If you’re a performer, this has happened to you, usually early in your career, when you’re young, impressionable, nervous and usually stupid. Your embarrassing gig probably isn’t this bad, but I’ll bet you cringe (or laugh) whenever you remember it.
It was April or May, around 1964. I was in Minneapolis getting ready to spend another summer working at Hensrud’s Skelly Station.
“What the heck?” I said to myself. “I’m a full-fledged folksinger with some gigs, a couple of memorable openers, and a freshly-minted album. Why not skip pumping gas & washing windshields (“full service” was a thing back then; some of you remember it) and bring culture to the North Country?”
I called my friends Eric Madsen and Ron Day, a dynamite West Texas folk duo, and convinced them to drive to Minnesota in Ron’s ’58 Chevy to open for me. Then we planned our first gen-u-wine music tour.
The first stop was International Falls, on the Canadian Border. (You’ve heard of it as the coldest spot in the Lower 48 every winter.) My girlfriend Gerri had been raised there, so we knew the lay of the land. We rented the biggest hall in town ($300, as I recall, provided we set up the chairs ourselves). We printed tickets, bought some radio spots, put my album in the local record store window, and got ready for a leap forward in our careers.
The night arrived. The chairs were set up. Guitars were tuned. Gerri went to the door to sell tickets. Showtime came. And went.
Not one person showed up.
Word has it that there was a polka band playing nearby that night. I like to think they stole our audience.
We cancelled the rest of the tour and Mr. Hensrud gave me back my job at the Skelly station.
This story is too embarrassing for a gig photo, but here’s the heron that lives near our house today.