The Storm That Silenced the Band

UNPLUGGED: From left, John, Neil, Bob, and Dan

Today’s topic is the bizarre Halloween blizzard of 2011, and how it shattered not only countless thousands of tree limbs across our region, but also the rock-n-roll fantasies of four middle-aged guys.

I am not quite sure where to start. I suppose with the fact that on Friday evening, October 28, it began snowing on our home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and by the time we awoke the next morning, the scene outside was a perfect winter landscape. If it weren’t for the fact that it was not yet Halloween, it would have really been quite lovely. The snow was heavy, the tree branches still loaded with leaves. Pretty soon limbs began to snap and branches to fall. At a little before 11 a.m. on Saturday, our lights flickered once, twice, three times, and then went out for good. As it turns out, we were among hundreds of thousands across the Northeast left powerless by the storm.

At this point, I need to back up and tell you about a pastime of mine I have not mentioned here before but is relevant to this tale. For most of the 1990s, I played bass in a newsroom rock band in South Florida, where I was working. The members came from the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. We were all reporters by day, wanna-be rockers by night. We called ourselves The DropHeds, a reference to an arcane headline term, and we were strictly amateur (and I the most amateur of all). But we had tons of fun, and actually got paying gigs at festivals and clubs around South Florida. Free beer to boot. Over the years, we bonded like brothers, and when I left South Florida in 1999, the goodbyes were not easy. I packed away my Rickenbacker bass, muttered, “Time to grow up,” and put it behind me.

Over the ensuing 12 years, my fellow DropHeds and I sent occasional emails suggesting a reunion, but nothing ever came of it. Until this fall. We set our band reunion for…yes, you surely have guessed it by now… Halloween weekend. The plan was to arrive Friday night, spend Saturday and Sunday dusting off our old set list, and some new songs as well, and then play for a small party of friends Sunday night. Beer and barbecue out in the barn, Halloween decorations, a bonfire…you get the picture. It was gonna be perfect. Guy bonding nirvana. Leading up to the big weekend, we all practiced our parts individually (Thanks, youtube!) to shake off some of the rust.

By plane and auto, the DropHeds arrived on Friday night: Dan (rhythm guitar/vocals) from Washington, D.C., Neil (lead guitar) from Delray Beach Fla., and Bob (drums) from Norfolk, Va. We plugged in our amps, tuned up, and rattled the house for four hours before calling it a night. The next morning, we were just getting ready to jump back into it, when — poof! — out went the lights. And the water. And the toilets and heat. Eternal optimists (or was it denial?), we were convinced the power would be back on in minutes. We waited, and waited some more. We waited for the next three days, sitting in front of the fire, catching up, laughing (to keep from crying) at our ridiculous bad timing. We flushed toilets with water hauled up from the stream, cooked by flashlight, and slept in wool hats and sweatshirts. What began as a band reunion morphed into a sort of bizzaro Outward Bound adventure.

Of course, there were many jokes about how, yes, there really is a god of rock-n-roll, and he simply could not sit back and allow us to once again plug in and blaspheme his sacred sound.  Must stop them at all costs! A Halloween blizzard and massive power outage! That should work! We never did get to play again (though we amused ourselves with acoustic jams and singalongs), and on Monday morning everyone said goodbye and went their own way. We were all trying to put the best face on what, quite frankly, was a really shitty turn of events. All of us agreed the silver lining of the Great Power Outage of 2011 was the unexpected opportunity to talk at length and really get reacquainted. Had we had juice, we would have been simply uttering monosyllabic grunts over high-decibel E chords. But yeah, say what we might about the power of quality conversation, the truth was we just wanted to play Wild Night.

The power finally came on again last Wednesday night after five days in the dark and cold. Who knew something so basic as running water could bring such delirious joy? I told the band we have to do it again sometime — hopefully before another 12 years sneak by — and next time you can bet I will have a generator backup. Possibly two or three.

An acoustic jam by camp lantern on Day 2 of the outage

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One Response to “The Storm That Silenced the Band”

  1. Deborah Bitzer says:

    Yes, we do have to stand back when storms hit, when I lived in West Bloomfield near Pine Lake John the storms that would ensue off the lake would just rush in suddenly with a blackened sky and everyone would go tearing off the beach back home. One year trees with complete roots were hung upside down as if strangled by a nearby giant stalking the area. I was taking my kids to a ball game one day when upon looking down the street a funnel cloud loomed out of a green pink sky. I don’t know if you recall the storms of Orchard Lake and West Bloomfield but I do, or the story of the prom couple from West Bloomfieled high whos car was picked up literally in the air and toppled by a tornado- it was 1979 in one of those sweaty, hazy days and I was right at that corner of Orchard Lake and Maple road when it happened. I myself got out of the car and went into the Big Boy there and everyone was under a table in the restaurant-lest we all forget the power of a storm-Deborah Templeton Bitzer (your neighbour) from Orchard Lake Michigan

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