Seneca Lake, May 22, 2010
As madness began to take my mind, 4 days since I last spoke to anyone as Clare and BBS were back in NYC, I felt compelled to venture into the nearby hippie enclave of Trumansburg in search of a chat-up. I'd estimated I'd find a bar, have a drink and talk to whomever was nearby. There was an anti-establishment establishment spoken of frequently by locals and travelers: the Rongovian Embassy to the USA. The name itself suggests a "get away from the man, man" dream of utopian venues for the wayfarer's intoxication and music. I'd later find out that Rongovia was derived from hippie slang for Vietnam, like Vietnam was the wrong way to go, man.
Surprisingly I was, at times, the singular and solitary person at the bar. Many tourists came and went, some doing shots, most wearing pastels and loafers, few among them staying to drink seriously. The bartender told me that they'd hoped to find food but the Rongovian's kitchen was yet closed. It was being remodeled by the new owners who had reopened the space but 2 months ago. Things here were still coming together, she said.Note the lack of patrons. There was one woman seated front and center but I think she was a girlfriend.
But the emptiness was only spatial, not sonic. I've never heard any band play with such enthusiasm to such a void. They played for the virtue of music, a trait which I think I could learn from. Now I can't quite say the lyrics appealed to me directly. Most were a generalist dissidence, lingering sentiment from halcyon or hippier times, though the music the surrounded and enveloped them was great. One song was lamenting about bees dying and disappearing. I'm not saying I don't share a concern for this, just that I like my music a little more abstract. I really respect that these folks, local to Ithaca, have their own lifestyle and culture. They came here to get away from the things I've gone into. I admire that.
Take a look with me now at the first photo above. There are six people in this band. One guitar, one bass, one drumset, one backup vocalist, one guy playing Hawaiian-style steel guitar, and one guy playing a gourd with a stick in it. I can't help but be a bit confounded about how these people met and came together as an act. I have the tendency, which I'm trying to shake, for writing musicians off on first sight and before giving honest listens to their work. They all looked a bit silly, a bit old, a bit out of it. I'm used to a certain visual presence of those who profess to be musicians. The gourd with a stick produced great sounds and the operator, since I can't figure out what to call him, worked it well.
At first I thought this guy was one of these academic madmen locals doing the D.I.Y. thing because it was quirky cool, but then the lead singer told the audience that this instrument was put together by the hands of Toumani Diabate, who is just one of the most serious musicians out there. How do these people in Ithaca, in the middle of nothing and country, associate with someone like Toumani Diabate in a way that they'd be given one of his intruments? I am humbled and release my previous assumptions.
In an effort to find out more, and show support for fellow musicians playing what looked like a terribly, terribly, vacant venue, I bought them a round of drinks. The bartender told the band "the gentleman at the bar would like to buy you a round" at which point, in glancing to my right, I realized that I must be a gentleman since nobody else was sitting at the bar. After they got their drinks they ventured over to talk, which was cool and served to satisfy my initial desire for venturing here. I learned that Carl Sagan lived in town and used to hang out at the "Rongo" where he'd have "out of this world" conversations with other brainy locals. I learned that Dr. Moog lived in the area as well. I heard about Toughannock falls and that I had to visit. All the musicians were just a little bit nutty. I was not out of place.
The band's name was The Green Deep, by the way.
I was given a CD, "Dissident Nature" which I've yet to listen to. I was also given two shots of vodka as the night continued, as the lead singer ordered up rounds for the house from the stage. Both shots doubles in themselves.
Earlier in the evening, while I was getting my wi-fi fix and watching the tourist turnstile, I'd told the bartender that this place was otherworldly. I'd said this again after she pointed out how you don't have many bands buying drinks for the patrons.
What a great vibe in Rongovia. Booyakashah and respeck, Ithaca.