This weekend. Where to begin. Friday feels appropriate. Because that’s when Steve Martin came to town.
Taylor & I had decided early on that we wanted to CAMP OUT in line before Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers took the stage. So the two of us, Jen and Suzi took our possessions (including some blankets and books and my ukulele) and sat in front of one of the side gates to the Amp for two hours (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). During this time, several amusing things happen (No surprise there; that’s the CHQ way). Most of these (elderly) folks had never seen such youthful dedication to the craft of concert-camping and were in turn amused and confused at our escapades.
- 5:28 p.m.: I am strumming my ukulele. A man walks by and says, “For a second, I thought that was Steve Martin!”
- 5:30 p.m.: Another passing man mentions to his friend that I must be planning to audition for the show.
- Jen tells an usher we’re going to ask Steve to leave his wife.
- A large family arrives with delicious submarine sandwiches in tow. We ask where they got them. They say, “We brought them.” No, really. “djfdfjvj, JAMESTOWN.” Mumbly McMumblypantses were keeping their secret sub shop a secret. We’ve since scoured the Internet and picked the brains of divers Chautauquans, but to no avail: these subs may be lost in the ether of memory.
The show didn’t begin until 8:15. Once we were let in at 7, Jen BOOKED IT to the front row, left side (pictures forthcoming) to secure us some darn good seats. We were less than fifty feet from the stage. Mr. Martin’s profile would be ours to admire.
As the crowds gathered, one fellow approached the stage, attempting to subtly set his banjo down, as though Mr. Martin would be so inclined as to pick it up and bestow his signature upon it. An overzealous but, as it turns out, informative and friendly security guard ushered the man backstage after telling him that no, the stage could not serve as his personal cubby.
Once I saw that the man and his banjo (case) had returned from the backstage, I, filled with an overwhelming desire to see our hero in person, approached the genie of a security guard. I asked whether Steve was going to make an appearance, if that lucky fellow had his banjo signed. He told me that Steve might - might - come outside to the back porch after the show, but that nothing was certain. Fuelled with a newfound sense of hope and an appreciation for mankind, I returned to my seat, sharing the news with my friends. We vowed to track Mr. Martin down.
In the time before the show, we autographed a copy of the Daily for our rowmates, two Kent State alums. Taylor and Jen purchased copies of the Daily to have Mr. Martin sign.
And then it began.
The concert is a joyful, magnificent blur. Steve (he was no longer Mr. Martin at this point), clad in a sharp white suit, cracked joke after joke, took too long to tune, played his own beautiful compositions and accompanied the Steep Canyon Rangers, who wowed the unsuspecting crowd with their exquisite harmonies and instrumental prowess. Their violinist was unspeakably brilliant, in particular.
They played two encores. After the last one, we rushed through the throng of white-haired adults, determined to make our dreams come true. We waited. We whined. We pushed. We squinted and stared and glared and stretched. Then the shrieks began. He emerged for the benefit of the opposite barricade first, signing autographs and attempting joviality. As he came closer, we realized his hand was bandaged; the man was exhausted. My friends and I were pushed closer to Steve, the barricade nothing more than a formality at this point.
But we had a problem. And the problem was greed.The man lucky enough to have his banjo signed BEFORE the show, stayed. And he planted himself in front of us, all six foot five of him. Petite human that I am, I saw my dreams of signature dashed.
Until Demetrius Freeman, brilliant photographer of the evening’s performance, bearer of official press pass, and good friend extraordinaire, reached over to me and plucked my tattered copy of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (which he had kept in his bag all night until the encores, in case he ran into the performers during a free moment backstage) from my shaking hands and held it out to Steve Martin.
Demetrius was at his left side. The two were literally rubbing shoulders. At first, it seemed Mr. Martin didn’t realize what Demetrius proffered. He signed other things for a time (among them, Jen’s copy of the Daily), and then, seemed to notice all at once, the slim volume of plays to his left.
He took it from Demetrius, his eyes registering only slightly that what he held was different from what he’d signed all evening.
"I’ll just sign the cover, then," he said, mostly to himself, a murmur on behalf of his diminished patience, overwhelming tiredness, and as a courtesy to the gutsy Demetrius, who was then promptly chastised by Steve’s manager for using his press pass powers for evil. (Or STEVil? Ah, well.)
My legs shaking, I called out, “THANK YOU!” I could see him clearly now, a small straw fedora capping his snow-white coif, thick-rimmed black glasses on, wrinkled but not fading, tired, but still going. He made no sign of hearing me, and I don’t believe he did. I think he was talking himself through the night, thinking of what would come next: a beer, nursing his bandaged hand back to health before the next day’s show in East Hampton, joking with his bandmates.
I told Demetrius I owed him big. (I owe a lot of people big, here, it seems; but that’s another entry for another time.) And then I called two people: Kevin, of course, because no one would appreciate this moment better than he would (after all, he should’ve been there) (although, I’m not sure he understood a word I said because I was so excited I couldn’t stop talking, but I think the crashing waves of glee were pretty strong), and my mother, who had sent me texts saying, “BE ALERT. HE COULD BE DISGUISED AS A LITTLE OLD LADY” and “YOU ARE THE LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW,” a phone call which led to the now-infamous “If you lose that [book], don’t bother coming home.”
My book is signed in a fading black Sharpie. It sits on the top of the stack of the 20 or so books I brought and have acquired over my weeks here. I don’t take it outside when there’s a chance of rain. I don’t want to risk it. It seems so stupid, in some lights of mind. It’s just a book, and a marker, and a man. But it’s that book, and that marker, and that man, and that night was so great. I refuse to relegate it to the realm of “too good to be true” and “too painful to think about because it was so great and now it’s over” - no, I don’t want to forget. I’m going to find a recording of the show and listen to all of the jokes again. I’m going to treasure these memories because they happened. That’s why, and that’s enough reason.