It’s a mid-August Sunday afternoon when K and I go see John Hiatt and The Combo perform at the Mishawaka Amphitheater, Bar and Grill. Show time is 3:00 p.m.
The bar is located fifteen miles away, up the Poudre Canyon. Shards of reflected sunshine flash off the Cache la Poudre River as we drive up the twisting, two-lane highway that winds beside it. Rock walls tower above, streaked with geologic strata, pink weaving into yellow and brown. In the spring the water rushes by, frightening and deadly. This time of year groups float easily along on rented, black rubber inner tubes, sipping from aluminum cans and calling to each other as the occasional kayak weaves between them.
Around a curve, Mishawaka appears on the side of the road. Parking is sparse, and we end up walking about half of a mile. Inside it’s nearly empty – all the action is out back. The venue sports a small amphitheater which backs right up to the river. Stone outcroppings reach up on the other side of the water, hardy greenery and lichens sprouting from cracks and clinging stubbornly to life. The sun beats down. People set up camp chairs, perch on steps, lean against the outdoor bars, talking and drinking and laughing.
We luck out; a friend we didn’t even know would be there has commandeered a table, and there is room for two more. We wrangle a couple more chairs and settle in, local microbrews in hand and a Mish Burger on order.
And I watch and listen and taste, filing away images. The flavor of the hot hamburger mingles with cold ale on the tongue. A hawk hunts among the cliffs. The sound system is unduly harsh as Holly Williams and her guitar open the show. She’s all long blonde hair, skinny legs in shorts and cowboy boots, strong clear voice with nary a warble or breathy syllable. I like her singing, and she’s clearly a babe: If I were too stupid to notice, the expressions on the men’s faces around me would convince me.
Then Hiatt is up. The dancing begins. The people watching is fabulous. The emaciated woman with crepe-paper wrinkles and fire-engine-red hair shuffles and waves her hands in the air, grinning to herself. A little blonde boy walks purposefully through the crowd playing air drums like a pro. Another man is watching him and smiling. I catch his eye, and we exchange a little laugh. An older couple swing dance like professionals. A young mother jumps and shimmies with her two little ones. Another clinging couple sways in a slow rhythm, lust rising off them in waves. An old man has a colorful, yarn-wrapped dreadlock hanging from beneath his straw cowboy hat, so long that it’s attached to the belt loop of his Wranglers so he doesn’t step on it. Another man rocks and turns in a wheelchair next to a beaming brunette. People mouth words to the songs. Children scamper in front of the stage.
Oh, yeah. These people are totally going to show up in one of my books.
I’ve never seen John Hiatt perform indoors. Only at the pier in Seattle, at the St. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, WA, and now by a Colorado river. And the first time I heard his music was by this same river – with K, as it happens, twenty-two years ago. We rode up on his motorcycle and stopped for a picnic before heading further into the mountains.
“Here, listen to this,” he said, and put the Walkman earphones on my head.
So I leaned against him and listened. The graveled tones of Hiatt singing Slow Turning filled my ears as the scent of sage and running water filled my nose. I looked over at K’s blue eyes watching my reaction to the music. He wanted me to like it.
I look over at him now. The same eyes look back. We smile.
Slow turning, indeed.