Monday, April 11, 2005

“The Samples”

Preparations for my journey seem to be stalling. There is still a lengthy list of tasks, but I had not allowed for possible interference: the RawHyde Adventure Camp (and recovery from that camp), the body's reaction to the Yellow Fever vaccination, the on-going, dragged-out farewells of lay-offs spanning six months, and the occasional requests from “Corporate” in New York (to which I actually try to devote my full attention.)

I learned the term for the malaise I’ve been experiencing: myalgia. And, yes, the literature provided by the Health Department warns of mild adverse reactions, including myalgia, in 2 to 5% of these vaccinations. Today, the aches have subsided, though urination is still painful.

Mondavi’s “Closure Service Group”, Mark, Russ, Lisa and I met the Amorim cork team (Tony, Jack and Daryl) for lunch at Angele restaurant in Napa. Given the upheaval at Mondavi, this was merely a social gathering, a meeting of old friends. Lisa brought a bottle of 1994 Opus One from her collection, a very special wine she knows Tony loves to try whenever he’s in California.

In social settings these days, I feel numb and distracted (perhaps because I am.) As usual, Tony, the young chairman of the world’s largest wine cork manufacturing firm, impressed us with his up-to-the-minute knowledge of the wine industry, including the situation at Mondavi.

This afternoon, I read the article that was the basis for some of Tony’s insights, a Wine Spectator interview with the Sands brothers, leaders of “Constellation Brands”. In the interview, they recount with pride how they were able to manipulate the Mondavi Family, Board of Directors, Senior Leadership and shareholders.

My first impression: “Scumbags”. It is just an empire-building, ego-driven game for the vain heathens. These (virtually without exception) men act in the solemn interest of nameless “shareholders”. (After, of course, modestly providing for their own comfort.)

It is gambling on a grand, and legitimized scale, where the expectation of “something for nothing” is unquestioned. And, in these schemes, the victims are many. Consumers, including those who cannot afford to be “players”, in fact subsidize the game.

Yet most Americans (myself included) join in this capitalist game. We “invest” in stocks, bonds and mutual funds, hoping to profit from our money’s use by others. We entrust others to “grow” our wealth, magically as it were. At Mondavi, we have seen how the charade works. And as we well know, charades are unsustainable.

I’m not really bitter though. It’s just sometimes easier to watch the game from the sidelines.


***

6:30 p.m.

Sitting in my car on a Petaluma side street behind The Mystic Theater. The sounds of music reverberate off buildings as “The Samples” warm up inside for tonight’s concert. Called Jeff to let him hear the Burlington band that has come perform here in Sonoma County.

Jeff said he has 130 miles on his R1200GS now! It was 41 degrees for his ride around the Waterbury, Vermont area today. I had received a few Adventure Camp photos from Jim today, and forwarded them on to Jeff. He seems to genuinely enjoy sharing in the experience.


***

Tonight’s concert was bittersweet. The opening band, whose name I couldn’t even pronounce, was noteworthy only in that between many songs, the four members rotated instruments. Occasionally, even during a song. After the novelty wore off, it became more of an annoyance. But then they were generally annoying; loud, brash, with words obliterated by noise and distortion.

This made The Samples shine even more as a band that is mature, tight, in touch and in tune. I was ashamed by the anemic Sonoma County turnout. At maximum, there were 75 people in the audience, and certainly not all paying-customers. At $15 per ticket, it was a losing proposition. (Who would schedule a concert on a Monday night???)

But The Samples’ lead singer Sean Kelly took it in stride, acknowledging the deficit and setting us at ease with the poor showing. (The thirty feet of floor space between stage and the first row of seats was empty, except for a pair of shoes someone had - symbolically? - thrown out into the open space.) He told everyone to get up and come forward, even insisting, until finally we were all gathered close to the stage. And then The Samples played to us.

Through nearly twenty years of performing, Kelly has grown comfortable in the face of such challenges. He engaged the crowd, inviting two folks to join him on stage, giving each a tambourine to accompany the band. He tossed out bootleg CDs and asked who in the audience was available to take the band sightseeing to Muir Woods tomorrow.

Late in the show, I noticed he was singing to a particular woman, front and center, a big smile on his face. She was holding close the arm of a man (her husband or friend.) Then I noticed her cane. She was blind. Kelly motioned for Dan Blondin to join him at the front of the stage with his acoustic guitar. Together, they knelt down and invited the couple closer so she could explore the guitars with her hands while they played.

It was such a sweet gesture and drew a roar of appreciation from the crowd. The woman seemed to glow. “These guys have class,” I thought.

Learn more about The Samples at: Link

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