Monday night...March 26, 2012... the night that we knew was coming for the last six months or more and now it was upon us. It was the final performance for SoulMates at the Candlelight Cafe and Bar on 5th Avenue in Portland.
The building had been erected in the 1940's and it has been home to live music seven nights a week since it's establishment. Mr. Joe Shore bought the place in 1984 and renamed it the Candlelight. It has been a Portland fixture for eight decades and with its present name for 28 years. Some of the staff have been there for almost all of those 28 years.
Mr. Shore is a good guy and is respected by all. He must be a good employer because once someone joins his staff, they never want to leave. Ironically, Monday was Mr. Shore's 62nd birthday with SoulMates and audience singing him best wishes and cheering his health. He has promised to re-open at a new location but the deal has not been finalized. And with that hole torn in the universe last week... who knows? (see last week's blog for the reference)
The place was full before the music even began. That was an early indicator of the importance of the night; everyone wanted to be here for every moment. So many faces from so many Monday nights over the last 18 months since SoulMates played the first notes on what has become sacred ground. I use the word sacred intentionally and without apology because the Candlelight has received the heart-warming good feelings from so many musicians and audiences since the 1940's. It has become a place of pilgimage for the faithful.
Arriving early also were Michael and Theresa G, the recruiters. They have brought more people to hear SoulMates than any one else in the place. They are warm and they are open... if you can get past Mikey's merciless puns.
Michael Magaurn was there with a camera man from his company, Magaurn Video Media, to record some of the final moments for history. It was Michael who had produced the DVD SoulMates: Live and In Living Color which has been sold at recent SoulMates performances. He has known Jay "Bird" Koder since the Bird was a hatchling and neither one of them are willing to say exactly how long that has been.
Drummist Reinhardt Melz had his sister in the audience, telling those at her table about listening to Reinhardt practice for 10 hours a day when he was young. But she was clearly proud of her baby brother as she watched him beat the living daylights out of his drum kit.
Bob was denied his usual seat up front, so he kindly and patiently waited in the back for someone to clear out. Nobody did. While Toray resumed his place on the dance floor, as he has done every week. Randy Corby--who says that if Lance is SoulMates Number One fan, then she is Number Two--also took her regular seat at the high bench near the bar.
Jonah Kobayashi and Monica Miller had long ago moved their Sunday night "date night" to Monday nights just to be at the Candlelight and hear the music of SoulMates. Jonah and Monica are a couple in a million.
Tim was missing and we looked anxiously for him.
Also missing was John Paul Jones. He has known the "Bird" for many years and became acquainted with him after moving from Seattle to take care of his mother. Now his mother is almost 100 years old and John Paul is almost 80 himself.
Of Jay "Bird" he says, "When I first saw him, I was amazed. He was magical. The quickest fingers I have ever seen. Not only is he the best guitarist I have ever seen, Jay "Bird" Koder is one of the good guys. Now he has this band with two other good guys." And this is why the place is full with all good people. Like attracts like.
The opening instrumental brought to the dance floor one of the dancers from early 2011 who had disappeared for whatever reason but had returned for a last night of dancing to SoulMates music at the Candlelight. It was fitting that she was at one point joined by a tiny dancer who has become a Monday night regular in recent months. The first and the last.
That opening number featured a rousing drum solo by Reinhardt Melz who has been called the first-call drummer for Portland musicians. This does not say enough of Reinhardt and I can never say enough about him but I will say this. I have been amazed by seeing Buddy Rich in concert. I have enjoyed seeing Lenny White and Steve Gadd and Roy Haynes. I have watched in awe to see Bill Bruford and Terry Bozzio and Pat Mastelotto. But I have never been as emotionally moved by a drummer like I have when watching Reinhardt Melz. There is something deep and penetrating in the way he plays. He is my favorite.
We were taken "down to New Orleans" with Down By the Riverside. Even the dancers stopped dancing while watching SoulMates perform. After the song, Jay "Bird" took the mic to point out Reinhardt and to say "Ladies and Gentleman, this is a bitter-sweet night for us. This the final night at the Candlelight for us. Joe and I figured that I have been here since the 80's and we love the Candlelight and everything it represents. Joe Shore has kept this party going for years and years and years. We love Joe and we appreciate all he has done for music in Portland." He called for Joe Shore to come up but Joe disappeared into the kitchen. Mr. Shore does not require attention. He pays attention.
The band then launched into a SoulMates original composition called Her Twisted Mind. Toshi Onizuka has another name for it but we won't tell that here. It contains a great line: "I laid hands on the forbidden and now I reap what I have sown. My only defense is my humanity." Jarrod the theologian.
Bird introduced the next tune as featuring Reinhardt "Nose" Melz and Jarrod sent the song out to Mikey G who had requested it before the show even started. The song is the Donny Hathaway classic Valdez in the Country. It is only fitting to tell why Reinhardt is called "Nose." After all, he doesn't have a large nose, so the reference is not immediately apparent.
According to the Bird, Reinhardt started playing professionally when he was about 14 years old and Bird got him some of his first gigs. But young Reinhardt was plagued with allergies, so that and his age brought on the nickname "Snot-nosed kid" which was later shortened to just "Nose."
Valdez in the Country is one of those great moments in any SoulMates performance when all three musicians just turn it loose. Bird's guitar just sings and Reinhardt is amazing. But if you can listen behind them, Jarrod Lawson is playing some brilliant keyboards.
Stay was the next selection and Michael Magaurn confessed his love for this song, particularly the chord changes. Lance yelled out "Play it, Jay!" during the guitar solo. Jarrod 's vocals were full of longing and he pushed the vocals to the limit. Even this early in the night, it became clear that Jarrod was going to leave it all on stage. He held nothing back for this final night.
When the song was over, Jarrod said "You mean the world to us. We love ya'll." Bird added "We love you, Candlelight!"
At this point, I began to look at the familiar faces and to watch how they were taking in the final night. Bob was his ever-cool self but he had moved to the dance-floor from his exile in the back of the room. The tiny dancer had taken her seat and did not dance again for the rest of the night. It was like she was going to spend her energy on listening to every single note. Lance was grinning and occasionally calling out approval. Chieko was thinking back to how life had changed since we first heard our SoulMates and how these guys kept us going through some very difficult times.
Kelly, Reinhardt's sister, commented on the vast difference in ages among the audience members and Michael Magaurn added at how the crowd was so diverse in their backgrounds. And the music meant something different to everyone.
Man 4 U remains an audience favorite. Again the dancers stopped dancing just to take it all in and the long-absent dancer just leaned against the wall with her hand on her heart. Such a moving gesture and so expressive of what she must have been feeling so deep inside. I wish that I had gotten her name but she always disappeared into the night without a word.
Now, I love Bill Withers and always have. But when SoulMates perform Lovely Day, it makes me forget about Withers' version. It seems like it must have some meaning for Reinhardt, as well. A few weeks ago, Jarrod had forgotten the opening line and turned to Reinhardt who promptly provided the line. On this night, Jarrod missed his cue which brought on an open-mouthed laugh from "Nose." During the chorus, however, Reinhardt could be seen singing along. I loved it. The audience was invited to join the chorus, something that would happen over and over again.
The first set ended with Can't Hide Love. I don't know what it was but there was a different smile on Jay "Bird" Koder's face during his guitar solo on this song. He was smiling but there seemed a bit of a sadness. Who would not understand? He has played this venue since Mr. Shore bought the place. It has been a home for his music since the mid-80's. Sure musicians are always moving to the next place but that must be what makes this such a special place for those musicians who have called this home.
As the song and set ended, Bird pointed out Reinhardt Melz with "Give it up for Reinhardt Melz!" Then, of Jarrod, he pointed and said "Ladies and Gents, everything he touches turns to soul...Jarrod Lawson!" To which Jarrod responded, "The incomparable Jay "Bird" Koder!" Then Bird closed out the first set with the familiar words, "Thank you so much. God bless your hearts. We appreciate you. We're gonna join you for some cocktails and then we'll be back for some craziness."
I love you in a place where there's no space or time.
I love you for in my life. You are a friend of mine.
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together.
We were alone and I was singing this song for you.
We were alone and I was singing this song for you.
How appropriate and how heart-breaking. The Candlelight was that place where there was no space or time and SoulMates sang their song for us.
Lance got his wish with the next song She's Right (And I'm Wrong) and then Chieko got to hear her favorite, Stevie Wonder's Knocks Me Off My Feet.
At this point, it was clear that tears were starting to flow. This was a song that was almost a weekly go-to song and this was the last time to hear it here. Bird's guitar solo was strikingly beautiful. Melodic and moving. It's one of those songs that you don't want to end and it came on a night that we didn't want to end.
As fitting as ever could be, Arietta Ward joined the trio for two songs in the second set. Jarrod said "We can't have our last night at the Candlelight without Etta." Then Jarrod said to her, "You know that you are a SoulMate, don't you?"
Arietta spoke personally of the Candlelight, "I got in trouble here. I got put out of the house here. My mama was here and Papa Johnny. He's gone now. So much a part of my life and I'm gonna miss it."
Then she took off on Fly Like an Eagle. After singing the lyrics, she began improvising with
"Candlelight you are going but you leave so many babies behind you.
You were a candle in the cold. I'm gonna miss you. Yes, I will.
I would to thank you my beloved SoulMates. I appreicate you in so many ways.
I don't think you understand how much I love you. Yes, I do.
Anytime I have had an ache in my heart, I could always come to you and make everything all right.
Can I keep singing into the future? Time keeps slipping into my future.
Where am I going to go? I'm going to fly an eagle."
It was personal. Arietta is a person who is at home in the spirit and in the world at the same moment. She takes off into the most heart-wrenching improvs while keeping complete awareness of her surroundings. This was particularly in evidence when she was off in the spirit but Reinhardt changed up the rhythm and she spun around to look at him with a grin but immediately resumed where she had left off. Oh, yeah. She's a SoulMate.
They immediately went into If You Want Me to Stay. Again, so fitting.
When you see me again / I hope that you have been / The kind of person that / you really are now
I'll be so good / I wish I could / Get the message over / to you now
While Jarrod was playing and Arietta was singing, Jay "Bird" began taking pictures of the audience. Maybe that was what hit me the most--seeing Jay "Bird" taking his own memories with him. The place really was closing.
Let me be honest. It is difficult to even continue writing this. Maybe it is because I know that when I click save and publish, then the Candlelight is really gone. It must seem silly to you. But when catastrophe after catastrophe struck my wife and I, we could come to the Candlelight and survive for at least one more week. When her heart was breaking, Chieko would hear Jarrod's voice singing in her head. If we could just get to the Candlelight, we would find the love and energy we needed to push through. All we had was each other...and our SoulMates.
All Day Sucker was the last song of the second set. They just set the sky on fire with it. It was a hot conclusion. The audience cheered and SoulMates cheered the audience. And everybody cheered Rhonda behind the bar.
In a once in blue moon move, an encore was added. How nice to end Monday nights at the Candlelight with Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye. The man who defined soul music for so many was fittingly the last composer heard. Bird's guitar sang while Jarrod intoned "We're all sensitive people / With so much to give."
And give they have and will continue to give. SoulMates will continue on at Blue Diamond for April and after that? Maybe Joe Shore will have the Candlelight II opened soon. But saying goodbye to this Candlelight is so difficult. There were so many faces and so many names. I am truly sorry to those whose names I have not included. I would have named you all if only I knew all the names.
I am sitting here with my fingers poised above the keyboard.
Goodbye, Candleight Cafe and Bar.... Save and Publish.