Tremendous fun I had behind the scenes at the Triple S Alarm stage at Riverfest this weekend. I had the honor of picking up guitar heroes Sonny Landreth and Richard Thompson from the airport, fetching beer for Grease Factor, and stealing deli trays for 4th Avenue Jones. All the artists were excellent players and ego-free performers. This was the stage for the musicians. You can keep your REO Speedwagon, Black Crowes and Wallflowers, give me Richard and Danny Thompson, Sonny Landreth, Jeff Sipe, Shane Theriot, Timmy Shakes, and Gailybird. These are people for whom I would gladly dig out all the light brown M&M’s (not that they would ask me to, because that’s how great they are).

Richard and Danny Thompson (no relation) and their manager Simon were hilarious gents. Stuck in traffic coming back from the airport, the group’s conversational topics took on a very Spinal Tap dimension as Simon narrated the thoughts of a mockingbird hopping from car to car: “I think I’ll have a poop on this one now.” Also discussed were the vicissitudes of being a bail bondsman: “not a lot of work in the afternoons, really.”

As a musician I had a field day getting tips on slide playing from Sonny Landreth (the absolute master of the craft, in my book), pentatonic licks from Shane Theriot (the guy who won Dweezil Zappa’s guitar solo contest a couple years back), counterpoint ideas from Richard Thompson, and listening recommendations from Jeff Sipe. Oh, and pointers on the proper pronunciation of “half and half” from Danny Thompson: “auff and auff.” And to think it was all for the low, low price of absolutely free. All I had to do was stand around, drive a golf cart or a van, and get more beer for Johnny Neel[1].

The weather was unpredictable, as Friday gave us a scare with a good hour of downpour before clearing up just in time for Brave Combo. Saturday was unspeakably fantastic, with furry seeds raining down like snow. Sunday was overcast but the rain didn’t start until the final set. Trooper that he is, Sonny Landreth just kept on playing. Fortunately the brief storm was not electrical.

Good times. And to think I owe it all to my obsessive knowledge of musicians – I got this job through my friend Randall, who I met at a record convention when he asked a dealer who all was in Frank Zappa’s 1988 band, and I just started rattling off the names[2].

1) Johnny, though blind, hears everything. And since Grease Factor’s music is mostly improvised, he will make up his vocals as he goes. I had mentioned that the food out front was all good, but that the burgers were pretty bad. So, later while he’s onstage playing, he’s riffing on Little Rock and what he’s heard about it, “come to Little Rock, stay away from the cheeseburgers.”

2) Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Ike Willis, Chad Wackerman, Kurt McGettrick, Walt Fowler, Bruce Fowler, Ed Mann, etc. etc. I only know this because Frank introduces everyone on the first track of Make a Jazz Noise Here, the first or second Frank album I ever bought. That track was “Stinkfoot.”