Some towns are just too small to have a town drunk, so people take turns. I suppose it was Fred’s turn, and I believe I inadvertently funded his night on the town. I met Fred while he was bartending at the local Legion and we got to talking.
Most years, around this time, I get hired to play between three and six nights at a very expensive heli ski resort in a very small town in inland British Columbia. I book a few other shows and make a winter tour out of it. I always get treated well and I always get a few stories out of the trip. The money is just good enough to keep me afloat for the rest of the month. It’s not my favourite place to play but it’s the closest thing to a vacation I get these days.
The heli ski resort is viciously expensive and draws in 1%-ers from a global market. Affluent Europeans, drunk Australians and a few fiscally conservative, morally bankrupt, Trump supporters from America, all gather around to ski fresh powder, drink quality scotch and potentially cheat on their wives with mediocre looking employees in their mid- 20’s. The punk rock spirit dies a little bit everytime I play this resort.
On the first night of the three night stint, I was approached by a Californian male named Don. He bought me a $25 glass of scotch and chatted me up about drums. He knew what he was talking about and told me about a few of the jazz and blues bands he had played in over the years. At the end of the night he asked me if he could play drums with me. I was playing the shows with an accompanying guitar player and we had no drums in sight nor an interest to play with someone whom we had never rehearsed with. 99% of the time it’s a bad idea to play a show with someone you have never met before or played with.
The next night Don approached me again and asked if I had found a drum set. The inner voice inside my head told Don to “shut the fuck up before I kick your fucking teeth in,” but my speaking voice simply replied with a humble “no.”
After our set, the entire resort seemed to be heading to the Legion. Staff would be fraternizing with guests, and I knew things would be getting weird. I told my friend and accompanying guitar player that we better head down there for one drink just to see what chaos would ensue.
When we got to the Legion, I felt out of place and decided to start chatting with the bartender. Legions across Canada are filled with my type of people. This is how I met Fred. I asked Fred if he knew where to find a drum kit.
“Ya, I’m the only drummer in town and I’ve got a kit at home.”
“Hmmm, some guy is on my ass about finding him a kit so he can jam with us,” I stated.
“I hate loading gear, otherwise I would,” Fred echoed the thoughts of every musician in Canada.
“Well I’m sure this rich dick would pay you an absorbent amount of money to use your drum kit,” I said.
I’ve always had a Robin Hood complex and my desire to ‘take from the rich and give to the poor’ was far stronger after a couple beers.
“See how much you can get,” said Fred with a laugh and a friendly demeanour.
I found California Don playing pool and I approached him with my discovery. I explained that Fred had a kit but that it was going to need to be rented. I explained that Fred would need $400 for the use of the kit. Don didn’t have an issue with the price and paid $400 in U.S. dollars.
“Wow, shit! I’ll deliver the kit for that price,” said Fred with a big smile. Legion brothers always look out for one another, and I was throwing Fred a bone. It would be the easiest $400 he ever made.
The next day at 3 PM Fred showed up with the drums and a buddy to help him load them. That morning I had been secretly hoping that Fred wouldn’t show up. The whole idea seemed like a bad one after the buzz from the beers had worn off from the previous night. But here they were and I was going to have to deal with the situation.
We got the drums setup and California Don sat down and jammed a song with us. I knew right away that we got lucky. He had great hands, could follow my lead and could fake his way through a song with grace. He was going to do just fine.
It was a calming feeling to know that we would be able to get away with this. I headed back to my cabin to relax for the next three hours until the festivities took place.
When I returned I couldn’t help but notice that Fred was still there. He was now mildly intoxicated and telling Don about how he used to play two straight hours of Led Zeppelin covers in the 80’s.
This was a fancy event and the guests were starting to roll in. Everyone was dressed up for the banquet that would celebrate the end of a wonderful week of skiing overpriced powder.
Fred was wearing grey sweat pants and old Nike pumps. He didn’t seem like he was going anywhere. He seemed like he was going to make himself at home and enjoy the party.
You could hear a pin drop in the room when the owner of the heli ski resort took the stage and offered an awkward and heartfelt speech. He had the rooms full attention except for Fred - who was the only person still talking - his natural voice echoing louder than the speech coming from stage. I heard him proudly mention about “I used to do two hours straight of Zeppelin covers in the 80’s,” as the owner talked of the special week.
Fred was still there when we manned the stage for our first set of the night. I heard someone yell, “Fucking rights boys,” and I’m damn certain it was Fred.
The next time I noticed him, he was bringing in two new friends through the back door. They were equally as out of place as him. Next, I noticed him carrying a tray of drinks back to the table for his newly established posse.
I realized then that Fred was going to spend the entire $400 on booze. I now realized that I didn’t help out anyone, I simply enabled a person who was a raging alcoholic.
Towards the end of the night I saw Fred getting kicked out of the fancy lounge. Apparently Fred had passed out at the table he was sitting at. I heard the bar manager asking him who had even got him into the event. Fred tried to mumble “Tanner” but it came out more like “Tghsghsdhhhhhhrrrrrrrr” and wouldn’t hold up in the heli ski judicial system.
The next day when we took off we noticed that the drum set was still sitting on the stage.
I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of satisfaction. I pictured Fred banging out Zeppelin tunes just as drunk as John Bonham.