The stage lights bounce off the cymbal. I gaze at the shiny metal for a moment then back to Jerry, the vocalist and lead guitarist, for a signal. I fix my eyes on him and watch for a drop of the guitar neck, a side-ways glance as he sings, any indication of a change coming in the song. I feel the crescendo and crack hi-hat, snare, and cymbal in succession to mark the change. A familiar flutter fills me as I sit behind the kit.
“Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself,” Jerry belts out. A crowd has filled the small dance floor in this smoke-filled bar and croaks along. The black walls and low ceiling of Mahuffer’s Bar are papered with panties, bras, and dollar bills. Outside, the graffiti-painted path leading to the bar’s entrance is littered with salvaged car parts, metal barrels, and rusty bikes. It’s what my mom would call a “seedy” place.
I’m glad I changed out of my knee-length skirt and flats after work and into my jeans and buckled boots. Before I sat behind the drum kit, a woman I just met placed a Panama hat on me. Now looking more like a blues musician than a sales associate at a clothing boutique, I feel less conspicuous and more confident to play my part.
The harp player steps forward, cupping both the harmonica and microphone. He leans in and plays hard. He is tall and attractive with peppered hair that lays in thick waves. A couple of woman slink through the crowd to him. He keeps time with his hips and shimmies in between the dancers. Bending back, he pushes the notes toward the ceiling and the ladies raise their drinks with a “whoo!”
Jerry resumes the lyrics and I look from the ride cymbal to the hi-hat as I transition. The inside of my thigh is tight, my muscles are strained from thumping the bass drum. I came out strong at the beginning of the song and now try to relax. I shift in the seat a little and try to loosen my wrists, too. It’s been several months since I’ve played. My sweaty palms and jumpy stomach remind me of that.
I look through the edges of cymbals and metal stands and meet Kevin’s grin. My brother and I, joined by some other friends, decided to go out to this blues jam. The others are flocked around him, nodding in time and smiling at me. I breathe in deeply, trying to steady my heart beat, and grin at the group.
The keyboardist takes over and I transition again, signaling her solo. The bassist glances at me and nods his approval. Sitting up a little straighter, I feel a surge of excitement. It’s feels like the rush when your crush calls. It’s the ease when you make every green light. It’s the lightness after a good laugh.
Jerry dips his guitar and I crash the cymbals and snare, ending the song. I thank the others for letting me sit in and push through the crowd. Kevin welcomes me with a hug. Shain, too, congratulates me with an embrace.
Shain’s wife and her cousin pull me in next and exclaim, “You are such a bad-ass! That was awesome!” Their eyes are wide with smiles to match.
A woman squeezing through the dance floor on her way toward the bar stops me, “You were great up there.” I continue to beam but swat away the attention, equally desiring it and feeling shy because of it.
Our group drops onto the sloppy couch as a new configuration of musicians play the last set. We bounce and tap along to the next song, my gaze fixing again on the shiny cymbals….