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Popcorn Balls, Walkie Talkies, and Casinos

April 8, 2009

The whole world is one intricately crafted theatrical masterpiece. The stage was set eons ago. Costumes, characters, props and scripts, all ready to go. Sure, a little improv goes on here and there. Sometimes we forget lines or entire entrances. We misstep in the big group song and dance, and we’ve got to catch ourselves and regain our balance. Overall, though, scene by scene, act by act, we go through life. We are the actors, and yet we are the audience.

As Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but bear with me.

The county sheriff, a colleague of my father’s, stepped through the gate with mischief in his eyes and a plastic sandwich bag in his hand. He handed it to me and I surveyed the pink sugarcoated popcorn inside. “Here. Phil Vassar wanted you to have his popcorn ball.”

“Whatever, Brad,” I said as I tossed it into my bag.
“He took a bite of it and everything!” he exclaimed. “Put it in your scrapbook! Keep it forever!”

Whatever, Brad,” I reiterated. He walked away chuckling to himself as I turned to Em and finally let the smile I’d been holding back explode. “Do you really think this is Phil Vassar’s popcorn ball?”

We laughed. We decided it probably wasn’t. But who knew?


I don’t know how we did it that year.  Em and I have a system for the Saturday night show at the county fair.  We know which gate to go to, how early to get there, who to harrass while we’re waiting to make the time pass.  We never fail to get ourselves amazing front and center spots at those shows, but there’s not a whole lot of time to mess around.  We get in, we claim our piece of the stage, and we stick to it until the very last moment of the encore.  Now that we’re old enough, the next stop is the beer garden to watch all the drunk old ladies shamelessly throw themselves (and their bras) at the guitar player or the drummer, but back then it meant hanging out by the cattle gates hoping the band would take pity on the minors in the crowd and come out to hang out with us for awhile.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We have our system, and our system works.  But that year, maybe thanks to the sheriff, maybe thanks to the gatekeepers who were sick of listening to us beg and plead, maybe thanks to fate, we made it through those gates and staked out our spots, only to realize no one else was coming in.

We took full advantage of this situation.

And we took a risk.  We left our front and center spot, leaning right up against the stage, and we went back to the talk to the merchandise guy, who was still setting up.

Em has never been shy.  She is never at a loss for anything to say.  I don’t know what happened but pretty soon she and Mr. Merch were bffs and singing vulgar songs about various parts of the male anatomy to each other, and I may not have mentioned this but the two of us were sixteen and if you know anything about me when I was sixteen, you know I was completely innocent and extremely easily embarrassed.  I pretended to be totally amused at their shenanigans. Inside I was crying.

But then something happened–something that made me oh so thankful for my unabashed friend.  That something started it all.

The merch guy handed us his walkie-talkie.

I’m sure it had something to do with some weird sort of sexual innuendo Em had made about the damn thing.  It usually is when we’re on a pre- or post-concert high.  But there it was.  The walkie-talkie was in her hand, and the merch guy was saying, “Ask for Matt.”

After a few tries, we finally got an answer, and Mr. Merch got a little too excited for my liking.  “Now ask him if he’ll Cagle for you tonight.”

We both looked at him quizzically.  “Ask him if he’ll what?”

“Ask him if he’ll Cagle for you tonight.”

We had no idea what that meant, but Em went ahead and asked.
No response.

She handed the walkie-talkie to me and said, “You try.”
Cagle?” I asked.  Merch guy nodded.  And so I pushed down the little black button and I spoke as clearly as I could through my embarrassed giggles. “Hey Matt, are you gonna Cagle for us tonight?”

No response.

“He’s ignoring you,” Mr. Merch smiled.  “It’s an inside joke. He knows I put you up to it.” We asked what it meant.  “Never mind,” he said.  “But you ladies go find your spots up by the stage, and when a guy with a fiddle comes out to set up, you ask him again.”

We put the walkie back in Mr. Merch’s hands and followed his instructions.  We headed back up to the stage just as the rest of the crowd started filtering in.

