It’s pretty tough to catch up with friends who travel as much as I do, since schedules and routes rarely align, so it was extra special recently when I got to sit down with my favorite fiddling friend, Harry, from the Fryed Brothers Band. He and his band of brothers spend their time touring the country to play their own kind of catchy tunes and Harry’s stories about the adventures of entertainers are always engaging, to say the least. I got to spend a little time on the band bus to swap road stories and share a few giggles before the conversation turned to politics. Harry shared that the band had just returned from Washington, D.C., where they had been invited to perform at the presidential inauguration. I was completely flabbergasted. Just imagine; after decades of touring and cutting their chops along the back-road honky tonks of America, a li’l ol’ biker band from NorCal made it all the way across the country to play their own signature brand of music in our nation’s capital. Harry was jazzed to say the least.
“I was so proud, man. I wanted to go out there and be a part of the process, to get to see democracy in action, ya know? I wanted to watch history being made. And when we were all standing there together in that room during the swearing in, it gave me chills, it was so cool. What an honor it was to just be there. It felt like we were all just one big family, nothing about races or religion or anything else. We were all Americans and that was it. I was up there in my tuxedo tails and getting my picture taken with all kinds of great people. Even more pictures than during the premiere of our movie! I mean, we’re bikers, ya know? We’re musicians, and here we were watching a new president get sworn in! Just to be there was amazing. How f*#%g cool is that? We were all so blown away by it.” Harry was beaming as he excitedly told about the last-minute trip out and the thrill of finding himself part of such an elegant and prestigious event. What he didn’t beam about, however, was the backstory of the way things had unfolded earlier.
“Have you ever been to an inauguration, or saw what goes on once a guy is elected president?” Harry asked. “I’m not here to air my political views; not what this is about at all. I just wanted to do an American thing, to be a part of the democratic process and I’m just telling you what I saw and how I felt personally. What an honor it was to get to be at something that cool. We had no idea of what it would be like. I always thought we vote, a guy gets elected, and he takes office, right? Nope. I was never so disappointed in my country, and embarrassed as an American, than when I saw people going ballistic because their candidate didn’t win. There was nothing gracious about it, or democratic. I’ve never felt so sorry for old people and kids in my life! We were going up to kids apologizing for how their parents were acting. Those protesters were just the scummiest white trash you’ve ever seen; dirty, ragged clothes and they smelled really bad and they didn’t care who they were throwing stuff at, whether it was a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair or a 4-year-old kid. It was disgusting. They cut all the power cords to our stage; we had to get our instruments out of there, afraid they were going to really cut loose and smash everything! They didn’t even know what they were protesting about because I asked ’em. They just wanted to create hate and discontent for everybody. And they did. They kept tens of thousands of people, families, handicapped kids, people in wheelchairs, all from seeing the inauguration and the parade and all that stuff. Folks had to walk in a mile and a half just to get to the gates, which were closed because of the protesters. I never knew people tear stuff up, riot and protest because their guy lost. It’s not supposed to be like that, is it? We went because we wanted to be a part of what we thought was something honorable and I could look back and say, “Hey, I was there.” What I saw was far from honorable. There was some big corn-fed biker dude just sitting with his woman when a really skungy-looking hippie dude ran up and spit right in the guy’s face! I mean, a big ol’ loogey! The biker jumped up and hammered the guy. That was the only biker violence I saw, and that was instigated by a guy hired to disrupt the event for no real reason.”
I listened to my friend go on about the juxtaposition of the elegance of the celebration braced against the destruction left in the wake of the protesters and above it all, what stood out was despite everything, bikers made a presence on the hallowed grounds of Capitol Hill. Red-blooded Harley-Davidson-riding, fiddle-playing, guitar-picking bikers had boots on the ground during a presidential inauguration. I’m pretty sure that alone qualifies as historical, all-American and damned downright cool.