Written by Dan Hendrickson aka Henry Rifle
Everyone wants to be there on one of those special nights. More to the point, they want to be able to say they were THERE on one of those nights; one of those nights where the band onstage hits a groove and rides it far past the point even the most die-hard fan could have hoped for. I’m happy to say I was there for one of those nights. The Mike Plume Band was the outfit onstage. It was in an unlikely town (Grand Forks, ND) and stage isn’t quite accurate. Picture the most intimate venue you’ve ever visited, cut it in half and fill it up with 100 people, a bar and peanuts (It was The Peanut Bar in the legendary Westward Ho entertainment complex).
I was across the hall for the first half of the show, working my own schtick (as they say). I was, charitably speaking, something of a comedian. But soon after my little show ended, I noticed people were leaving the small reception afterwards and they weren’t coming back. I soon learned why. Wandering across the hall and into The Peanut Bar mid-set was like stepping into one of those parties you usually hear about the next day. There was real energy in the room but it was also strangely relaxed. You could just feel it: everyone was in the same place and on the same page.
Mike’s band, as always, was in top form and holding nothing back. I ran into a friend of mine at the back of the bar, a fellow Plume Band fan, and we took in the scene and gave each other a look as if to say, “Is this really happening?” We both grinned and turned our attention back to the stage and the hits just kept on coming.
The band switched deftly between their own tuneful yet gritty catalog and a colorful mix of covers, from Gram Parsons to Fred Eaglesmith to some guy named Dylan.
Musically, the band was fearless. They played as though they owned the songbook and there was nowhere they couldn’t or wouldn’t go. And everywhere they did take us that night sounded and felt like home. Mike was like a train engineer, leading us all down a smooth set of tracks. His craggy voice and sly, homespun onstage banter called to mind a circus ringleader showing – with just the right amount of pride – his rapt audience everything the band was capable of, every trick they knew.
From there, it was a race against the clock. Everyone in the room knew it was late and the band would, at some point, have to yield to the constraints of time (if nothing else). Bars closed at 1 a.m. then and so it was something like watching a pitcher throw a no-hitter. You didn’t want to nudge your friend or look at the clock for fear the music would stop. Every time a song ended we flinched, waiting for the inevitable, ‘Thanks for being here tonight, folks.’ But somehow the band kept playing.
I’m not sure how far past closing they played that night (before ending with a raucous cover of Like a Rolling Stone), but I can tell you this: no one in the room that night wanted that show to end. But that’s what makes a night like that magic: it doesn’t last. And when you leave and go back out into the world, there’s a part of it that stays with you. Always.