Sure enough, a tall, extremely thin guy holding a fiddle and a banjo walked out onto the stage.  We called out in unison, “Hey Matt!”

He looked up at us.  I don’t think he was used to people knowing his name.

And again, in unison, we asked, “You gonna Cagle for us tonight?”
We still had no idea what it meant, but Matt definitely did.  He turned bright red as he squeezed one word out through his embarrassed laughter:  “Maybe.”  We exchanged a few more seconds of silly banter before he escaped back to the bus, and we leaned up against the stage and awaited the show.

And the show was incredible.  Phil climbed the light rack.  He dove across his piano with a move that I can only compare to an eight year old diving onto a slip ‘n’ slide for the first time all year.  He jumped up on top of it and danced.  Yeah, and he played it too.  His live show had an energy that until then, I had never experienced.  It was one of those nights that fueled the fire of the crazy singing dream I’d been nursing since I could speak.  It was one of those nights that I came away from saying to myself, “I was meant to do that.”

It was memorable to say the least– but little did I know that Em and I had made ourselves memorable as well– to Matt the fiddle player.  It was something we wouldn’t know for years to come.  We left the show that night and developed our pictures and bought the American Child CD the next Tuesday on its release (the release date on that page is misleading because it was re-released with a few extra tracks later on), but after that, life went on.  Summer ended.  We went back to school.  The next August, we were front and center, watching Sawyer Brown shake their little booties off.

It was February of our sophomore year of college when I was driving down the streets of Bismarck, radio blaring, when I heard it advertised.  Phil Vassar, at the casino down the road.  Best part? The day right before my 20th birthday.

I pulled out my phone and immediately called Em, who was going to college just a few hours from me, and before I knew it I had my car turned around toward Dan’s Grocery to buy the tickets.

In the days and weeks leading up to the concert, we made plan after plan, talked silliness, reminisced about our first experience with Phil Vassar.  And of course we wondered if, perhaps, Matt was still in the band.  We did as much googling as we could but couldn’t find a definitive answer.

So we did the only thing we could do.  We showed up with our freshly tattooed feet ready for whatever might happen.

Jamie O’Neal opened the show.  She had a wonderful voice.  Her actual performance was nothing terribly special, but it was nothing to complain about.  The opening act worked in our favor anyway.  It meant an intermission.  It meant people milling around buying beer and making small talk.

And it meant that when we saw Matt bring his fiddle and his banjo out to the stage, we had the perfect opportunity to walk right up to him and say,

“Hey Matt!”

He looked as though, three and a half years later, he still wasn’t used to people knowing his name.


“You gonna Cagle for us tonight?”

It took him a second.  He looked at us closely.  And then he smiled and he exclaimed, “I remember you two!

Em and I looked at each other, smiled, and looked back. “Really?”

“You’re the walkie talkie girls!”
So we stood there and exchanged silly banter yet again.  Em handed over a note meant for Phil, folded into a paper airplane.  The original plan had been to toss it up to the stage but we figured why take the risk of getting it stuck somewhere in the crowd when we can have it hand delivered before the show?

This time, Matt’s pre-show retreat from the stage didn’t seem so much an escape as it did a necessity.

Once again, the show was incredible.  Not as good as the first time, admittedly, but there’s only ever one first time.  Besides, we were seasoned concert-goers by then.  We knew what to expect.  The fact was that we still enjoyed ourselves and that little conversation with who we’ve come to refer to as Matt The Fiddle Player made the entire thing worth it.

We talked to him again a bit after the show, but again, uploaded the pictures to facebook and bought the new CD and went back to life.

Except now we knew that Matt knew us.

I don’t know when or how it happened, but eventually the three of us became myspace buddies.  Em got to it first because let’s face it, you put the two of us in those kinds of situations and she’s always the more memorable one.  However, I’m not ashamed to say I piggy-backed on this particular success of hers and Matt and I became buddies too.

