More Tomato Bread, Mr. Bird?

Working the Register at Celebrate Brooklyn

This summer I picked up a few shifts serving food and drinks in the VIP tent at Celebrate Brooklyn, the outdoor concert series in Prospect Park. The job seemed like a perfect way to make a few extra bucks and feed my obsession with live music.

According to my year-end credit card statement, I pay more of my income to Ticketmaster than to any other vendor – by a landslide. In 2010, my Ticketmaster purchases were at least 80% higher than the next closest vendor, Pioneer Supermarket, otherwise known as the store between the train and my apartment. My concert expenses last year included The Black Keys, Dirty Projectors, and four of the five My Morning Jacket shows at Terminal 5. Already the bills have started racking up for 2011 with Nicole Atkins, Devotchka, and tUnE-YaRdS shows and a trip to Mountain Jam.

The night of the season opening gala, I wasn’t scheduled to work. So, I waited in line for three hours to watch the classically-trained violinist and majestic whistler, Andrew Bird, who had previously amazed me at both Bonnaroo ’09 and Newport Folk Festival ’10 with his mastery of the loop pedal. The summer seemed like it was off to a good start.

I didn’t quite understand my predicament until the Punch Brothers concert on June 30. I have developed an enormous crush on each of the members of the bluegrass fusion band, due to their facile manipulation of their instruments. During sound check I gleefully stocked napkins and compostable silverware, a task which took me back and forth in front of the stage I crossed enough times, with enough of a fanatical smile on my face to warrant a restraining order from the fiddle player. I was in heaven, that is, until the concert actually started.

Like any well-trained music-lover/concert-goer, the opening riff of “Wayside” at the beginning of the set caused me to throw my hands in the air and run as close to the stage as physically possible. Until I felt someone grab my arm.

“Excuse me,” a woman said, “but if I wanted to order food, would I do that through you?”

This question made me feel similar to how I feel at a concert when a string of girls make their way through an already settled and waiting crowd. I wanted to punch her. Until I remembered, oh my god, she does order food from me, this is my job.

“This uh, this, wait. Maybe I don’t think we’re ready. Oh wait, no, we are. What is this, this uh….white wine. I’ll have that. And these um….these fried green beans, are they good? Or would you choose the Mexican corn?

“Wayside” was gone in the flash of a deep fryer.

And so it goes. I learned my lesson. I sling drinks and affirm customers’ food choices. It’s what I’m paid to do.

On Children’s Day, July 16, I was scheduled to work as a bartender, a position that pulled me even further away from the musical magic, as the bar allows no visibility of the stage. During sound check, ethereal whistles began wafting over the cash register in our tent. The sound was joined by a dynamic fiddle line, and confirmed by the hubbub of the staff, I realized Andrew Bird was back as a special guest.

More Tomato Bread, Mr. Bird?

Doors opened, and a few customers trickled in. I completed a transaction and looked up at my next customer, Andrew Bird. He ordered a beer (which I slung), and a tomato bread salad (which I affirmed), and then sat with a beautiful woman who had a fresh baby strapped to her chest. I watched as he pulled the baby out of its carrier and rested its tiny feet on his legs, and then, smile on his face, commenced making noises adults only make when there’s something very small in the room. He was relaxed. Enjoying his off time, when he’s not subjected to microphones, looping pedals, and obsessive crowds who wait for hours to hear his mini masterpieces. He was enjoying an IPA and the people he loves. Catching his breath before he had to go to work, just like the rest of us.

I had been given the opportunity to glimpse someone I revere in perfect human form, to  see him do boring, stupid things people do simply because it feels damn good. I had been so focused on losing the performances that I had forgotten the real reason music is so extraordinary. We’re obsessed with musicians because we think we connect with them. We hear the stories they tell and we identify. A single song can define a month or even years of your existence that you might have trouble defining for yourself. Which I guess isn’t that unlike having someone help you define whether or not you want fried green beans or Mexican corn with your dinner.

My last Celebrate Brooklyn concert of this summer will be next Wednesday and I have to say, I’m pretty excited for Bon Iver. But I won’t be working, Ticketmaster got that money months ago.

Dana Perry has written for Frontier Psychiastrist about roaches, bikes, and musical seduction. She is now officially unemployed. Anybody hiring?

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