Thursday, March 02, 2006

Van at the Rancho - Part 1, Getting In

Van Morrison is an artist. For more than 40 years, since the seminal “Gloria,” recorded with the British band Them, he’s been engaged in the process of trying to share the human experience with us by tapping something mysterious inside himself that comes out in the form of amazing, soulful music. (But then, I’m a fan.) Along the way, he’s become an icon, inspiring musicians and songwriters from Bruce Springsteen to Patti Smith to U2. (Bruce Springsteen once said “How come it seems that every year Van Morrison comes out with a record and every year it’s great and every year nobody notices?”) Van is about to release his 35th album, “Pay The Devil,” and embarking on a six-city mini-tour in support of it. The tour is playing mostly large auditoria, including the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman. The choice of the Ryman is fitting, since the new record is a collection of country and western songs.

However, Van chose to open the tour at Rancho Nicasio, a venue that seats just 200 people. Barely. It’s primarily a restaurant, with music on the weekends. The town of Nicasio is a tiny village in the middle of agricultural lands. It’s surrounded by dairies and horse farms. This is the church.And this…
…is the dense part of town. The Rancho Nicasio archly claims the mantle of "Best Restaurant in Town."

For some reason, Van decided Rancho Nicasio was where he wanted to begin this tour. In fact, it wasn’t really the beginning of the tour. It was more the final dress rehearsal for the tour. And I got to be there.

I learned about the show a month ago when I received an e-mail from Lost Highway Records, the label for the new record. When I saw that the tour was scheduled to start at the Rancho Nicasio (just 10 minutes over the hill from my house), I immediately picked up the phone and called them. The woman who answered the phone knew nothing about the show, but told me to call back after 11 and ask for Max. I did. The same woman answered and went to fetch Max. But after 2-3 minutes, she came back on the phone and said “We have no information about that.” It sounded exactly like the sort of thing characters say in movies when they are covering something up. So I channeled my inner Woodstein and tracked down an executive of Lost Highway Records, who told me “Oh yeah, it’s real important to Van for some reason. It’s happening.”

So, I called back the Rancho. This time they came clean. Van was indeed scheduled to play, but the contracts hadn’t been completed and no tickets could be sold until they had. But I was welcome to call every day and check the status. After a few days of that, they changed their minds and decided I should check the website instead. Which I did. But the date was never announced on the web.

This past Sunday, I decided to call the Rancho again. This time I was told the show was sold out. As it turns out, they never put it up on their web site. Max told me the record company took half the seats (though the record exec told me specifically a month earlier that this was the only show on the tour for which they had NOT held a block of seats. I doubt Max was lying, so the label must have changed its mind), and the other half went to people on the Rancho Nicasio e-mail list and local friends and insiders. I was disappointed, but sort of resigned; I’d always sort of suspected it was too good to be true, that only insiders would have access to such a show. However, Max said he’d take my number and call if something came up.

The day before yesterday, the phone rang and Max told me he had room for me. I jumped.

NEXT: The Show

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