25. I’m lookin’ for one thing real tonight

Otter asked me what my favorite Dan Bern song was. I still don’t really know, but for a while I considered One Thing Real to be it. He seemed to play it every time I saw him live the first couple of years. The one time I really remember was the time I worried about him most.

He’d been promised the Music Hall at the Birchmere. This is the same Birchmere that launched Mary Chapin Carpenter among others. The new Birchmere has a large room with a stage and seating for hundreds of people. Birchmere has a policy that if you don’t sell a certain number of tickets before the show day, they don’t put you in the Music Hall. My friend’s boyfriend worked there at the time and told me the bad news.

I worried that Dan would be upset that he’d been denied the Music Hall. I got there early to get a good seat in the Bandstand – Pretty much just an extension of the bar. I didn’t have to worry. There were a handful of people there. I sat front and center. I could put my feet on the stage if I’d dared. (for those of you thinking of ever seeing Dan Bern live – I’d suggest you not sit that close. See, he gets really into his songs and sometimes saliva is involved. If you like that kind of thing, then go for it. Otherwise, sit a couple of rows back).

So anyway, he got on stage and seemed out of it as I’d worried. He’d plugged his guitar in and sang a couple of songs. Then he sang my favorite, One Thing Real.

When he got to this part:

I’m up here singin’ these songs every night
Sometimes I wanna just make ’em all up on the spot
Maybe they wouldn’t rhyme too good, they might not make sense
But then at least I wouldn’t be repeating myself
I’m lookin’ for one thing real tonight

He stopped singing but still strummed his his guitar and he looked at the small audience. Then told us that if we wanted to we could crowd around the stage and he’d sing unplugged – since it was such a small audience. In retrospect, perhaps he was not angry – maybe disappointed, but wanted to give us a good performance as possible. And that meant intimate.

Although I was worried for him at the time and didn’t really like the show, a friend gave me a CD he’d burned from a recording he’d made of the show. All-in-all, it was a good show and the intimacy made it all the better. If he had been on the big stage in the Music Hall it would have been so different.

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