Garage Band

July 2021

It was early evening in Kennebunk and the weather finally broke after two straight days of rain. Patti and I headed out of our rental house, eager to take a walk into town. The air was damp and the sidewalks strewn with gravel washed up from the roadway. At the intersection of Western and Beach Road, cars were backed up for several blocks. Seems everyone had the same idea about getting out after being housebound for days. We continued along the narrow sidewalk running west from the shore to the center of town where the bridge traverses the Kennebunk River. We proudly wore our “Maine” sweatshirts– a buy at the Bangor airport from last year’s visit to camp up north and marking us out as tourists but we didn’t mind, as we were far from the only ones. We held hands, as the sunlight faded, keeping our heads down with eyes on the uneven sidewalk pavement. The large droplets hitting us from the tree branches above finally forced us to use our hoods and it was then that I realized I hadn’t put in my hearing aid. Without it my one-way conversations with Patti quickly wear thin. I felt around in my pocket and to my great relief found it. As I pushed the tiny apparatus into my ear a range of ambient sounds seemed to fill the air including, faintly, something musical, like a wind instrument. I thought of my old clarinet. The one from my youth that my grandson decided to take apart and then reassemble, minus the mouthpiece. Someday I will find a repair shop for it. There were only a few pieces in my repertoire anyway since I could never remember all the finger positions. Moon River was my favorite, and I can still play it in my head. As I walked and mulled over the fate of my clarinet, the music grew louder and more distinctive. At last we spied the unlikely source: the Sunoco gas station at Cooper’s Corner.

The garage bay door of the station was wide open and inside, illuminated with bright, fluorescent lighting, was a live band with a half dozen musicians—a group of older fellows– on horns, clarinet, banjo, fiddle, guitar, and drums, playing a fabulous jazzy number to the great delight of the crowd gathered outside. The stage back drop was a raised car lift. In front, the musicians were in a semi-circle, some standing, some seated on wooden folding chairs. Somehow the acoustics worked, as the music carried out of the garage to the tarmac with the gas pumps and the appreciative audience – a mix of young and old, tourist and local. Patti and I worked our way in closer for a better position. A garage band in Kennebunk gives whole new meaning to the term. These were no kids goofing around with some instruments in their parents’ two-car garage, but accomplished musicians who performed together with the ease of having known each other for a long time. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and played for an hour, after which the crowd mingled with the players and shared bottles of local beer out of an ice-filled washbasin. I found out they go by the name Johnny and the Sunocos and that Johnny, a founding member of the band, was a mechanic there for many years. Now he and his band give weekly concerts there during the summer.

I reminded Patti that only last weekend Tanglewood had reopened for its first concert post Covid. This may not be Tanglewood, but it was a match for it in terms of the effect that only live music played well can have on the listener. An evening concert, in the heavy night air pungent with oil and beer and the ocean nearby, and the warmth and energy of everyone there combined to make its own kind of magic that is Johnny and the Sunocos. I will be back next week for another concert. If the weather’s clear, we’ll bring chairs and a bottle of wine and find our place on the tarmac.

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