Illegal Fun under the (Uncooperative) Sun:
San Diego Danfest 2002

Friday, April 12 -- This is my first time traveling by air since 9/11, so I arrive at Sea-Tac Airport with a certain trepidation. After all, my Seattle compatriot Pat "StAl" Beemer had just regaled us all via the Net with horror stories of waiting in line with his family at this same airport for over three hours, only to miss his flight. My anxieties are amplified by my little bundle of carry-on joy, for this is also my first time traveling with the little reverse-vacuum-cleaner like machine I now have to use every night to stave off the rigors of sleep apnea. I have visions of running afoul of an overstressed security guard, demanding to know the purpose of this strange little electronic gizmo in my bag--y'know, the one with all that tubing and that sinister-looking gas mask attachment. "Oh yes, that's just my little personal bioterrorism device, heh heh heh just joking HEY WATCH WHERE YOU'RE STICKING THAT UZI, CAN'T YOU GUYS TAKE A LITTLE JOKE?"

But my fears, as usual, melt away into anti-climax as the bored security guards wave me through without so much as a scanner-wand zap. Now arrived hideously early at my departure gate, I settle in with my book for a loooooong wait.

Eventually we board, fly, and deplane without incident, and I find myself in what turns out, this weekend, to be not-so-sunny San Diego. But the scarcity of sun doesn't bother me too much. For one thing, after over a decade of residence in Seattle I've gotten quite used to living without the light of that flaming UFO in the sky. For another, the main event for which I am here is definitely a nocturnal pursuit. (Music cue: "I rise when the sun goes down ...")

Archetypal Southern California Beach Culture

My lodging for the weekend is close to tonight's scene of the art-crime, San Diego's swinging Mission Beach/Pacific Beach community. This area is everything I've come to associate with archetypal Southern California beach culture--block after block of seaside condos, cottages, motels, rooming-houses both grand and modest; cafes, bars, t-shirt shops, head shops, bike-rental concessions; an amusement park complete with wooden rollercoaster full of squealing passengers; and, along the beach-front boardwalk, a constant stream of humanity walking, jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading, climbing out of vans with surfboards and wetsuits, and just generally hanging out and watching the rest of the parade roll or stroll by.

Oh, and there are palm trees. Lots of 'em. As a confirmed Northern Girl, I continue to have the gravest difficulty taking palm trees seriously as "trees." To me, they'll just never be anything except bizarre props out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. But I have to admit they suit this place just fine.

I roll on through in my rental car, check into my motel and freshen up, and make contact with StAl, the instigator of this event. He is staying with a bevy of other out-of-town attendees at a far swankier location, a high-rise hotel somewhere in the outer reaches of La Jolla. After a little seat-of-pants navigation, I find the joint. There, over the next few hours, I hook up with StAl and his lovely wife Jamie, StAl's pal Kent and wife Karen, longtime Danfan Oleander, LA Danfan Angel and husband Mitch, local Danfan deluxe Ed Beatty and wife Terry, and our last-minute arrival the unstoppable Danfan Hat2Flat, who decided to quit fighting temptation and fly in from Texas to join us.

After various drinks, laughs, runnings to and fro to deposit offspring with babysitters, and another bit of driving during which the seat of my pants does not operate anywhere near as well as formerly (thanks again, Oleander, for your patience with my whack navigation), we variously arrive back at Mission Beach and the evening's performance venue.

The Catamaran Hotel is, as I said, smack dab in the middle of the beach action, a rambling resort-hotel complex complete with busy nightclub and assorted other function rooms. Dan tribute band extraordinaire The Steely Damned, due to circumstances too convoluted to recap here, are performing this evening not in their usual venue in the main showroom but in a function room one floor up. This is only one instance of a number of logistical hoops that The Damned had to jump through in order to get this particular show to happen--I can only imagine that getting fifteen very busy musicians with multiple other gigs together in one place on one pre-set date has got to be like herding a pack of unneutered tomcats, and my hat is off to frontman Bob "Lovebob" Tedde and the lovely and charming Peggy Totzke for making this happen in spite of everything.