And I should clarify that when I say we are myspace buddies, I do not mean myspace “friends.”  It’s not like I sent a friend request and he hit accept and that’s the last I ever heard from him.  No, we exchanged emails, comments, everything.  At one point after I got my studio tunes up last spring, he heard “Love,” and stopped by to say he absolutely loved the piano riff.  A (now former) member of Phil Vassar’s band loved my piano riff.  That had me elated for no short while, let me tell you.

This is all to say that when I finally made my move to Tennessee, I let Matt know I was on my way.  I realize that myspace buddies, be it more than myspace friends, still does not translate to BFFs IRL.  Still, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, and I asked if he’d be up for writing together sometime.  He replied enthusiastically with a big ol’ yes, but I was trying to get situated and he was just beginning his navigation through a new musical endeavor of his own.  Our plans kind of fell by the wayside.

But I’ve learned that good things come to those who wait.  I’ve learned that what’s meant to be will be.  And I’ve learned that going out to support the musicians you love and want to work with is the best way to convince them to work with you.

I got an email from Matt a few days ago inviting me to a show, tomorrow night, that honestly I’d already written into my calendar in bright red sharpie.  It says, in letters as big as my datebook would allow, “THE TRACE. THE LISTENING ROOM. 6:00 PM.”

And after he was done inviting me to come see him play, he wrote, “And I’d still love to write with you sometime.  Let’s get something on the books.”

So I emailed him back and said, “I’ll be at the show.  We’ll solidify some plans then.”

I’ve never actually cowritten before and I’m honestly completely terrified by the notion, but this is Matt.  And Matt likes my songs and Matt, while definitely more experienced, is really only a little further ahead of me in this big old game, so I know it’ll work out.

Obviously it was meant to.

I wonder if he’ll remember anything about pink popcorn balls…

And even better, I wonder if I’ll finally find out what it means to Cagle…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2009 2:16 pm

    This is such a great post! You’ll have to let us know what Cagle means, if you find out! Have a great time listening to the band!

  2. April 8, 2009 9:50 pm

    That’s amazing! I love when you actually get to KNOW someone like that. Have an AMAZING time at the show, and definitely make use of that music connection!

    And should the definition of cagle slip out, I am DYING to know :)

  3. April 8, 2009 11:02 pm

    I LOVE this. What a great reminder that everything that’s meant to happen happens in due time. Can’t wait to hear more about it!

  4. April 9, 2009 1:36 am

    Ooo, I really, really like this post! And the 3 subject title? That’s how I title my blog posts too, lol

  5. April 9, 2009 2:14 am

    Oh hunny- First I would like to say the vulgar body part song was with Tracy Lawrences merch guy because well…let’s face it-his entire crew was a bunch of creepers. i’m pretty sure i don’t have to remind you of crazy road manager who tried to lick your ear. Now Phil’s merch guy- I believe my exact words to him were “OMG is this like not the way coolest job like ever??!?!?! *BIG GIDDY SMILE*”
    and then we met tim who promised me his drumsticks :)- awww…that was one of the best days of my life! ANYWHO- not the point of this comment.
    My point was ummm WAY WAY WAY JEALOUS that you get to see Matt wo me!!!! I havent even talked to him in a while though- actually I think last time I talked to him he was still occasionally calling you brittney :p- haha. good times. let me know how tomorrow night goes and ps- possible WAY good news :) ill call you maybe this weekend :)

  6. April 9, 2009 11:35 am

    holy cow, what a story! you’re a great story teller, i love reading your posts. and that’s so cool about writing with matt fiddle, let us know what happens!

  7. Jeff Davis permalink
    April 9, 2009 6:53 pm

    This is a great story Courtney. I hope that you have some fun at the concert. In regards to “cagle”, perhaps you and your vast reading audience might consult I saw a pretty gross definition for “cagle”. However, I saw another reference to “Chris Cagle” who is a country singer. The urban dictionary website refers to him as “Chris Cagle–a really hot country singer”. Perhaps Mr. Cagle posted that entry–Jeff.

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