The view from backstage is just the same as out front – darn nice folks everywhere I look.

Day-to-day San Francisco stuff had kept me running for weeks. So it was a distinct pleasure last night to finally turn off the computer and start putting some clothes in a bag. It turned out, I’d set aside way more time for packing than it could possibly take. Hat, gloves, boots, a couple shirts: what else could I need?

At the end of the Gathering last year, I’d sworn up and down that in the year before the next Saturday night dance, I’d learn at least enough to get me around the floor without stepping on anyone. I looked at the clock and it was already after midnight. Chances of learning to dance before bed were slim and getting slimmer. I thought of seeing what video instruction I could get online, but in the end I decided I could count (for a fourth year) on the good graces of friends and strangers to drag me out on the dance floor whether or not I felt any more capable.

Once I was on the road this morning, I was delighted to see the interstate clear and even mostly dry. Fingers crossed for a second year of no chains needed to get over the summit. I’d told everyone in SF that I was going to be completely out of contact, I’d sent the rent in early and I had my phone turned off. I felt great. And a little tired.

A couple of meals (and just a little too much coffee) later, I was at the Western Folklife Center, looking for my first assignment. I started seeing people I knew before I even got in the door. Coming out of a long unbroken stretch in the Bay Area – where everyone says we live in paradise but no one wants to talk to anyone – it was a distinct pleasure to see friends after a year, to be recognized and greeted, even to have strangers nod and say hello. Inside the Pioneer Saloon I got in a brief round of hellos before sorting out that I actually needed to be at the Convention Center. I hated to dash right back out, but I knew not far away there was a stage that needed to be managed.

Backstage at the main auditorium of the Elko Convention Center, I found Tamara Kubacki, who always has three other things she ought to be doing, but would have bravely stayed and run that particular show if no one else was around. I was glad to send her out into the night to get back to running the Whole Show.

Stephanie Davis and Sons of the San Joaquin arrived for their sound checks, and it seemed everybody knew everybody else already. The performers, the volunteers, even the sound and lighting folks come back year after year, so jobs get done before anyone asks for them to happen, and conversations and jokes seem to pick back up a year later with hardly a pause.

Back stage, talk about favorite songs and writers turned inevitably into howlingly funny stories about onstage blunders and missteps. I wish I could recount them for you, but the impact just isn’t the same if you don’t get it right from the horse’s mouth. And if I start telling them around, I might not get to hear them anymore myself.

The show got started, the audience was rapt, the performers raved about the tech crew, the audience raved about the performers, everyone raved about how darn NICE everybody else is when they come to Elko. I wish I could come up with a new way to say it – people say it all the time here – but it really is the people that make this thing so amazing. Hopefully I can get some nice folks to help me out with my dancing this year.

Once the performers had headed back to the Folklife Center, or to seek out a late night jam session somewhere, I re-arranged the back stage, trying to make more space for the performers to watch each other in between sets. Such an amazing collection of poets and musicians shows up in Elko for the Gathering, that usually the performers are as excited to see the other artists on the bill as the audience is.

I checked in with the tech crews and the facilities staff one last time, and headed on out to see what was going on back over at the Pioneer Saloon. It seems this town hardly sleeps during the Gathering, but I think I’m going to have to, and soon. Just gotta say hi to one more person…


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