A Crazy Game of Poker

Poker has been on my mind lately.  It’s hard to say why specifically (I don’t play, though I have), but here are a few things I’ve been thinking as such:

  • politics is like poker: the best play with other people’s money, lots of bluffs, lots of games within the game (you get the picture)
  • the language of horse handicappers is enticingly its own ($50,000 optional claimer with drops in class vs. lone speed over 5-and-furlongs on firm turf), much like poker (ace kicker, nut flush, killed/saved on 5th street)
  • at some point the intimacy of a good thing (an idea, a song, a strategy, a camaraderic effort) will become exposed…and that’s when you’ll know if it can endure
So I took the day off the other day.  To reset.  Clear my head.  I did a bunch of yard work, built a fire outside.  Listened to a full shuffle of my iPod.  “A Crazy Game of Poker” comes on, by O.A.R. (of a revolution)  It was a live recording from Bonnaroo, 2003.  (You can listen to it here.)

Here’s what’s great about it: the band was barely known at the time (since then they’ve sold out Madison Square Garden). They play this really short 8-song set, during the course of which they talk (a bit awkwardly, but earnestly) with the audience and tell a story about how one of their best friends died that very day.  (No shit, right?)  The guy gets choked up. I mean, it’s pretty raw.  And it’s all caught in this recording, which I can’t even recall how I got.

Later the guy confesses how when they had heard about Bonnaroo (this was just its 2nd year, going on 10 now as a true cultural phenomenon) they swore to find a way to get there next year: we were like we’ll play at nine o’clock in the fucking parking lot!  (I mean what kind of rock star exposes himself so desperately, right?)  And then, well, then right after saying that, they launch into what was maybe their only song with any renown.  Something that was known truly, only by word-of-mouth, by databytes ripped from CDs and swapped long-distance via emailed “mp3s” (whatever those were).  But it’s the reason why some of these devoted fans are there.  At that stage.  At that moment.

Throughout the song, the crowd is kind of singly along.  Like they’re ready but waiting back a bit.  (Keep in mind, Bonnaroo is huge, even at this point and there are probably 5 other bands playing on 5 different stages at that exact moment, so even the fans on-site have to make hard choices, so these people dancing, and singing with O.A.R. must know something.  They have made their choice.)  So at like 3:50 into the song the crowd is really going now, but they take a breath and for just short of another minute the band kind of slows down and jams, and then at 4:40 everyone starts singing together, but the band is still leading clearly.  Until…5:15 and the crowd just takes over (listen on headphones, turn it up!), the band just submits and trusts these fans (which had to be a mixture now of new and old, had to be) and they just carry it out, shouting, chanting, call-and-response, the whole bit.  It’s like a god-damned revival.  I mean, everybody is “all in” right?  This incredible intimacy between the guys on stage and their fans.  It’s all right there, “like a dream come true.”  And in the recording it’s, of course, exposed.


This work that we’re doing right now–trying to pass a gambling expansion bill, trying to reset horseracing into the current of pop culture’s own race against time–is not music-making.  Not exactly.  But man, what if we could enliven the crowd, just a bit, just in this moment?  (So says the desperate rock star, right?)  There are ideas here that can endure, and I think we’re getting closer to exposing something great.  So how ’bout a revolution?  Who’s in?

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