I had a handful of gigs lined up in Missoula over July 4th weekend (including three on July 4th itself). Playing for nursing homes and retirement communities has become a growing part of my itinerary, and I have to say that I have come to enjoy this part of my performing a great deal. I can go back to the very first time I ever played in Colorado, when an agent (based in Pennsylvania, strangely enough) booked a block of some twenty-five nursing homes and retirement centers to be played in ten days. I was playing two, and sometimes three shows in a day. And there was this powerful feeling when you played a song that someone remembered from way back when, and you made that connection.
During the last few years of my mother’s life, spent in a nursing home in my home town, I would make a point of coming out as often as I could to play for her and the other residents during their dinner hour. The staff always let me know how grateful they were for the entertainment, as it made the dinner hour more pleasant for all concerned. People were willing to sit and enjoy their meal, and everything was just a bit more convivial.
Over the last year or so, I have had all manner of reactions to my performances in nursing homes. I have seen eyes light up with an old inner fire. I have seen some adult children visiting break into tears, as some song brings back a shared moment. I have seen folks get up and dance, almost like something out of a tent revival meeting. I admit that this does me a great deal of good, as well.
Missoula was chock full of such experiences. Meanwhile, we camped at the Lolo Hot Springs, about 35 miles northwest of Missoula. As is the case with much of Montana, the campsite had its share of lovely scenery. But it was the July 4th weekend, and there were plenty of campers tooling about in their ATV’s, leaving cans and other bits of trash strewn hither and yon, and fireworks of all description that started days before the holiday and continued for at least a couple of days thereafter. On July 4th itself, the fireworks started in the middle of the afternoon and continued until well after 2am. One’s perspective on fireworks changes a bit when you have a dog that has grown terrified of the noise. Ours was not the only dog in the camp that suffered so.
Stereotypes and caricatures have their origin in some seed of truth. When people speak disparagingly of rednecks who use the woods with reckless disregard for anyone else, there are plenty who feed that image. I saw a fair number over the July 4th weekend. I realize the image does not fit in all cases. But, sadly, it fits often enough.