Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Applause Needed

If you read Lauren Bacall’s August obituary, you might have skipped over the notation that she had starred in the play Applause that ran on Broadway from March 30, 1970 to July 27, 1972.

The obit did not mention that in the fall of 1972, she and the play toured the country, stopping at the Fresno Convention Center in October. At the time, the city of Fresno had a population of approximately 170 thousand, and it was an agricultural center. It was heavy on the “agri,” and light on the “cultural.”

The exceptions were occasional, national theatrical touring companies like Applause, and quality musicians brought in for a one-night performance. Such was the case on Tuesday, October 31, 1972, when Carlos Montoya performed, and at the time, he was a truly great master of the Spanish flamenco guitar.

Being a bit bored in Fresno much of the time, I would regularly take off on weekends weekend to visit friends in either San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Learning A Lesson

To combat the ennui, I decided to take classical guitar lessons with John Uretria on his farm just outside of town. While living in Detroit in the mid-1960s, I had attempted to learn to play folk guitar but when I had two guitars stolen, I decide that the harmonica was easier to hide from potential thievery.

When I discovered that Carlos Montoya was coming to Fresno, a neighbor and I bought balcony tickets for his performance, which was to start at 7:30 PM.

When There’s a Will

It was a dismal, rainy evening and we arrived before 7 PM. The front door to the Convention Center was locked and rather than go back to the cold car to wait, I suggested that we try and see if there was another door that was open.

There’s Always a Way

Around the back, I found that the stage door was unlocked, and we carefully and quietly entered. We walked up a short flight of stairs, and we were on the stage which had several checkered-cloth tables set up for the next day’s performance of Applause. We sat down at one table, and waited.

In the distance, I heard the sounds of someone playing a classical guitar, and convinced my reluctant companion to come with me to see where the magical sounds were coming from. We approached an open door to a small room, peeked in, and I pulled her aside. We saw a beautiful woman with long, black hair pulled tightly back, and a man with a guitar.

“That’s Carlos Montoya. He’s warming up,” I said with unbounded excitement. My friend wanted us to leave, but instead I entered the room to see the master playing his guitar. In my best high school Spanish I held out my hand and introduced myself, “Pardon Senor Montoya, con su permiso. Mi nombre es Harvey,” and then reverted to English. “I admire you so, and am now taking classical guitar lessons, and wanted to hear you play tonight.”

In the Beginning

Montoya took my hand, turned it over, and said that I must not have been playing long since there was no deep callouses. Then he showed me his hand with callouses deeply embedded from years of playing and practicing, and then he laughed.

As we continued to talk, a man entered, looked at us and pointedly asked in a thick Australian accent, “What are you doing in here?” This Aussie was Montoya’s manager, and didn’t want anyone disturbing him before, during, or after a performance.

“Don’t you recognize me?” I boldly asked, “I’m in the cast of Applause and this is our night off. I wanted to hear the great artist Mr. Montoya play,” and with that his manager stepped back.

Montoya said that he had to relax now, and wondered where we were sitting. When I mentioned the balcony, he said “Oh, no,” and told his manager to get us two seats up front.

That’s where we sat, and although my guitar lessons didn’t last long, the memory of that night still makes me smile as I write this.