Immediately upon entry, I run into the ebullient Steve "Steveedan" Chernove, down from LA, who is handing out CDs of his latest venture into Dan tribute bands, to be titled "Pretzel Logic." He's especially stoked because he's to be sitting in with the Damned on keyboards for their first set, covering for the regular keyboardist who will be arriving later after an early-evening gig (remember what I said about logistical hoops?) I wish him luck, and head down front to claim a seat close to the bandstand.

Barefoot Boy with Shoes of Dan?

The opening set is by Lovebob's other band, the 60s classic-rock tribute act Rockola, playing their Beatles B-Sides set. This evening they have eschewed their full Fab Four/Carnaby Street regalia for a doubtless more comfortable late-60s Beatle-hippy look, with Lovebob running about the stage in bare feet a la Paul on the Abbey Road album cover. All four band members are also sporting various stages of facial-hair growth, which, Bob informs us, is in anticipation of a big gig Rockola is doing on June 1st -- in honor of the 35th anniversary of the release of "Sgt Pepper," they're going to play the whole album in concert complete with, as Lovebob puts it on the Rockola website, "a small army of Orchestral and Indian musicians." (You can check out the details of this splendiferous gig on that website, http://www.rockola.com; I'll tell you right now I am sorely tempted to fly down to SD again just to catch this show.)

I also notice there is a certain occasional frenzied search for patch cords and other bits of errant sound equipment--seems another one of tonight's logistical hoops is that Rockola has a gig the very next day in Tucson, and major hunks of their equipment (most likely including those Austin Powers-suits and wigs) are currently on a truck speeding eastward through the Cali desert night. Still, they manage to get everything plugged in sufficiently well to give up a rousing set of Beatles deep cuts, and I sit back in anticipation of a full evening of such entertainment.

After a break to rearrange equipment, the Steely Damned take the stage for their first set. There are not one but two subs--guitarist extraordinaire Hank Easton is also delayed by an early-evening gig, and so sitting in for him is another excellent guitarist. The band is in fine form despite these randomizations. Lovebob especially seems to be inspired both musically and humor-wise, climbing on chairs and cracking jokes about his attire--"I actually have pants that match this suitcoat, but they're on the truck heading to Tucson with all the rest of our gear"--Eventually he sheds the suitcoat and, once again, shoes, so that when he reaches the appropriate point in the lyrics of "Pretzel Logic" he finds himself singing "Where are your goddamn shoes?"

While the sub guitarist does a terrific job on extremely short notice, there is no denying that things kick up several notches when Hank Easton plugs in for the second set. Ed Beatty and I trade high-fives and crys of "Hank Easton in da howse!" as the man begins to kick serious ass with that big beautiful Gibson 335-clone of his (I am told it is actually a very very good copy made by Ibanez). A goodly section of the crowd is up and dancing by this point, as the Damned reel off hit after hit in fine form. A highlight for me is when they tackle the title track of "Two Against Nature," making it through this challenging tune with great style, not to mention a terrific sax solo. In fact, I have to cite the Damned's horn section as the evening's unexpected delight--ironically this is, I think, the first time I'd heard them, as when the Damned played New York last year for the Hall of Fame gig they did not have their regular horn section with them (though with subs like "Blue Lou" Marini they were definitely well-supported for that show).

Suddenly I look up and it's gotten to be past 2 am. Once again, Lovebob and his outfits have put on a marathon show, piling on the music since 9:30pm with only those two short breaks. I hang out after the show to congratulate the performers on yet another job well done, to pose with all the Danfesters for the requisite Commemorative photographs, and to tell Lovebob once again that he's a freakin' genius.

I toddle home to my crash-pad away from home once again, happily sated, convinced once more that Danfans are the most wonderful crazies on earth, and hardly minding that the weather's gonna suck for the rest of the weekend. After all, I got enough sunshine this evening to last me for a good long while ... oh, at least until the next opportunity for a hit of Dan presents itself. Thanks again to everyone who made this event possible ... including, once again, the guys responsible for starting all this madness in the first place, our beloved Don 'n' Walt. Rock on, dudes and dudettes.