Montana and Idaho
I’ve saved this story for the end because there’s a bit of a ‘musician’s legend’ quality to it, and besides, it’s hard to top. Whenever road warriors get together to swap tales, eventually someone tells a ‘nudist colony’ story. There’s one tale I’ve often heard, attributed to different bands, where the band holds a vote, and they decide to “take it all off” for the show, and then when the curtain opens they discover that the nudists have all put their clothes on out of respect for the performers. I never guessed that after hearing all these yarns, that I’d return from a tour of Montana and Idaho with this:
I could tell I was entering a “red” state as soon as I arrived at the Missoula airport. Waiting for my guitar to show up on the ‘special baggage’ conveyer belt, I watch what appears to be about a dozen electric guitar cases sliding by. I innocently say to the large gentleman standing beside me that it looked like a rock band must have been on board. He sneers at me; then I notice that the cases are a bit too skinny to be electric guitars. The sneering cowboy sidles up to a case, snatches it off the conveyor, and as he passes me he snorts something like – “it’s a gun, stupid!”
It’s hunting season in Montana, and it’s open season on elk, deer, and liberals. Almost every able-bodied male on the plane except me is carrying a rifle. Since they are white guys with cowboy hats, I reckon this is allowed. The promoter of my first gig, in Ronan Montana, meets me at the airport, and as we drive north through the picturesque Mission Valley he explains to me that the two shows he’s set up for me are in big trouble, all because of my big mouth. It’s just 4 days after George W. Bush’s re-election, and Republican fever is running high in this part of the world. It seems that the publicist for the concerts went to my website, downloaded a couple of my more political songs, and branded my music as “Joan Baez Hippy Peace Crap”. This is the kiss of death in Montana and Idaho, the location of the third concert. The publicist refused to do his job, and the promoter was frantically trying to spread the word that I wouldn’t be performing any songs about any contentious topics like “peace”. Not only was I condemned as being Anti-Bush (and therefore Anti-American)–I was also a foreigner, which folks don’t take too kindly to these days in those parts.
After the sound check in the Ronan Community Hall, I have time to walk around the dusty little town. The main street, which looks just like you’d imagine a frontier western main street would look, had only about twenty stores, but half of them seemed to be barbershops- and I stood out as not only the only man under 6 feet tall, but the only one with more hair than a military buzz cut. In the local thrift store, there was a sale on,- you guessed it, – guns. A man was asking the salesgirl about a certain rifle, and she drawled “Do I look like a gun girl to you, mister? Why, All’s I’ve got is an itty bitty 45 that I keep beside the bed, and so far I ain’t shot nobody with it!” In Canada, this would still make her a gun girl.
At the concert, which has a respectable turnout despite the lack of publicity, and at the next two shows as well, audience members come up to me, in spite of their Republican reputation, and apologize to me for how their country has been behaving, and express shame and regret about the outcome of the election.
The next night I play in the “Prince of Peace” church in Missoula, but I still, upon request of the promoters, fail to sing any ‘peace’ songs. Xenophobia and censorship is upon us, folks.
After the concert, the promoter drives me three and a half hours through the Rocky Mountains to Coeur d’alene Idaho, where the next night I’m scheduled to play at, yes, a nudist resort.
I have to admit that I only took this gig for two reasons, and NOT for the exposure! I thought it would make a good story, and I mistakenly thought that “nudist resort” meant that the patrons would be out doing their thing in the great outdoors in a natural setting, not sitting naked in a theatre watching a folksinger.
The promoter, had braced me for the event by showing me nudist magazines the day before. These publications were filled with pictures of impossibly fit and happy couples walking along isolated beaches, staring at sunsets, lounging on sailboats, perched on mountain peaks, or frolicking in outdoor hot-tubs. It all looked reasonable to me.
On our long drive the promoter and his wife outlined what I might expect, and we arrived after midnight at a lovely mountain retreat, where they led me through darkened halls to a pleasant room. They bade me good night and asked me to meet them for breakfast at 8. Being a bit jet-lagged still, and a bit apprehensive, I was late arriving in the dining room. It was full. Everyone was all together in their all-togethers, naked people sitting at chairs and lining up at the buffet table. The picture before me was one that didn’t quite make the magazines. For one thing, this WAS middle America, where everyone has super-sized their middles. For another thing, the average age was over sixty. For the women, picture Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show with no clothes. For the men, though they were mostly Republicans, picture Michael Moore naked. OK, think of something else now.
