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Twelve First Jam at Danny’s Steve and I sat in slow-moving freeway traffic, heading north from Berkeley toward Danny Poullard’s house in Fairfield. The heavy August air magnified the oppressiveness of rush hour. Since I hadn’t started my new job, at a mental health agency an hour south of Berkeley, I hadn’t faced the frenzied Wednesday night rush that would soon become part of my weekly routine. Still, I felt impatient and keyed up, unable to shake that queasy mixture of excitement and anxiety. I had been waiting so long for Danny’s weekly jam sessions to get started again. At least it felt like a long time, even though we’d been living in California for just over a month. But when you have just driven across the country and settled into a strange new place—well, the experience of time is altered. I thought back a few weeks, to our introduction to the local music scene. We had arrived in Berkeley just in time to attend a special celebration: a dance and “roast” honoring Danny for his contributions to the Bay Area Louisiana French music community. We had learned about this months earlier, when an out-of-state music friend contacted us with the news. A group called the California Friends of Louisiana French Music (CFLFM) had begun to organize an event honoring Danny. It would be held at Ashkenaz, the renowned world music club in Berkeley where we’d first seen him play a few years back. We got in touch with the president of the CFLFM, a dancer named Jim Phillips, who filled us in on the details. Don’t tell Danny, he instructed us. They wanted to surprise him. Ashkenaz, it turned out, had just reopened, following the shocking death in December of the owner. A disruptive patron, angry at being expelled, had returned and shot David Nadel, the much-loved human rights activist who founded the club in the early seventies. For a time, the future looked uncertain. But then a group of sup137 138 Danse de Poullard porters reopened the club as a nonprofit community arts organization . So the “roast” for Danny Poullard would also celebrate the return of Ashkenaz. When we approached the club, I felt excited at the thought of seeing Danny again—but also tentative. I hadn’t heard from him since we arrived in Berkeley ten days earlier, even though I had left a couple of messages on his home answering machine. I’d tried to push aside my disappointment at the lack of response. “Danny won’t be here today.” The man at the door took our money, then handed us a program. “He’s in the hospital. Got a bad infection from a spider bite, last week when he was in West Virginia .” West Virginia? It took a moment to register.While we were driving across the country, and then waiting in a series of motels for the moving van to arrive, all our music friends were at Cajun-Creole week at Augusta. I’d been too preoccupied to think much about it. Danny had tried to ignore the spider bite, I later heard. But after he returned home, it got worse, until he ended up hospitalized and on IV antibiotics—where he remained for a week. Such a strange parallel to Steve’s own cat bite disaster, during our final month in Chicago. The organizers tried to make the best of it at Ashkenaz.They even set up a phone hook-up to Danny’s hospital room. Still, the celebration was festive, and—even without the guest of honor—it served as the first step in our introduction to this new music community. The CFLFM had invited all sorts of dignitaries and honored guests. The former mayor of Eunice read a proclamation from the lieutenant governor of Louisiana. Marc and Ann Savoy had flown in, to honor Danny and take a turn playing. Danny’s family sat at a special table up front, to the side of the stage. His mother—tiny, spry, white-haired—and two brothers had come from Texas, where most of the family lived. Danny’s wife, Ruby, looking stately and beautiful, was there. I spotted a daughter holding a baby grandchild, along with several other little girls decked out in ruffled Sunday-best dresses. People passed around a microphone on the dance floor and told funny stories about Danny. On stage...


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MARC Record
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