The kids sit in the boughs of a magnificent old apple tree about 50 feet away. They climb, play, and watch me perform songs at a backyard morning gig at Marty’s Mercantile in West Shokan. Sometimes they sing along, or jump down to dance in a chalk circle.
Families visit, socially distanced, even dance a little, socially distanced, masked. The weather is perfect. Warm, sunny, not too hot. Sarah Lynch, Marty’s wife, has dubbed it the Sunshine Club. She sits at the base of the apple tree, keeping watch over the proceedings as well as over her kids, who clamber in and out of the branches with friends.
The air smells of fresh brewed coffee, newly cut grass, the griddle within, and lush late-summer soil. A hundred shades of green above our heads and under our feet. A hawk flies overhead, roosts in a maple, takes in a song.
I watch the children watch me and wonder if I’ve ever performed for people in trees. Probably. I have performed in a tree myself. In the late Eighties, the band in which I played bass, the Fleshtones, led a sellout crowd from the Elysee Montmartre into the Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris. Band and crowd chanted the refrain to a song, again and again, amid honking horns and confused pedestrians. I climbed with my bass into a tree in the median as hundreds gathered below, hollering, singing, chanting in French-accented rock’n’roll English. An unforgettable night was actually just beginning. I was 22.
The memory flashes like heat lightning on the sky, and I am back on this side of the time tunnel, standing on the plywood stage, West Shokan, late summer 2020. Roughly 3700 miles from Paris, distance-wise. Kids in a tree, watching me. Where will these youngsters travel in the years ahead, in the Time After? Paris, Boulevard de Rochechouart? Elysee Montmartre, I’m glad to say, is still there, with concerts booked for September. (No Americans allowed at present, however.)
I wonder whether that tree still stands. It was not that old then. And it would have taken much more than a 160-pound bass player to inflict serious harm to it.
The apple tree in Marty and Sarah’s backyard is an excellent climbing tree, an impressive height of around 30 feet, its low boughs stretching out quite far, offering shade in which quite a few eagerly sit at the Sunshine Club. Several trunks rise from one root system, branching outwards like the fingers of a hand poised to either hold or catch something – a child perhaps. Apples are currently beginning their ripening cycle, blushing red.
The tree in Paris – I don’t recall the species – had not been so inviting, its lowest boughs about ten feet up. But I was young, a little crazy, and adrenalized, so I’d shimmied on up with an electric bass dangling behind me. I was not a caregiver then, just a kid doing my job.
Now my job is different, but similarities shine through: I make music, and the trees do their part to help me out.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.