Guzzle your obsession

The On the Waterfront ‘butterfly fairy,’ tons of sweets and … Jerry Garcia in a wheelchair?

“What do you get when you guzzle down sweets?” sang the green-haired dwarfs in the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That’s the song that came to my mind during the opening moments of my first tour of this year’s On The Waterfront as countless goers guzzled down food. Countless calories went on, but countless calories came off as goers walked and walked the length and breadth of the so-called “biggest music festival in Illinois.” Me, I just hoped my wheelchair batteries stayed charged and that my fingers on my wheelchair joystick didn’t get fatigued. As far as burning the calories I took in, well, I’d just better not guzzle.

OTW is a music festival, and no matter how poor goers claim the line-up is, there’s always a few bands that catch your ear. British Export was one. These four boys are one of the best Beatle tribute bands in the world, and they have played the world. But another reason British Export got me to the WTVO Stage before noon was the possibility of seeing Rockford’s Jeff Keefer performing as John Lennon. Jeff played as John for several months this year. The arrangement, however, was not permanent. The current “John,” whose name is Paul, lives in Liverpool, England, and his arrival in Rockford for the gig was not a sure bet. This made Jeff a possible stand-in, but Paul made it to Rockford, and Jeff watched the performance with the rest of us fans.

Jeff Keefer has many credits under his belt. He produced the album in the early ’80s that was played on the David Letterman show. That album was Make It in Rockford, an album made to promote Rockford. Jeff has written and recorded more than 100 songs. He founded and performed in two tribute bands—a Tom Petty tribute band named Petty Theft, and Simply Fab, Rockford’s best Beatle tribute band ever. Jeff Keefer also co-authored original songs and Beatle parodies with Rod Myers and the Ramps, which is my band.

I hung with Jeff for a while, where I met two of his friends from Indiana who are Beatle fanatics, one of whom has her own Beatle fan Web site. They were so obsessed with the Beatles, I wondered if they had time to eat or think about other subject matter.

The butterfly fairy

Soon after arrival on the last day of the festival, some friends told me they watched a young woman in a splendid butterfly outfit blowing masses of soap bubbles near the WTVO Stage. In an instant, I left the handicapped parking area, where I told disabled Mike to guard my accessible van with his disabled life. In 15 minutes, I was at the WTVO Stage and discovered that Dark Star Orchestra, a great Grateful Dead tribute band, was performing. Some of my young neighbors were there, but no butterfly blowing bubbles.

The Dark Star Orchestra played a long set, and a break was needed, much to the dismay of their tie-dyed fans. I drifted toward the river and found a sad-looking young woman in a great-looking purple butterfly outfit sitting on the curb with her boyfriend. “Hi,” I said. “Are you the red-spotted purple butterfly, and were you blowing the bubbles near the band?”

“Yes,” she said, “But I’m not a butterfly; I’m a fairy. The guys selling T-shirts by the stage made me stop blowing bubbles because they said when the bubbles pop by the guitars, the liquid gets on the strings, and they have trouble playing them then.” Then she began to cry.

“Wow,” I said. “I don’t think Jerry Garcia would be that anal.”

The butterfly fairy woman went on to tell me her name was Angela, and she was from Ohio. She and her boyfriend had planned to follow this band to their next 80 gigs, but now they felt like backing out. “Now, Angela,” I said, “what would Jerry do? Jerry would want you to get right back up there and dance or whatever to express yourself. He wasn’t anal like these counterfeit wannabes.” If the wind was blowing another direction, no one would have got upset. Get up there and dance. Get up there; Jerry would have wanted it that way.”

Then, in a soft, sad voice, Angela said, “OK.” Then she rose from the curb and gave me a long hug. “You’re a sweet man,” she said. Then she and her boyfriend headed toward the stage, and I headed toward concessions. I purchased a very sweet orange soda. As the second set began, I watched a once-broken butterfly fairy fly into a lake of dancers.

And what did I get when I guzzled down sweets? I got a blood sugar high that made the Dark Star Orchestra sound exactly like the Grateful Dead.

As I was leaving, the guy in the tie-dyed T-shirt pointed at me and said, “Look! There rolls Jerry Garcia.”

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues.

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