The best response to Intercom Man is a simple name and "I've come to hear the music." Or, maybe, "I've come to play bumper pool!" Both have worked in the past honestly, we've never been denied. "Trick or treat!" or "Fidelio!" would probably work just as well.
But every time the approval buzzer rings, you'll feel special, as though you're entering a speakeasy or a Long Island orgy. "I like that flavor of it," says barkeep (and host of the wonderful Fishin' with Dynamite show on KDHX-FM) Fred Friction, whose father, Fred Boettcher, owns the place. "It's a nice touch. It used to be a private club years ago, and since we still have the intercom and the door lock, we've just kept it. It helps avoid a lot of problems it does scare people some people are just speechless."
The moment you enter, though, you know you're not at a sexfest (though the bumper pool is a close approximation) more like the candy-colored-clown moment from Blue Velvet. You walk in, you're immediately on display and a lot of these people look, well, kinda seedy they're musicians, after all. Everyone facing the stage is facing you, too (the front door's right above the stage). If you're a regular, a round of applause or a smattering of catcalls will interrupt the music, and you'll feel very, very special. And you are special, because you're waltzing into the nicest hootenanny Friction calls it the "Noiseday Night Hootenanny" in the city.
If nobody knows who you are, though, there will be no applause, and you won't feel special. But you're probably used to that by now.
Besides being among the great words of the English language, a hootenanny, for those unversed in hick slang, is an old-time open mic, an invitation for a loose confederacy of musicians to perform together: It's a pickup game for musicians. When a hootenanny is successful, as the one at Frederick's is, the spare parts the wandering, drunken drummers, pianists, guitarists and bassists combine to create a working engine, and the musicians click. Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken" will start with a singer/guitarist up onstage alone and forsaken, but by the time the song rolls around to "Forsaken, forgotten, without any love," a drummer, bassist, fiddler and pianist will be pumpin' said love.
Such looseness is best illustrated by Friction when he's asked about Noiseday Night's origins: "It's been going on boy, I'd like to say a couple months, but it may have been longer. If I look in my book, maybe I can find out here. Uhh ... yeah ... sure ... a few months."
On any given night, some of the most talented and/or drunken musicians in the area will step up to the mic, and it's up to moderator/emcee Bob Camp, a singer/songwriter who drives up from Cape Girardeau every week, to keep the egos in line and the three- to four-song-maximum rule enforced.
"Some nights Robin Allen from the Civil Tones may show up," Friction says. "A guy from Swing Set might be stopping by; Mark Stephens and Hunter Blumfeld (who, along with Friction, are the Highway Matrons) it's a good time to see Hunter do solo stuff once in a while and see him in a different light, which has been a highlight. Bob Reuter, Helen Gould she was a member of the Lazy Drunken Bastards, a punk outfit that also did strange covers. Mort Hill from Diamond Stud."
The carpeted room is nothing fancy, and it needn't be. The chairs are sit-in-able, the tables hold your bottle of Bud quite well and the back-wall bar is lined with stools, also for sitting. Once you are in the choice position for drinking there is little dancing during the festivities and listening, the loose, relaxed, noncompetitive atmosphere glows. The scraggly players rely mainly on others' songs: A version of the King's "That's All Right," sung by Mort Hill, is curiously subtle and strange. Bob Camp's rendition of the Stones' "Dead Flowers" is fantastic in its mere presence, though the sheer genius of the Stones version has rendered all other versions (except maybe the Beasts of Bourbon's) pale. Stephens, of the Matrons, has even tossed off a fantastic version of Junior Murvin's reggae classic "Police and Thieves," with Reuter singing falsetto "oh yeahs."
"No big rules," adds Friction. "We welcome everybody to get in and play along if they think they know it, or if they can watch and pick it up. It's a good place for somebody to get some stage time if they haven't played out live yet. And the other performers welcome that. It gets kind of cramped once in a while, but we haven't had many problems."
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