guitars on the side. Oh, really? Like this one? I begin inspecting the guitar (there will be pictures on the website soon enough). The sound hole is surrounded by the painted faces of women swimming in golden hair. The neck is inlaid with mother-of-pearl Celtic knots and symbols. When I pick it up, the heel of the neck is hand-carved with a Celtic knot.

Then he starts explaining the mechanics to me. The inside isn’t cross-braced like regular guitars, but a starburst of spokes extending from the underside of the bridge, which is also of a strange shape, huge on the low end to allow the full frequency to develop and short on the high end to be the apporpriate size for those sound waves. The neck is mahogany and part of the body is rosewood.

We ask if he has a website. No. He couldn’t keep up with the orders if he did and he loves his job. Where did you learn to do this? From books, he says. Oh, and his grandfather was a master carpenter “who worked on ships in the shipyards of Boston when ships were still made of wood.” He let young Greg play in the shop once he felt he was ready.

He hosts an open mic at a Borders in nearby Nashua and Sue is playing there this weekend. He bursts into Irish accents now and then to imitate the local “Joel” they have at his open mic, who talks that way and always badgers people loudly through their performances about whether they have a CD or not.

And we all hang out outside in the cold telling dirty jokes and playing Indigo Girls and Doobie Brothers and Traffic songs. “We’re almost there boys ….” that’s the one I have to remember to tell people when I get home.

We didn’t sell a single CD. But I guess it’s all a matter of how you measure success.

And I had to smile when we pulled out of the parking lot, and someone was driving away listening to We’re About 9.

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