Stars, Stripes, and Shenanigans
5 Jul 2011
Inside the Classics

It’s been an intensive weekend of patriotic-themed concerts (all conducted by the distinctly British Courtney Lewis, who played his accent for laughs more than once during the week,) and tonight, we wrapped things up before a crowd of thousands on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Of course, I had a bit of business to attend to before heading for Excelsior – seven of you responded to last week’s post advertising the chance to listen in to tonight’s performance of The Stars and Stripes Forever via phone, and this morning, a winner was quietly selected on my front porch.

The requisite tools were hastily assembled.

The contestants were properly positioned.

The drawing was rigorously overseen by a certified orange tabby.

And we have a winner!

So congratulations to Molly from (judging by her area code) Vermont, who got the call late this evening, and (hopefully) thrilled to the tinny, distorted Verizon-esque version of a symphony orchestra in full cry. And just because a shenanigan isn’t really a shenanigan unless it’s well-documented, here’s some video of the deed actually being done. (You’ll notice me frantically poking at the phone around the 25-second mark, because the first call attempt got dropped. Either Molly or her voicemail definitely picked up on the second try, thankfully.)

Truth be told, however, the end of the concert was only the beginning of one of the longest nights in recent Minnesota Orchestra memory. You see, Excelsior is a pretty small town with only one major road leading in and out, but its July 4 festivities are the stuff of local legend, so every Independence Day, the streets are choked with people, cars, boats, and the two giant buses carrying our orchestra to the concert site. As you might imagine, the top priority for our staff is to get us off the stage, onto the buses, and safely back on the road to downtown Minneapolis the moment our performance is over (around 9:45pm,) lest we get caught up in the truly insane gridlock that will descend once the fireworks are over.

Most years, this goes pretty smoothly. But this year, we knew we were in big trouble within five minutes of getting back on the buses. The first thing that happened is that we headed up the street the buses had been parked on, and were immediately confronted by a line of traffic headed the opposite direction that looked as if it stretched to eternity. With cars parked nose-to-tail on both sides of the narrow street, there was no chance of two-way traffic advancing in either direction, so the local cops told our bus drivers that they would clear the car traffic behind us, and then have the buses back up and turn onto another narrow side street.

I was on the trailing bus, so we were the first to attempt this complicated maneuver, and our driver (who retained a staggering degree of good humor throughout this ordeal) was almost immediately stymied by two giant vans which had been parked illegally close to the corners of the street we needed to turn onto (one of them was also right next to a fire hydrant.) After more than 15 minutes of valiant effort, it was scientifically determined that there was no fracking way the bus could make the turn. At this point, the fireworks display that follows our concert had been underway for a good five minutes.

The next plan proposed by the police was for them to have us back up two full blocks and try an entirely different route, but this was made impossible by the now impenetrable wall of cars that had built up behind us. Meanwhile, the fireworks had kicked into high gear, signalling that the end was near, and those of us in Bus #2 started a betting pool as to what time we might make it back to Orchestra Hall. (For the record, it’s a 19-mile trip.) It was 10:40 at the time, and I bet on midnight. I would not win.

Inevitably, the snap-crackle-pop display came to a glorious conclusion, and our bus was suddenly surrounded by thousands of people streaming to their cars, many of which were parked alongside us. The lead bus had managed to move a few dozen feet and was now almost out of our view, but the flood of new traffic almost immediately solidified the semi-permanence of our situation. Over the next half-hour, we would move five feet, and percussionist Jason Arkis would learn, after much phone-based research, that the local Domino’s would have loved to deliver us a pizza, only their delivery system was based on cars, and they feared they’d never make it the four blocks to our bus.

It was around this time that fellow violists Megan Tam, David Auerbach and I decided that we had had enough of sitting on a stationary bus, and decided to go in search of some liquid refreshment, confident that there was no way the bus would make it even to the next block before we returned. As it turned out, we didn’t have to go far – almost as soon as we crossed the street, a large family gathered on their front lawn to watch the parade of futility saw our white coats and began applauding and thanking us for the concert. We walked over and thanked them for listening, and then awkwardly broached the subject of whether or not they might have any excess beer they’d be willing to sell us to improve our commute.

This being Minnesota, they not only had beer, but they categorically refused to accept a single dollar in exchange for the cold six-pack they brought out for us, and it turned out (I swear I’m not making this up) that one of them had a viola-playing cousin who had gone to college with David. After chatting for 20 minutes or so, we returned to the bus (which had moved an additional 8 feet) triumphant. I tossed a beer Courtney’s way, because the poor guy looked like he might start to cry if we didn’t reach something that looked like a highway soon.

It was 12:30am on the nose when we pulled up to the loading dock at Orchestra Hall. It had officially taken longer for us to travel the 19 miles from a Minneapolis suburb than it took last week to make the 120-mile trek from Winona. But no one seemed angry or upset, at least on our bus. At some point, we’d all just succumbed to the ridiculousness of it all, and taken comfort in the realization that this was all going to make a great story someday.

Still, though. Next year, I’m definitely making the drive to Excelsior on my own.

<October 2019>

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