It took longer than it probably should have, but that's often how it happens with trips to Burning Man. But, as they say, it's better late than never.
That's right, Whistler: The Hairfarmers are Burners — finally and officially.
Greg "Grateful Greg" Reamsbottom and Doug "Guitar Doug" Craig, the newly converted, are sitting at the Dusty's patio having just returned home from their first trip to Burning Man. They were hired to play for three nights at a private camp and, whilst being "attacked by the wind," they played. They played with bandanas over their faces to filter out the playa dust. The dust would pool in their guitar frets every time they'd strike a chord, clouds of dust would pillow out like plumes of baby powder. They had Martians in a chorus line dancing side to side.
It was, as Craig says, like something out of Frank Zappa's most fertile imaginative moment.
"At one point, Greg was actually spitting dust out of his harmonica. You could see the notes. And every time we hit a big note, a tuft of playa dust would come flying out of the monitor. It was surreal," he says.
"It was almost like a farce," Reamsbottom adds.
Says Craig: "It was like a cartoon."
Adds Reamsbottom: "It's like, 'there's no way this is happening. It's too stupid.' But it was so stupid it was beautiful."
That pretty much sums up The Hairfarmers' 13-year career, as well. Theirs has been one absurdity after another: They've inspired barroom brawls and widespread outbreaks of public nudity in the same night. In the early 2000s, there would be lines around Merlin's hoping to catch them on their now-legendary Payday Fridays. Once, in Creston, the attorney-general flew via helicopter to shut their gig down.
These are the same Hairfarmers that have been voted Whistler's favourite band for the past 12 years. It's something of a rockstar reality for a pair of dudes that play other people's songs for a living — an irony that Grateful Greg and Guitar Doug are well aware of.
"Being an après ski band, it's not serious business at all," Reamsbottom says. "People are there in Whistler in general to have a good time, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel for them. You just have to spin it a little faster. And they get funny. They'll join the band in a lot of ways."
The Burning Man gig was just one of several hired out-of-town gigs this year. They've been hired for a whole lot of these recently. They've been flown to Sydney, Hong Kong and London. They've played all over the U.S. and Canada, completely unsolicited.
"That's one of the great things about being in one of the go-to bands in Whistler is the whole world comes here," Reamsbottom says. "It puts you in front of an audience that very few musicians would get otherwise. It's the bubble. It's the Whistler bubble and, love it or hate it, a lot of people come here. If they have the time of their life, they want to take it to where they are."
He adds, "They want to recapture what they experienced when they were here, in that bar, sculling pints, eating nachos, powder stuck in their nose — not the bad kind, the kind from the ski hill — and they're like, 'Hey, you know, why can't we have that much fun at home?' So they bring us to their home."
"It's a surrogate," Craig says. "We're actually bringing that vibe to them, as a temporary measure."
And what, exactly, are the corner stones of that vibe? As Craig says, there "are four songs — four wheels to this insane caravan:", "Brown Eyed Girl," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Margaritaville," and "Sweet Caroline." Throw in some Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and other hippie stoner jams and that's what the Hairfarmers have been selling.
"You might sound like the album and have the perfect cadence, but unless you feel it and love the song, you haven't got a hope in hell for that audience to believe in you," Craig says.
Reamsbottom adds, "Maybe that's why we've been Whistler's favourite band for so many years, it's because we actually love the music that we play. We love playing music."
They met in 1998, while playing in separate bands. Craig's Whistler-based Wild Dogs of Wedgemont and Reamsbottom's Vancouver-based Greg and Greg were hired to "play a wedding in the bush." Neither band knew that the other was hired to play, which Reamsbottom says could have been a disaster in the making.
"It's almost like sticking two dogs who haven't been neutered in a room," he says. "You get two bands at the same gig, and you don't know the other one is coming, it's like" — mocks two dogs barking at each other — "but they knew that we would get together, and they knew that we would jam all night long."
And they did. They stayed in touch afterward, with Craig inviting Reamsbottom to play a St. Paddy's Day show at the Dubh Linn Gate. The following year, Reamsbottom met a Whistler girl at a festival in Oregon and he decided to sell his trucking business in the city and follow her up there. As soon as he landed, he called Doug up, looking to play.
By the middle of the 1999/2000 winter season, they had a line of people around Merlin's wanting to come see them play.
"They were un-fucking-believable!" Craig says of those early shows. "I really thought that the place would get burnt to the ground or the cops would shut us down and we would not be able to play as a band."
"It wasn't the beer prices, it wasn't the particular genre of people, but it was the mix of energy that winter that really put us in everybody's minds," Reamsbottom says.
But as silly/crazy/wild as those early Payday Friday gigs went, none were quite as surreal as their Friday night at Burning Man. Expect to find a freshly inspired Hairfamer or two playing 'round town in the coming weeks.
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