Monday, January 30, 2012

The Vault and Arch of Landscape Is All

In the dream, Susan Sontag is standing outside the empty shop window where Hunt and Gather on Jefferson Street used to be. I recognize her by her hair's skunk white streak, and well, I just recognize her from having read her critical essays and the novels, notably The Volcano Lover. She's gesturing at the abandoned enterprise, like there was something very particular she had been hoping to shop for there, some object that she was counting on getting that she cannot now purchase. On behalf of the entire town of Farmington, Missouri, I grab her by the hand and walk her over (it's not far, I tell her, you could hit a golf ball from here to there, I say) to a place, the only place this side of St. Louis, where I am certain she can fulfill her desire, whatever it may be—The Vault—our local lunch spot cum nightclub, and so much more, our Ground Zero for a diverse community who love live, original music and value its practitioners.

"Go with me to the vault." — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 3

Upon entering The Vault, Ms. Sontag immediately esteems the grayscale décor and relaxes as she surmises that she's in a place of indelible memories. She traces with her forefinger the white labyrinth swirl of the hypno wheel decal—or is it a vortex?—sealed on the surface of every table top. She sits in one of the  comfortable padded black chairs, looks up at the high ceilings, heat ducts and industrial piping traversing the long rectangular room in what once was a shirts and pants factory and says, the Lower East Side? I shake my head no. Williamsburg? No, not Brooklyn, either, I tell her, Missouri. Farmington, Missouri. Amazing, she exclaims. Amazing, I agree.

Her eyes soon travel admiringly past the compact food and beverage kiosk where artist owner Kerry Smith  whips up her culinary wizardry—the beautifully composed panini, gourmet hotdogs, and enticingly named salads—the Harvest, the Lux. Kerry put the Mean Bean on the menu without even trying it herself first, just because she liked the way the ingredients sounded together, I tell her, and it's delicious!  

KDHX St. Louis DJ Bob Reuter's Band is coming back to The Vault on March 9th!

Susan's big eyes scrutinize The Vault's distinctive signature posters and banners announcing upcoming shows, all designed by owner, bass player, and musical curator Tim Smith, and she gasps with pleasure at the representations of burlesque troupes and bizarre circus emporia that have moved so many people here, myself included, right out of our comfort zones. I wonder if she's already noticed the same small hidden image Tim often includes in The Vault's posters, the thing you can look and look for and not see, but then when you see it, you see it always. She approvingly reads the canvases of the other artists whose work the Smiths so generously feature on the walls of their club, before giving her full attention to The Vault's focal point, its raison d'être—the custom-built stage.

Tim goes to the back and puts on a little Zoe Boekbinder for her, followed by a little Shenandoah Davis, Hymn for Her, End Times Spasm Band, then Sleepy Kitty, keeping it a mite cerebral just the way she likes it, and she taps her foot while taking in the black curtains and spotlights, reveling in the good acoustics and sight lines. Her face breaks out in a eureka smile and she intones in a lofty voice that Kerry will mimic perfectly later, not creationism, not intelligent design, but designed intelligently for Farmington's evolution and flourishing. She listens as I tell her of seeing a production of Waiting for Godot in Barcelona on my honeymoon, and that it was performed in Catalan! And she's about to say something about Beckett, about absurdity, about waiting, I don't know and never learn, because, in the dream, Kerry comes over with an Apri-Goat with slaw and a Schlafly bitter brew and Ms. Sontag hungrily devours it, muttering between bites and swallows of beer,  form, content, form, content, form, content...and I wake up.

After this dream, at the sold out Whistle Pigs show Friday night, I thought about how important nightlife is for adults if for no other reason that when driving to The Vault you can look up to the night sky, experience the expanding universe, see the stars and moon on your way to, on your way fro. There it is— the Milky Way! And also for the pleasure of the people watching, we are stardust, we are golden. Seated in the row just in front of me Friday there were two middle-aged couples, in their late 50's I would guess, and I couldn't help but notice that in one, the man flung his arm around his woman and pulled her close every chance he got (and she loved it!); in the other, the woman with outstretched fingers on two amorous hands scratched her man's back without inhibition, while he purred like a contented tiger.

At The Vault, grandmothers dance with their six-year old grandsons, men and women flirt outrageously with each other, same sex couples can feel at home. At The Vault we always laugh about something, we always cheer each other on. At The Vault, someone in the band will invariably say how attentive we in the audience are, how you can hear a pin drop, how they can't wait to come back and perform for us again. And it’s true, we are— attentive and grateful for the chance to feel and be part of the larger musical currents criss-crossing the country.

Also invariably, they will say thank you, Tim and Kerry, and we love it, because then we can clap and stamp our feet and whistle and woot-woot for The Vault and the Smiths, and express our appreciation for their considerable aesthetic risk-taking along with their daily sacrifices to keep the shows, excitement, and inspiration coming our way. It's a labor of love, really and truly it is, and they lead from the heart.

We've got some really great shows to look forward to here in Farmington, Missouri, now that Tim Smith has single-handedly put us on the musical map as a destination for national touring bands—the Black Belles, Eliza Rickman—those shows will sell out quickly. But it's the ones in-between, the oddities, the acts you've never heard of until now, the things that for whatever reason have caught Tim's interest that he wants to share with us, these are just as much fun to go to, if only to see who else shows up! What a year in music I've had since the Smiths opened The Vault's doors on March 22, 2011:

Long live The Vault. Viva! Viva! Viva!

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