Updated February 10, 2023
Mozart and Poison Ivy, in a trio band gig
by Ryan Thomson
In the early 1980s I played in several groups. One was a trio consisting of myself and another person on violin/fiddle and the third member was a guitarist and song writer. We performed a mix of Beatles, Dylan, and original songs and instrumental music as a "folk trio."
We performed mostly at clubs and private functions. We also worked through music entertainment agencies. One day I got a call from a local entertainment agency asking for our availability for a particular date. He mentioned that a client was looking for a small group such as ours to entertain at a private party.
We were open for the date so all arrangements were made. From the supplied directions we made our way to a fancy ocean front house in southern Maine. When we arrived there were lots of expensive automobiles present and a number of people milling about on outside porches and decks. Entering the house, we were greeted by a lady in Elizabethan clothing who showed us where to place our instrument cases.
While looking around we noticed that there were lots of men but no other females in sight. We tried to strike up some conversations but the attendees seemed a bit wary of us. We're pretty sociable types though, so we eventually found a talkative person who inquired as to our names. He then asked us which quartets we would be playing and whether we would do any Mozart. He asked if the fourth member of our quartet had arrived yet. We looked at each other in alarm, mumbled that we were only a trio, and excused ourselves to go and "tune up our instruments."
We made our way outside to a point of land that stuck out into the ocean. It was a beautiful summer day and the waves were crashing into some large rocks at the water line. In order to get to these rocks we had to cross through an area of heavy shrubbery, and I noticed that the plants mostly consisted of dense poison ivy.
We avoided the poison ivy with some difficulty, and sat down on the rocks, took out our instruments, and started discussing a strategy to get through the gig. Our violinist member didn't have any written music so classical music was out. While we were talking we were approached by a man who asked us what type of music we played. We described our folk tunes and songs and mentioned that we did several Beatles songs. The man said, " The Beatles, yes, I've heard of them."
He headed back to the house, presumably to warn the other guests.
Getting back to the house, we took out our instruments and began playing. We were regarded oddly at first, but as the evening wore on, the crowd warmed up to us and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Things were going very smoothly and the all male party goers were having a good time. As the end of our performance approached we were asked if we could play longer for extra pay. We agreed readily.
A little later on we noticed a large truck approaching the house. Several men in black leather jackets with decorative chains jumped out and began unloading boxes from the truck. We were told that they had brought fireworks and were going to do a complete fireworks show for the party goers. It was dark outside and they began heading for the point of land with the rocks near the ocean. As the first two men started crashing through the bushes with their equipment I felt obligated to rush outside to warn them of the poison ivy.
They pointedly ignored me. I repeated the warning to deaf ears, and then returned to the house to play my violin. The fireworks show was great, and was a fitting touch to a fine evening. The men in the black leather jackets loaded up their equipment and forced their way back through the dense poison ivy to load things back into their truck. I'll always wonder what went through their minds a couple of days later when massive exposure to poison ivy began making its effects known. I also wonder what went through the mind of the entertainment agent as he was booking a folk trio as a string quartet!
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996
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