The morning after our first Atlanta show I found myself in the quaint mountain town of Dahlonega GA, which is only about an hour from downtown Atlanta (six hours with traffic). Home to North Georgia College and State University, the town is best known for having had gold in its river back in the day. Until now.
I walked into “Heartbreaker Vintage & Vinyl” on South Chestatee Street and found this classic Guster Is for Lovers t-shirt on the rack for 8 dollars. This shirt is like, circa 1999 — why it was on the rack at an obscure store in Dahlonega I will never know. And the charismatic store owner, Carl, who used to play in Dread Zeppelin, didn’t know either. But when you go out to Dahlonega to buy the shirt, you will be asked to pose for a picture with Carl, like I did, so that we can post your photo here and make the circle complete. 8 dollars. Maybe pay a visit to the historic diving bell in Hancock Park while you’re there.
Meanwhile, at the Variety Playhouse, light-years-with-traffic away in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, even stranger things were about to go down. Ryan was reading audience tweets live on stage, filtering out the crappy requests, when he decided to take pity on a guy named Kyle Johnson who tweeted that the general admission situation was annoying, and he’d have shown up earlier to get a good seat if he’d know the deal.
Ryan offered the embittered Mr. Johnson a chance to make a request, inviting him to do so from a better vantage point. Kyle Johnson meandered down from the back of the balcony where he was stuck, miles from the stage, and sat next to Ryan. He requested “Rocketship” — and if he’d been paying attention to set lists, he’d have know that’s a nightly staple in the acoustic set, and he could have gotten more for his money by requesting a different song, especially from out in the nether regions of the balcony where you can’t see a damn thing.
Kyle was asked to sit on the piano bench where he’d have a front row seat for the Rocketship performance. He was a nice guy, earnest and humbled to be on stage getting this kind of attention during a show. He mouthed the words of the first verse. All was going well. After the first chorus when the verse chords came back around Ryan said “piano solo!” — it’s an easy gag, the special guest nervously tinkles a few out off key notes on the ivory, and if our sound guy does the right thing and cranks the piano in the house, his incompetent “solo” gets easy laughs.
But that’s when things got weird. Kyle played a perfect chord, then another, and then started jamming on the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. This guy was not only musical, he had been playing piano for 24 years and *ripped it up* on Rocketship. I know everyone in the crowd thought the entire interaction was a set-up, probably because we stage this exact sort of thing a lot. But this one was real. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. This young, raging, tweeting Kyle Johnson guy took all his frustration with the Variety Playhouse’s seating policy out on the piano, going berserk during the outro to Rocketship and walking off stage to a standing ovation. Had we not said “piano solo” he may never have revealed that he was a piano prodigy and happened to be sitting in front of his instrument.
Here is Kyle late night at the Yacht Club, drunk on glory. And beer:
And here is me after we ripped the sleeves off of my hoodie to make it into a sweatshirt-vest. Sober: