Migraine Mike - 11/3/2015

     ike Barber woke up last Friday morning at the Cataloochee Ranch in the beautiful Maggie Valley of North Carolina with a migraine.  We’d played at the picturesque venue the night before, had a wonderful time playing in a fireplace setting for very appreciative people, hung for a little while and then turned in.  Mike suffers with migraines from time to time, and he has told me before that if one hit him at full force that there would be no way that he could perform a show.  As we made our way to Morganton in the van I felt so sorry for his suffering and tried not to think selfishly what we would do without him for that evening’s show.
     I watched Mike put his collapsible travel bass together and could tell it was an ordeal.  He carried the stand-up in slow motion on stage for sound check.  Luckily for us, the sound man was really good and dialed us in quickly.  Leigh sang one of the songs he sings lead on and then I sang one of mine.  Mike was playing like Mike does: right on the money.  We asked for a few adjustments in our monitors and they were quickly made.  Leigh said, “Well, we’d better play a fast one to make sure we can hold it together.”  I whispered “Poor Mike” and blasted into “Shucking the Corn.”  He drove it like he always does.  I left sound check thinking that ol’ Mike was all right if he could get through that.
     Leigh and I have been trying to write as much as we can and are getting a group of songs together that excite us, honestly. Brotherhood, an album of brother songs that we are really proud of, is a cover album.  We would like to show folks that we haven’t forgotten how to write.  I started messing around with a melody and the lyrics started coming, just like a songwriter hopes will happen.  Leigh came into my room, and his look told me that I was onto something.  He made some great suggestions and a song was written between sound check and show time.  I think it is a keeper.  I have the same feeling I had when “They Called It Music” was written, that I am a kid with a new toy who cannot wait to take it for a ride.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that Mike was in his dressing room with his face against the cool wall with the lights off, suffering yet listening.  He told me the next day that the chorus’ melody was similar to another song Leigh had written, so Leigh and I tweaked the chorus on our new song.
I was fixing my tie fifteen minutes before show time when Clayton came to my room, his face red.  “Barber is really sick.  He has been throwing up for fifteen minutes straight.  It’s bad.”  Jesse worriedly asked, “What are we going to do?”  I said, “Can you play bass?”  The Mandolin Player of the Year said, “No pressure.”  Jesse then went backstage to tune Mike’s bass in the event Mike could make it.  I was thinking that we’d have to play a show without Mike, a staple in our band and such a huge part of our sound.  I figured we’d lean heavier on stripped-down brother duets than normal.  Leigh, Clayton, Jesse, and I waited in the wings and saw Mike coming.  He looked pale and wasn’t wearing a tie, but his step told me that he was going to will his way through this.
     I have never been more proud of a band mate than I was of Mike on that night.  He pulled that fat tone and played with that metronomic timing that I hope we never take for granted.  I noticed that his eyes were closed most of the time and that he leaned his head up against his bass’ neck between songs, but when I closed my own eyes, I heard no difference.  I don’t know how he did it.  I don’t know why the guy never gets nominated for bass player of the year.  He belongs in that elite category, but I could say that about any of our band mates.
     Thankfully, Mike woke up feeling pretty much pain-free and he devoured his meal at a wonderful family restaurant we discovered called Adele’s like a man who hadn’t eaten in a day and a half.  We were all happy to see our old Barber back, happy and joking around.  People might not know the ribbing that everyone takes in this band I refer to as a rolling locker room.  After our show the next night in Raleigh, in which Mike had his old bounce back, Leigh said to Mike as we left the stage, “I think you play better sick.”  Laughter ensued.