A group of women were gathered in the kitchen preparing food, looking for all the world like United Church ladies except for one obvious difference . They were all wearing rubber gloves for sanitary reasons, but nothing else. I was the only person in the room from what they condescendingly called the “textile world”, but they didn’t seem to mind an alien intruder. They were all quite pleasant, relaxed, and jovial.
Gathered around long communal tables, the chatter was mostly about the election. I kept my mouth shut and my clothes on, for most of these nudists had more than just red necks.
At one point the talk turned to bargain hunting at WalMart. One lady mentioned the recent scandal where WalMart had been taking out life insurance policies on older employees without telling them. Others mentioned their questionable hiring practices and their poor record as ‘corporate citizens’. I thought I had found kindred naked spirits when the talk turned back to their favourite purchases there, (though I wondered why nudists needed all those cheap clothes!). I innocently asked why they still shopped there knowing the company’s profile. None of them saw the connection. Apparently WalMart IS America now. It would be un-american to NOT shop there. But I digress. But I don’t undress.
One blotchy rubenesque woman sits beside me and delivers possibly the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard. “Don’t worry”, she says- “this rash is not contagious”!
After the meal they spend the day sitting around the fire reading newspapers or playing board games in the lounge. Some head for the pool and hot-tub, and another group prepares the hall for the concert. I chip in, first by removing the decorations from their recent Halloween party. I wondered what kind of costumes they weren’t wearing. Naked men with drills and hammers began the stage erection.
When the work was done, I joined another group of men toasting their buns by the fire as they told hunting stories. It turns out to be true what they say about men with big guns.
In the afternoon I tramp the hills and valleys around the resort without meeting a soul, then I gather my courage and nothing else before heading for the pool. A large sign in the health club area says “Nudity is required in the pool and spa. Avoid wearing lingerie and swimsuits.’ Damn, that little Victoria’s secret number I’d packed wasn’t going to get used!
Modest Canadian that I am, it took me a while to launch myself from the change room to the pool. (I’m not sure why they had a change room. I might have been it’s first user.) In the 90 degree pool, though, I lingered till I was as wrinkly as the rest of the patrons and never saw another human.
Safely back in my room, I prepared for the concert, which went off without a stitch. I looked out at a small crowd of about 40 naked bodies, and was reminded of that old showbiz adage- “if you’re nervous, pretend the audience is naked”. Pretending they were clothed didn’t help. Early in the show I performed a special ‘nudist resort theme song’, which I had written for the occasion. It was met with my first ever nude standing ovation, so I endeavored to not make the rest of the show quite so exciting.
They had really been urging me to perform naked, but frankly I didn’t see the point. I could see all their points though. Besides, I only got into showbiz because I wanted to stand out in the crowd. I’m always accused of having a bland, utilitarian wardrobe. Tonight I was a rebel in cotton! They all seemed to enjoy the show, though their lack of pockets kept CD sales to a minimum at intermission. (I hate to mention it, but one woman showed me how she could transport a CD with her hands free by placing it in a built-in fold created by a combination of gravity and age.) After an encore, they all rushed the stage, and I could see something else in the works that I hadn’t bargained for.
They wanted hugs.
Having survived this frontal assault, three women flopped towards me and invited me upstairs to play a game. Early on in my career, I was sure that the rock and roll lifestyle would one day enable me to fulfill fantasies like having three naked women invite me upstairs. This particular invitation came 25 years too late to really be that enticing to me. I inquired hesitantly about what kind of game they had in mind, and I joined them in the lounge, to play, yes, Scrabble, with my three companions late into the night.
I wondered if elsewhere at the resort, as couples drifted back to their rooms, if women were excusing themselves and slipping into something less comfortable. I wondered if men were sneaking clandestine peeks at “Textile Monthly”.
Out the window, a harvest moon, looking refreshingly mysterious cloaked in a filmy cloud cover, hung high over the rockies, while inside the Sun Meadow resort, three smaller moons hung a little lower over plastic lawn chairs as I sipped on Moose Drool beer, searched for that elusive triple-word score, and dreamed about returning to “Textile Land”.
(Well, there is no end in sight, really. I’ve been on the road for more than a quarter of a century. I have no other skills, so I may as well keep doing this until I get it right! Thanks for reading my stories. Some of them may seem implausible, but not as farfetched as the fact that people pay me money to do this!)