“The reports of my (van’s) death have been exaggerated”

Written by:

This often is described as a quote from Mark Twain. Actually, it’s a paraphrase, as I discovered as I began researching on the interwebs a few minutes ago. The internet
is so amazing (and Google’s ability to sort through millions of entries in a fraction of a second); years ago I would have been obliged to go to the library and probably seek the help of reference librarian.

The actual quote is from a note Twain wrote in May of 1897: “James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness, the report of my death was an exaggeration.”

I tell you that to tell you this: Last month’s column about the impending doom of my beloved old Dodge van was, like Twain’s death, a bit exaggerated.

Readers may recall the 1983 Ram van was making a tick-tick-tick noise that sounded like a main bearing going out. I was debating whether to drive it 100 miles to Hollister for the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival, and had decided it was too risky. So I filled out the paperwork for the cash for clunkers program and mailed it in.

Then I was chatting with a mechanically inclined friend and mentioned to him that the noise went away after the car was driven a while. My friend said, “Well, that’s not a main bearing; a main bearing only gets louder over time. It sounds like a hydraulic valve lifter is sticking.”

So I went up to the auto parts store and bought a little bottle of oil additive that promised to unstick lifters, poured it in, and drove to Hollister. The van drove fine and came back without incident, 200-plus miles in all. Fortunately the state has not sent me any paperwork to bring the van in, so now I’m going to try to coax it through another winter.

And the noise has diminished.

The remaining problem, besides roof rust (covered in Gorilla tape) and broken windshield wipers, is that the engine won’t start in the rain. I’m hoping new plugs, wires, and distributor parts will fix that. Maybe the van will make it to Grass Valley next summer after all.

And that brings me to Welcome Column 2.0:

An unsolicited testimonial for the new Bose PA system.

On Tuesday my band played the National Heirloom Expo at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. We were excited by the booking after looking at their web site. The Expo is about heirloom seeds: odd tomatoes, rare apples, unusual gourds, pumpkins, squash, melons, many varieties of garlic, plus lectures on sustainable farming, films, and a bunch of food and veggie vendors. There were even goats and chickens there.

It wasn’t the Prairie Rose Band’s fault but the gig didn’t go well. We got there early and watched Sourdough Slim do his act, which he was performing about four times a day for the whole three-day Expo. Slim (Rick Crowder) is a phenomenal entertainer. I’ve seen him a few times over the years and I am always impressed by his ability to hold a crowd’s attention all by himself, with just an accordion, a guitar and sometimes a baritone ukulele. He’s funny, colorful and an astonishing yodeler.

When we checked out the stage where we were to perform, there was another band on. I was immediately impressed with the sound, which was coming from a pair of Bose compact PAs. They are each about the size of a portable sewing machine with a tower that resembles a 4 x 4 piece of wood sticking up about six feet. The sound, even from pretty far away was excellent.

That band finished and in retrospect we should have just gone up and played, while there were people around, but we weren’t scheduled until 6:30 p.m. so we wandered around the Expo, seeing so many interesting things, like scores of odd, rare apples, and a big forklift moving the giant contest pumpkins to the scale.

Back at “our” stage a young fellow with a guitar was doing very serious and earnest self-penned songs about healthy food, corporate agriculture, industrial pollution and such things. And the sun was going down behind the big exhibition hall, it was getting chilly, and his songs had lots of verses.

Long story short, by the time we got on stage and arranged the mikes we were playing to a very small crowd, plus some vendors in booths about 60 yards away. Them that was there seemed to enjoy the music, but my fingers were getting stiff and I don’t think it ranked among our best-ever sets.

I was puzzled at how the fairgrounds was suddenly so bereft of people, but later I found that the keynote speaker, Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement in Italy, had drawn a huge crowd in the main auditorium. Back in 1986 Petrini had launched a protest against a McDonald’s opening at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, which evolved into the Slow Food Movement, which now has 100,000 members in 100 countries around the world.

But even with a tiny audience our sound was terrific. My wife, Barbara, who never hesitates to tell me when I sound bad, gushed, “That was the best sound I ever heard you make!” I could hear us even though there were no stage monitors, and my banjo sounded just like it does in my living room.

We were the last act of the evening and when the sound man came to pack up we all were complimenting him on the sound. I remarked that I had seen these speakers advertised, but I had been put off by the $2,000 price tag.

“No,” he replied, “this is the $999 smaller model. It sounds just about as good as the big one and I like it better because it’s lighter and easier to set up. And I can use an unpowered mixer because the power is in the PA units. And those aren’t even my best mikes.”

Then he showed us something that really blew me away. I had assumed that the towers were full of speakers, but actually only the top one is. All that sound was coming from six little drivers, maybe four inches in diameter. (The woofer is in the base unit.) Behind the grillwork, each speaker is facing a slightly different direction, so you get great sound dispersion and you can even hear 90 degrees from the way the unit is pointing. If you line the PAs up even with your row of mikes, you can hear the band, and yet feedback wasn’t a problem.

We play a lot of places where we need our battery amps, and we have a pretty decent plug-in PA, so I doubt we are going to spring for one or two of these, but if I was shopping for a PA system I certainly would check it out.

I looked at the Bose web site (and there are some videos of both this unit and its bigger
brother on YouTube) and they say the compact unit will cover about 100 people. The sound man said that is very conservative, and he actually could have made adequate sound for this outdoor stage with just one unit.

Pretty amazing.

Read about: