The whole tour was kind of centered around this event. Our* first contacts in New England were some folks in Cherryfield, Maine, and they told us about the magical Black Fly Ball. In my mind, Cherryfield (Blueberry Capital of the World!) was awash with itinerant fruit pickers, who descended upon the town for the harvest season, which was…now. In reality, almost all the blueberries are picked by machines nowadays, and very few humans are required.
Also, the Black Fly Ball was some 30 miles past Cherryfield in Machias, Maine. Having driven all the way from Montpelier, Vermont, and seeing our ETA get later and later, we were tempted to just pull over in Cherryfield and give the Black Fly Ball a miss. But I’m so glad we didn’t, because it was possibly the greatest show of the tour.
Down east Maine on a Saturday night has seemingly stopped for the day. The dark highway is punctuated by closed filling stations and restaurants, and a few other cars driving way faster than us because it’s not THEIR first time here. But as we approached Machias, we suddenly observed a lot more human activity.
The streets of this brightly lit small town were packed with cars, mostly parked, but some cruising. The event is positioned in a park just under a bridge, and we could see pedestrians swaying, under the influence of the music of one of the three bands playing, or perhaps some other substances.
I didn’t want to barge right in and start playing, so we parked the car and did a little reconnoitering on foot. The three bands were strategically positioned to be individually audible, with only a few places where you could perhaps hear two at once–because maybe you like that sort of thing?
I could only find one spot where I wouldn’t be competing with other musicians, right by the main entrance on the bridge over Bad Little Falls Park. I got the kit out of the car and proceeded to set up. And then I had the greatest fortune to begin playing just as one of the bands stopped playing, and many people were heading out of the park, right past me. This is about the best kind of audience: excited to hear music and slightly inebriated.
Uncertain as always–wondering if these rural salt of the earth types will cotton to my big city ways of musicating–I began to play. Well I needn’t have worried. People immediately ceased their egress and eagerly watched me play song after song. I don’t think many stayed more than ten minutes of the 45 or so that I played, but there was a steady stream of replacements, and I had a consistently decent crowd the whole time.
From the earliest days of planning a trip to the Blueberry Capital of the World(!) I had started writing a song for the blueberry pickers whom I had erroneously imagined descending on the region in this, the harvest season. I had so much looked forward to premiering it in blueberry country, but it was already clear there were no pickers to sing to. Nonetheless, I finally broke out the song, and got little reaction. I guess things change, and maybe I was stirring up more resentment than joy with it.
So I continued past the song, and played a bunch more. A lot of people were taken with the spectacle of it. As is often the case, I could see surprise on people’s faces as they got nearer and realized it’s one person, not two or more, making this commotion. Many people dropped money in my guitar case, which I don’t usually dwell on, but is important on tour because gas isn’t free.
As was the case for the entire tour, it was hot! A little after 10pm, I felt sufficiently sweaty, and played one last song. And then a very exuberant woman approached and pleaded for me to play just one more. She offered me $5 and a toothpick, so how could I refuse? From her wiry build and her age, I surmised that she must have picked blueberries at one point in her life. When I asked her, she got kind of a reverent look in her eyes, thinking of blueberries picked and never to be picked again. Yes indeed she’d picked blueberries.
Okay, one last song, the one I had written especially for the blueberry pickers, “Blueberry Hell, Blueberry Heaven.” The beginning catalogs all the reasons you might be sick of blueberries, but the end has the realization that blueberries are wonderful, magical, and picking them puts you in one of the finest places on earth.
My new friend was beyond ideal as an audience member: inebriated, amped on the very idea of music, and with a vested interest in the song itself. At the end, she joined me in wailing the repeated closing lines, and then whooped appreciatively. She gave me a big hug, and I packed it in for the night.
My friends and I put the gear back in the car, and roamed around a little more. In the grange hall we came upon something we’d never seen before: a ukulele orchestra, a traditional ensemble at the Black Fly Ball. They breathed new life into a tired old song, “Drift Away,” and while it’s far from a favorite, at least I’ll have this memory to associate with it from now on.
It seemed like the ball was far from winding down even as 11pm neared. We, however, were winding down after a long day of driving, with some rocking tossed in at the end. We headed to our hosts in Cherryfield, about which more later.
* — I use the plural because I was traveling with a couple of friends