Discovering Newport, Rhode Island in late August was a 180 degree change from my Rocky Mountain backyard. A friend’s wedding invitation, via evite, promised warm breezes and a “booze cruise” and the Jimmy Buffet soundtrack playing in the background as I scrolled through the list of events swept me up into the realm of possibility both on –and off –shore.
Arriving two days early and staying two days late seemed the way to go about it; best to prolong my stay in the land of Dark and Stormies, that rugged Rhode Island cocktail named for the hazardous seas and the hearty sailors moving across them.
I take to the streets on a solo mission, hoping to see what transpires, what I might get up to, who might enter my orbit. I wander through the afternoon light down toward the water, a restaurant, raw bar and bar bar called The Landing, right on the water. There’s an assortment of vessels with endearing female references: Bella Maria, My Sweet Siren, Anna Katrina, all bobbing nearby.
A decent band plays palatable cover tunes and I order my first of the weekend’s umpteen Dark and Stormies, aka Gosling’s Dark Rum and Ginger Beer. The bride-to-be introduced me to a pitcher full of these one warm Colorado afternoon, and both she and the drink have become two of my favorite things. She recommended The Landing but warned me that its nickname, The Landfill, was wholly deserved. It’d been the ultimate Meat Market during her college years and so, be prepared, she warned, for a bevy of raised eyebrows and many dark and stormy overtures.
“Where you from?” I hear a husky, masculine voice call out in my direction. I turn to the bar, where five men are hovering and see a nice-looking man, at least 10 years my senior, making room for me to perch near the condiment station. I smile and say, “Colorado”, knowing this will sound random and rather exotic in this part of the world. Not so much; he’s skied in Vail, he’s been to my current hometown, Aspen, and he likes my rugged, callused rock climbing hands.
We chat about this and that, and the reason for he and his crew visiting Newport on this Thursday evening. They’re in from Boston, they’re seamen and in fact, they’re heading out on their yacht this evening. She’s called the Aurora, and it’s time for a cruise around the harbor. Would I care to join? The boat – yacht – is available for charters, as well, but tonight, all friends and family aboard.
I laugh and chew on it for a bit; I decide to sip a bit more of my drink and size up the situation before responding either way. First night in town, yacht ride on the docket, right off the dock and onto the deck – seems to be the stuff of a charmed long weekend. Two of the men’s girlfriends wander over, getting ready for the yacht tour, and seem happy to see another woman; they’re hoping we can break up the old boy’s club, for a change. All aboard.
The sun sinks lower but the air stays the same temperature; no need for even a shawl tonight. I turn my face towards that never-ending horizon and hear the deep red sails begin to unfurl. The crew has shed some layers as they get to work; namely, their shoes. I notice one of the men’s ankles. His cream-colored, light-weight pants are rolled up just above the heel, and his flat feet walk across the deck. He climbs up a bit higher to manage the ropes and maneuver the rig. The captain calls out the sequence of commands and I watch as his feet move in accordance. He’s moving with the rhythm of the ocean, becoming an indispensable part of the vessel that moves across it. It’s sensual, seeing only his toes and those rolled up pant cuffs, with yellow-to-orange-to-deep-pink hues splashing across the sky.
A pause in the conversation allows me to grow silent and lose myself in my thoughts. I watch the world unfold, as the red sails unfurl around me.
I good-naturedly lament walking the gangplank back to shore; the tour has ended too soon for my liking. and after thanking the crew for the unexpected treat, my new friends and I make our way to the Newport Blues Café. It’s a Three, Free Band night and I’m encouraged by the MySpace diddies I’ve heard from Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, this evening’s opening act. They look the part of a band you want to stick around for: the stand-up bass player dons a fedora and that thick, floppy hair that makes me swoon ; the lead singer has a casually coiffed, spiked hairdo and tattoos poking out of either shirt sleeve and for some reason, perhaps a trick of the light, he seems to be singing only to me. Rockabilly meets a little bit of folk, Stray Cats joins Johnny Cash, whiskey-drinking music for the thirsty in the audience. Bud drinkers are welcome, too.
Band Number 2 is loud. The Skinny Millionaires, they’re called, and they’re too loud for conversation or for really hearing what they’re attempting to convey. All bands have an emotional platform, a mood they’re projecting into the audience, but their agenda is lost amidst the cacophony of distracting vibrations.
I’m a chronic live music listener. Live music is the mainstay of my travels, the one thing I consistently seek out, after dark, and while I enjoy the raucous sound of good, solid rock and roll, I know when a band’s too loud. The Skinny Millionaires must pride themselves on blown speakers. They’re local heroes, however, posters up all over town, mug shots plastered all over the surf shops and their CD can be yours, for just $10. I consider buying one and turning it as low as it’ll go, to see if they sound any more pleasing to the inner ear.
Band Number 3, the Wandas, have a lot going on. Part Wilco, part The Killers and bordering on being really good, both the decibel and the theme engage my senses. Yet I’m not swept away. I try and figure out why. They’re hovering around the right sound and I stay to the very last encore, but I’m not compelled to buy a CD and take it home.
Tonight, it’s just about the experience.
Last call in Newport, Rhode Island is 1 a.m. Bummer. I chug my Budweiser, thinking, shouldn’t the King of Beers be savored? I feel invigorated and alive and wide awake, ready for where the night might still lead. I’ve gone from endless sunset to New Moon morning and I wonder if I’ve soaked up sufficient goodness for the moment. Maybe I’ll resume again tomorrow,when the sun rises on another endless horizon.